I've been accused of overstating former Vice President Joe Biden's potential in the 2020 presidential primary. After all, he's a gaffe-prone septuagenarian who touts occupational licensing reform and maintaining our private health insurance industry. And he's in a Democratic Party led by a socialist who honeymooned in the Soviet Union and a 29-year-old former bartender who believes that "like, the world will end in 12 years" because of climate change.
Tables 2E and 2F, the final tables in this Part, examine how win rates for pro se litigants vary across different types of cases. The win ratios in Table 2E compare the probability of a plaintiff winning when both parties are represented to the probability of a plaintiff winning when the plaintiff is a pro se plaintiff but the defendant is represented. In the column “Plaint Rep’d / Plaint Pro Se,” the number 2.0 would mean that plaintiffs win twice as often when both parties are represented as compared to cases in which the plaintiff is pro se. The higher the number, the better represented litigants fare relative to pro se litigants.
61. See, for example, Drew A. Swank, In Defense of Rules and Roles: The Need to Curb Extreme Forms of Pro Se Assistance and Accommodation in Litigation, 54 Am U L Rev 1537, 1583–93 (2005) (arguing that, by playing an active role in the litigation process, a judge becomes an interested party and may become biased—which violates the ideal American judicial role of a “neutral referee”—and may be unfairly advantaged if they are excused for procedural mistakes while represented litigants still bear the costs of procedural mistakes their lawyers may make).
To process this dataset, first I eliminated all cases filed before January 1, 1998; the analysis in this Comment considers only cases filed after that date. After that, I dropped the following sets of cases: all cases from non-Article III district courts; all cases with a “local question” as the nature of the suit; all cases that are currently still pending and lack a termination date; all cases that have missing values for the case disposition; all observations that have missing values for the nature of the suit; a variety of cases that have a nature of suit variable indicating that the suits are of a peculiar or inconsequential variety;138 certain categories of suits that have the government as a party;139 and cases that are typically filed by prisoners and are considered “prisoner pro se litigation.”140
This book is designed both to increase your overall understanding of the litigation process and to provide detailed advice about each stage of trial. Unless you are ­already in the midst of trial and need to refer to a particular chapter immediately, begin preparing to represent yourself by read­ing through the book as a whole. As you become familiar with the litigation process, you will understand the significance of procedures and techniques that may initially seem peculiar or unnecessary.
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Why are the courts so unfriendly to the self-represented? They weren't always that way; in the first 100 years of our history, the courts dealt equally with all comers. But in the late 19th and early 20th century, the courts came to serve the needs and interests of the legal profession, which took control of them and built a monopoly over who can appear before them as advocates.
The center’s approach, known as “limited-scope legal assistance,” can fill an important void. Most federal courts devote substantial resources to pro se litigants, such as handbooks and staff time answering process questions, and pro se staff attorneys help judges process cases. But court staff may not give legal advice to litigants, and although private lawyers offer some volunteer assistance, they cannot meet demand.
How does it work? I attended a meeting with a group of advocates from across Pennsylvania, and Steve Gold, the attorney who designed this Pro Se, told us about filing our own lawsuits. Once I learned how to use it, I was ready for action, I couldn't wait to do my first case. My success rate since I began to use the Pro Se form has been 100%: all public accommodations served with papers under the Pro Se method have made their places accessible.
Clerk’s staff and judges in Brooklyn now refer pro se litigants to a new on-site center called the Pro Se Legal Assistance Project. There, a small legal staff from the New York City Bar Justice Center helps clients more effectively pursue their cases. The center assists with strategizing, document drafting and procedural guidance, but does not directly represent litigants in court.
There is good reason to believe, however, that there are not major omitted variable issues in this data. There are three potential omitted variables that are important to address here, but none seems likely to be a confounding factor in this analysis.103 One key possibility is that district courts that have implemented more pro se reforms may differ from other district courts in that they have dockets with more (or fewer) pro se litigants. However, previous analysis suggests that is not the case.104 Another potentially important consideration is whether pro se reform is concentrated in a few district courts. But approximately 90 percent of district courts have implemented at least some services for nonprisoner pro se litigants, so this does not appear to be the case either.105 Finally, it could be the case that district courts typically implement either none or many of these reforms. However, similar numbers of district courts have implemented one, two, three, and four programs and procedures to assist pro se litigants;106 accordingly, there is no apparent all-or-nothing problem either.107 While this Comment does not claim that these are all of the potentially important omitted variables,108 it does seem that district court reform is a widespread practice used in different ways throughout those courts, suggesting that it is ripe for the type of analysis conducted here.109
Laws and organizations charged with regulating judicial conduct may also affect pro se litigants. For example, The State of California Judicial Council has addressed through published materials the need of the Judiciary to act in the interests of fairness to self-represented litigants.[9] The California rules express a preference for resolution of every case on the merits, even if resolution requires excusing inadvertence by a pro se litigant that would otherwise result in a dismissal. The Judicial Council justifies this position based on the idea that "Judges are charged with ascertaining the truth, not just playing referee ... A lawsuit is not a game, where the party with the cleverest lawyer prevails regardless of the merits."[10] It suggests "the court should take whatever measures may be reasonable and necessary to insure a fair trial" and says "There is only one reported case in the U.S. finding a judge's specific accommodations have gone too far." The committee notes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure rule 56 on summary judgments notes that "Many courts take extra care with pro se litigants, advising them of the need to respond and the risk of losing by summary judgment if an adequate response is not filed. And the court may seek to reassure itself by some examination of the record before granting summary judgment against a pro se litigant."[11]
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