Don't let the Pro Se form scare you. It's easy! All you have to do is just put it in the computer and fill in the bold parts that are in parentheses. If you do not have a computer, then use the "blank" pro se. We have an example copy included for your convenience. Keep the example copy with you at your side as a guideline. Once you have the disk copy in your computer and the example copy in front of you, just follow these suggestions and you're on your way:
Comment—appear to have no more than a 1 percent impact on the percent of pro se litigants that actually win cases in court. Perhaps more likely, they do not actually impact case outcomes at all, and the 1 percent variation is simply noise. Regardless of whether they account for some small improvement, however, these results show that pro se reforms are not significantly moving the needle in terms of case outcomes. Any potential improvement is substantially smaller than what the experimental literature suggests would result from improved access to counsel.112 Hence, compared to pro se win rates with a lawyer, these reforms cannot be considered a meaningful substitute for access to counsel even if they yield a small improvement, at least insofar as the goal is to help pro se litigants win more cases.
Self-Representation.—The Court has held that the Sixth Amendment, in addition to guaranteeing the right to retained or appointed counsel, also guarantees a defendant the right to represent himself. this a right the defendant must adopt knowingly and intelligently; under some circumstances the trial judge may deny the authority to exercise it, as when the defendant simply lacks the competence to make a knowing or intelligent waiver of counsel or when his self-representation is so disruptive of orderly procedures that the judge may curtail it. the essential elements of self-representation were spelled out in McKaskle v. Wiggins…

The disdain by federal judges against pro se litigants is a serious problem in our country, which the Supreme Court and Congress should rectify. Perhaps some judges have seen too many frivolous pro se lawsuits for their liking. Surely many such lawsuits are not meritorious, and the majority are brought by prisoners. Perhaps this is why some judges read only as far as " pro se" before rolling their eyes.

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]


Late in 2016 NYLAG opened a legal clinic for pro se litigants in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) – one of a handful of federal district courts across the country seeking to make legal assistance available to the large number of civil litigants who come to federal court without an attorney by authorizing and funding an on-site legal clinic.

Additionally, there is no obvious way to test the consistency or validity of these survey results. If different courts implemented substantively different reforms but mapped them to the same policies when answering the questionnaire, these results may underestimate the effectiveness of certain policies. For example, if one district court allowed pro se litigants to conduct extremely formal and limited communications with pro se clerks, while another district court allowed pro se litigants who showed up at the court to receive extensive counseling from pro se clerks, both district courts may report that they provided “direct communications with pro se clerks.”99 These two policies may be sufficiently distinct that they have very different influences on the outcomes of pro se litigation. The available survey data does not provide a reliable way to tease out these types of distinctions, and they are grouped together in the analysis below. Similarly, if overburdened district courts were simply sloppy in their survey responses, this methodology may in turn underestimate the results of these policies.
Genius often makes itself known in short bursts, so don't let it go when it comes around. If you have a great idea for a new work process, a recipe to try, or even a way to drive more efficiently, write it down. This way, you'll remember the strokes of genius that fleetingly pass through, and you'll be able to look back on them and remind yourself of the little things when you're feeling down.
Finally, one other potential policy implication suggested by this Comment is that expanded access to counsel for certain pro se litigants may be an attractive option. This Comment does not fully analyze the potential costs or benefits of civil Gideon and accordingly comes to no conclusion about its overall merits.133 However, many commentators have opposed civil Gideon partially on the grounds that pro se reforms at the trial court level could be a cheaper, but still effective, alternative.134 The Supreme Court has suggested a similar belief.135 But while not totally conclusive for the reasons described above, this Comment indicates that those reforms have not had the kind of impact on case outcomes that increased access to counsel might have. Because these reforms do not yet appear to be a viable and effective alternative to civil Gideon, this Comment suggests that improved case outcomes may be better achieved through expanded access to counsel than through pro se reforms.
In the years since this book first appeared, the number of people representing themselves in civil court cases has continued to grow. A recent collection of statistics by the National Center for State Courts shows that the vast majority of family law cases involve at least one, and often two, self-represented parties. In California, over 4.3 million people using the courts are self-represented; in New Hampshire, 85% of civil cases in the trial court involve at least one self-represented party. Many courts report an upsurge in self-representation. (Memorandum on Pro Se Statistics, 9/25/2006, National Center for State Courts, available at www.ncsconline.org/WC/publications/memos/prosestatsmemo.htm.) Other research indicates that at least one party was self-represented in more than two-thirds of domestic relations cases in California and in nearly 90% of divorce cases in Phoenix, Arizona, and Washington, DC. (See Jona Goldschmidt, et al., Meeting the Challenge of Pro Se Litigation: A Report and Guidebook for Judges and Court Managers, A Consumer Based Approach (1998).) These studies are substantiated by many civil court administrators and judges, who estimate that the number of self-represented
One important takeaway from this Comment, related to the limitations described above, is the importance of additional studies into the effectiveness of other reform measures, especially reform measures undertaken in courts other than federal district courts. As previously mentioned, other courts throughout the country have experimented with ways to help pro se litigants.130 Although the particular reforms analyzed here appear to have been ineffective, other reforms undertaken by other courts might achieve better results. With sufficient empirical legwork, successful reforms can be identified, and other courts can learn from those successes. Although courts likely attempt to learn from each other’s practices, without empirical validation of these techniques, there’s a risk that the blind are leading the blind. More empirical studies could help show the way.
This is the public service Lawyer Referral and Information program of the York County Bar Association. They will refer you to an attorney who will meet with you about your case for an initial consultation fee of $50. Even if you decide to handle the case yourself, it is in your best interests to first meet with an attorney who can help you decide how best to present your case.
136. See Civil Cases Filed, Terminated, and Pending from SY 1988 to Present (Federal Judicial Center, 2017), archived at http://perma.cc/Y4CY-MVG5. Note that the data is not available for download from the Perma link. For the most recent data, see Civil Cases Filed, Terminated, and Pending from SY 1988 to Present (Federal Judicial Center, 2018), available at http://www.fjc.gov/research/idb/civil-cases-filed-terminated-and-pending-
Proponents and detractors within the civil Gideon debate disagree on how effective civil Gideon would be in improving case outcomes for pro se litigants. One reason for this is that commentators disagree about how effective Gideon itself has been at improving case outcomes for criminal defendants.50 Many of the reasons commonly given for the failure of Gideon, such as the political difficulty of allocating sufficient resources to defense lawyers and the high bar for claiming ineffective assistance of counsel, would likely apply with equal or greater force in the context of civil Gideon.51
121. See Bloom and Hershkoff, 16 Notre Dame J L, Ethics & Pub Pol at 493–94 (cited in note 74). About 15 percent of civil cases were pro se cases in 1999, and a substantial percentage of those cases were prisoner pro se cases, so the percent of the docket comprised of nonprisoner pro se cases was relatively close to the typical 9 percent of the federal docket for the time period that Table 2A covers. Further, the bulk of those cases were civil rights cases, employment discrimination cases, and Social Security cases. The former two categories are also the most typical types of nonprisoner pro se litigation in this analysis, as Table 2D shows.
Fill-in-the-blank court forms for most states are available online. When you visit a state court website that has do-it-yourself forms, you may be asked a series of questions about your legal problem. Your answers will automatically generate the appropriate form with instructions on how to complete it and what to do with it once it’s done. To see the forms available on New York’s self-help website, visit www.nycourthelp.gov/diy/index.html.
Establish Jurisdiction.  To file a lawsuit in a particular court, you must first establish personal jurisdiction. This means that the particular state in which you are filing has authority over the defendants. Personal jurisdiction for a slander claim is typically appropriate wherever the effect of the slanderous statement is felt. In recent U.S. decisions, "targeting" of the forum is also required in order to bring a defendant into court in a certain jurisdiction. This means that the defendant intentionally aimed the defamatory statement at an audience in a certain state.
One more effective path might look toward a growing body of research on more effective ways to provide self-help resources and literature to pro se litigants. A recent article by Professors Greiner, Dalié Jiménez, and Lois R. Lupica details their endeavors to develop a theory of the issues that potential pro se civil litigants would face in the legal process. Their article then draws on recent developments in a number of fields, such as education, psychology, and public health, to imagine what truly effective self-help materials would look like and how they might help pro se litigants fare better at trial.132 Courts and commentators could try to enhance the effectiveness of their reform efforts by drawing on this and other similar research. Using this kind of research to provide effective educational handbooks or to help courts communicate in ways that are more useful to pro se litigants could enhance the types of pro se reforms analyzed in this Comment.
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.

Many pro se resources come from these sources: local courts, which may offer limited self-help assistance;[62] public interest groups, such as the American Bar Association, which sponsors reform and promotes resources for self-help[citation needed], and commercial services, which sell pre-made forms allowing self-represented parties to have formally correct documents. For example, the Self-Represented Litigation Network (SRLN) is an organization whose web site, srln.org, is dedicated to issues related to self-represented litigation and offers a curated resource library for legal professionals (courts, lawyers, and allies) engaged in pro se litigation. The organization provides no assistance with particular complaints.[63] "Self-help" legal service providers must take care not to cross the line into giving advice, in order to avoid "unauthorized practice of law", which in the U.S. is the unlawful act of a non-lawyer practicing law.[64]

While the outcome gap between pro se and represented litigants does not necessarily prove that lack of access to counsel causes poor case outcomes for pro se litigants, it is easy to see how it motivates proponents of pro se court reforms or civil Gideon. Table 2C suggests that, whenever one of the parties is proceeding pro se, the likelihood that any final judgment will be registered for the other party is overwhelming. If one believes that a meaningful portion of pro se litigants have important rights that they are seeking to vindicate in court, it is likely they are not receiving adequate remedies under the current legal system.85

83. Table 2C simply removes cases classified as “Missing/Unknown” or “Both” from Table 2B and recalculates the percentages. All analyses of cases reaching final judgment in this Comment focus on the subset of case dispositions that commonly reach final judgment. Cases dismissed for want of prosecution, that settle, or that otherwise do not typically receive entry of final judgment on resolution are excluded from these analyses. For more discussion of the calculation methodology, see Appendix: AO Data Processing.


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.

This Part discusses trends in civil pro se litigation in federal district courts. It examines several important characteristics of pro se litigation: the volume, typical outcomes, and typical types of suits brought by pro se litigants. It then describes some implications of this data and thus helps contextualize the empirical analyses of pro se reforms that Parts III and IV present.
91. Property cases are an interesting exception, with a represented plaintiff still 0.88 times as likely to win a case against a represented litigant as against a pro se defendant. Though the noncausal nature of the comparisons weighs against drawing any overly significant inferences from this fact, it does suggest that the trend toward increasing numbers of defendants proceeding pro se in property suits might not be a particularly important issue.
123. Note that this does not necessarily imply the pro se reforms in EDNY are failing to improve the litigation process for pro se litigants. See notes 97–100 and accompanying text. It is conceivable that, for example, the reforms in EDNY have led to higher average settlement values for pro se plaintiffs and thus improved overall outcomes for pro se litigants. Moreover, there could be important benefits to a litigation process in which pro se litigants feel more fully heard and in which the process is more dignified for pro se litigants. This office could be creating large benefits for pro se litigants in EDNY overall. However, this analysis is restricted to case outcomes. Further, the pro se reforms in EDNY may be making a positive impact in terms of the efficiency side of the equation, helping to dispose of pro se cases more quickly and efficiently than would otherwise be the case and reducing the overall burden of pro se cases on the court despite not improving case outcomes for pro se litigants.
Pro se means that you are representing yourself in court, without a lawyer. Another term is self-represented litigant. If you represent yourself in a family matter, the court will ask you to attend a Pro Se Education Program. The program helps you understand court procedures and the forms you need to file with the court. Classes are free and open to the public.
123. Note that this does not necessarily imply the pro se reforms in EDNY are failing to improve the litigation process for pro se litigants. See notes 97–100 and accompanying text. It is conceivable that, for example, the reforms in EDNY have led to higher average settlement values for pro se plaintiffs and thus improved overall outcomes for pro se litigants. Moreover, there could be important benefits to a litigation process in which pro se litigants feel more fully heard and in which the process is more dignified for pro se litigants. This office could be creating large benefits for pro se litigants in EDNY overall. However, this analysis is restricted to case outcomes. Further, the pro se reforms in EDNY may be making a positive impact in terms of the efficiency side of the equation, helping to dispose of pro se cases more quickly and efficiently than would otherwise be the case and reducing the overall burden of pro se cases on the court despite not improving case outcomes for pro se litigants.
Melville’s last novel was met mostly with ignorance. Perhaps it was Melville’s form and style, summed by his own words, “There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method.” Though more true of Moby Dick than The Confidence Man, I suspect readers still didn’t quite know what to make of a novel that, despite being orderly by comparison, was nearly three-quarters dialog; without a discerna ...more
IAALS recently released two new reports focused on the experiences of self-represented litigants in the family court system.  Cases Without Counsel: Research on Experiences of Self-Representation in U.S. Family Court which explores the issues from the litigants' perspective.  Cases Without Counsel: Our Recommendations after Listening to the Litigants outlines recommendations for courts, legal service providers, and communities to best serve self-represented litigants in family cases.
Paul Bergman is a Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law and a recipient of two University Distinguished Teaching Awards. His books include Nolo’s Deposition Handbook (with Moore, Nolo); Reel Justice: The Courtroom Goes to the Movies (Andrews & McMeel); Trial Advocacy: Inferences, Arguments, Techniques (with Moore and Binder, West Publishing Co.); Trial Advocacy in a Nutshell (West Publishing Co.); Represent Yourself in Court: How to Prepare & Try a Winning Case (with Berman, Nolo); Depositions in a Nutshell (with Moore, Binder, and Light, West Publishing); Lawyers as Counselors: A Client-Centered Approach (with Binder, Tremblay, and Weinstein, West Publishing); and Cracking the Case Method (Vandeplas Publishing). He has also published numerous articles in law journals.
Do I have a basic understanding of how court procedures work? Custody hearings, and court procedures in general, can be quite confusing for first-timers. Parents considering pro se representation usually benefit from attending a couple of court hearings in advance, just to become more familiar with what to expect in court and what proper court etiquette looks like. (And remember: any questions you have about proper court procedures can always be addressed to the court clerk. So seek that person out and develop a friendly rapport with him or her.)

As Tables 2.2 and 2.3 demonstrate, the presence of a pro se plaintiff or pro se defendant dramatically changes the dynamics of litigation. When both parties are represented and there is a recorded final judgment for either the plaintiff or the defendant, the plaintiff and the defendant each win roughly 50 percent of the time. When the plaintiff proceeds pro se, the plaintiff instead wins about 4 percent of the time. When the defendant proceeds pro se, the plaintiff wins 86 percent of the time. These differences are stark. A represented defendant will nearly always prevail over a pro se plaintiff in court. A represented plaintiff will win almost as consistently against a pro se defendant.
Section provides several tables that highlight the frequency of pro se litigants across different types of legal claims and show which specific case types most frequently feature pro se litigants. Despite the fact that roughly 10 percent of federal district court litigation involves a pro se plaintiff, some types of litigation very rarely involve pro se plaintiffs, while other types of cases are brought by pro se plaintiffs much more than 10 percent of the time. The story is similar for pro se defendants, though the variation is less dramatic because pro se defendants comprise only 2 percent of defendants in civil suits in federal district courts. Even in light of this variance, pro se litigants comprise a significant raw number of civil suits in all categories.

There are some notable records of pro se litigants winning more than $2,000 as plaintiffs: Robert Kearns, inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper who won more than $10 million from Ford for patent infringement; Dr. Julio Perez (District of Southern New York 10-cv-08278) won approximately $5 million in a federal jury trial from Progenics Pharmaceuticals for wrongful termination as a result of whistleblowing; Reginald and Roxanna Bailey (District of Missouri 08-cv-1456), a married couple, who together won $140,000 from Allstate Insurance in a federal jury trial; George M. Cofield, a pro se janitor, won $30,000 from the City of Atlanta in 1980; and Jonathan Odom, a pro se prisoner, who while still a prisoner, won $19,999 from the State of New York in a jury trial.[42][43][44] Timothy-Allen Albertson, who appeared in pro. per., was awarded $3,500 in 1981 in a judgment by the San Francisco Municipal Court entered against the Universal Life Church for defamation by one of its ministers.[45]
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