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Posner’s resignation is a powerful reminder of the challenges pro se litigants continue to face. His belief that pro se litigants are frequently mistreated in civil litigation and denied a full and fair opportunity to vindicate their claims is neither new nor limited to federal appellate courts.3 Numerous legal commentators have expressed similar concerns.4 Yet, though the belief that pro se litigants are underserved by the legal community is widespread, the full extent of the challenges they face in court is still only partially understood.
Knowing ahead of time that you may encounter a hostile attitude is the best weapon against it. Read and study this book and other legal resources, many of which are available free online or in your local library. Learn how to prepare and present a persuasive case and follow the proper procedures for the Clerk’s Office and the courtroom. If you believe that court personnel at any level are being rude to you, be courteous and professional in return, even as you insist upon fair treatment. By knowing and following court rules and courtroom techniques, you can often earn the respect of the judge and the others who work in the courtroom. As a result, you may well find that they will go out of their way to help you.
One of the most important aspects of pro se litigation in federal district courts is that pro se litigants fare extremely poorly. This is generally understood in the literature.82 However, the magnitude of the disparity between pro se and represented litigants is not always highlighted. Accordingly, this Section presents statistics on typical outcomes for represented and pro se litigants in trial. Tables 2.2 and 2.3 show the win rates of plaintiffs and defendants in cases that reach a final judgment based on whether both parties are represented, the plaintiff is proceeding pro se, or the defendant is proceeding pro se.
The BIGGEST mistake pro se litigants make is thinking they know more than they do, as a way of overcompensating for lack of confidence. False bravado can lead you into mistakes #2, #3, and #4 on this list and a whole lot more. You don’t bring a court reporter because you don’t feel you need one. You don’t do research because you don’t have time, and you think you know enough. You react to or challenge every lawyer trick because you believe, without any evidence, that it’s the best thing to do. You talk about admiralty law, not because you know anything about it or where it fits into your case, but because you heard someone talk about it. You file the wrong motions in the wrong situations. It’s important to know what you don’t know and act accordingly. Instead of talking about sovereign citizenship, talk about and use civil procedure. Rather than reacting to lawyer antics, judicial bias or a sense of unfairness, focus on your case. Learn it backwards and forwards, and then bring your court reporter. That’s how you win. See Sovereign Citizens Make Pro Se Litigants Look Silly for more about the “problem” with sovereign citizens.
Any waiver of the right to counsel must be knowing, voluntary, and intelligent. The Faretta court stated that "a defendant need not have the skill and experience of a lawyer, but should be made aware of the dangers and disadvantages of self-representation, so that the record will establish that he knows what he is doing and "the choice is made with eyes open." See Faretta. In 2004, the Court acknowledged that it has not prescribed any formula regarding the information a defendant must possess in order to make an intelligent choice. See Iowa v. Tovar, 541 U.S. 77 (2004). According to the Court, determining whether a waiver of counsel is intelligent depends on "a range of case-specific factors, including the defendant's education or sophistication, the complex or easily grasped nature of the charge, and the stage of the proceeding." See Tovar.
Pro Se One Stop Legal Document Services, LLC is a non-lawyer document preparation service dedicated to saving you time and money with your legal matters and helping you to avoid unnecessary attorney’s fees. We are not attorneys and we do not offer legal advice, but we do provide high quality legal document preparation services with a high attention to detail in various areas, predominantly family and civil matters. We are conscientious of our customer’s unique, individual needs and differing scenarios.
The exclusion of prisoner pro se litigation is a potentially consequential choice. Commentators sometimes discuss trends in prisoner and nonprisoner civil pro se litigation without differentiating between the two classes, but there is no reason to assume that trends in prisoner pro se litigation mirror trends in nonprisoner pro se litigation.80 Prisoner pro se litigation may be an interesting topic of its own. However, most prisoner litigation consists of several unique case types that are pseudocriminal in nature, particularly habeas petitions, that are not necessarily similar to other types of civil pro se litigation. Accordingly, the scope of this Comment excludes cases that are predominantly brought by prisoners in order to focus more narrowly on the dynamics of civil nonprisoner pro se litigation in federal district courts.81
James Traficant, the colorful congressman from Ohio, defended himself twice. The first time was on bribery charges during his time as a local sheriff in the early 80s. He succeeded with a daring argument that his bribe-taking was really part of a corruption investigation that he himself was running. The second time didn't work out so well. He was convicted of some impropriety with campaign funds, got kicked out of the House, and went to prison for several years.
Next, Table 2F compares the probability of a plaintiff winning when both parties are represented to the probability of a plaintiff winning when the plaintiff is represented but the defendant is a pro se defendant. In the column, “Def Rep’d / Def Pro Se,” the number 0.5 would mean that plaintiffs win half as often when both parties are represented as compared to cases in which the defendant is pro se. The lower the number, the better represented litigants fare relative to pro se litigants.88
81. Some reasons that these reforms may impact prisoners differently from nonprisoners include: differences in the types of cases brought, potentially different access to legal resources (depending on the availability of legal materials in prison), different judicial attitudes toward prisoner and nonprisoner pro se litigants, or different levels of access to counsel. Note that this Comment does not definitively suggest these reforms impact nonprisoner and prisoner pro se litigants differently. Instead, it merely suggests there may be differences and limits the scope of this analysis to nonprisoner pro se litigants.
The American Bar Association (ABA) has also been involved with issues related to self-representation. In 2008, the Louis M. Brown Award for Legal Access was presented to the Chicago-Kent College of Law Center for Access to Justice & Technology for making justice more accessible to the public through the use of the Internet in teaching, legal practice and public access to the law. Their A2J Author Project is a software tool that empowers those from the courts, legal services programs and educational institutions to create guided interviews resulting in document assembly, electronic filing and data collection. Viewers using A2J to go through a guided interview are led down a virtual pathway to the courthouse. As they answer simple questions about their legal issue, the technology then "translates" the answers to create, or assemble, the documents that are needed for filing with the court.
Variations Possible. A form may call for more or less information than a particular court requires. The fact that a form asks for certain information does not mean that every court or a particular court requires it. And if the form does not ask for certain information, a particular court might still require it. Consult the rules and caselaw that govern in the court where you are filing the pleading.