There’s no way to avoid it: If you represent yourself in court, you’re going to run into a lot of unfamiliar legal terminology. This book tries to translate the most common jargon into plain ­English. For quick refer­ence, check the glossary at the back of the book. You can find more plain-language definitions in Nolo’s online legal dictionary, available for free at www.nolo.com.
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
^ Kay v. Ehrler, 499 U.S. 432, 435 (1991), citing Gonzalez v. Kangas, 814 F. 2d 1411 (9th Cir. 1987); Smith v. DeBartoli, 769 F. 2d 451, 453 (7th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1067 (1986); Turman v. Tuttle, 711 F. 2d 148 (10th Cir. 1983) (per curiam); Owens-El v. Robinson, 694 F. 2d 941 (3d Cir. 1982); Wright v. Crowell, 674 F. 2d 521 (6th Cir. 1982) (per curiam); Cofield v. Atlanta, 648 F. 2d 986, 987-988 (5th Cir. 1981); Lovell v. Snow, 637 F. 2d 170 (1st Cir. 1981); Davis v. Parratt, 608 F. 2d 717 (8th Cir. 1979) (per curiam).
78. Civil pro se litigation by prisoners is heavily concentrated in two pseudocriminal types of proceedings: prisoner habeas corpus petitions (nature of suit code 530) and prisoner civil rights petitions (nature of suit code 550). For a more detailed description of these fields, see generally Integrated Data Base Civil Documentation (cited in note 77).
“Federal cases are difficult for litigants, who are anxious to begin with and understandably confused by what is a complicated legal process. Even when their cases are potentially meritorious, without legal advice it is very easy for litigants to make mistakes that compromise their cases,” said Tarnofsky. “Thanks to the support of the SDNY, the NYLAG Pro Se Clinic is off to a great start.”
To date, a public, empirical assessment of the effects of this office on outcomes of pro se litigation is not available. This Part seeks to begin to fill that gap by evaluating the impact of EDNY’s reforms on the pro se process. Part IV.B discusses the methodology for this analysis. Part IV.C finds that the reforms in the EDNY have had a small, and in fact negative, impact on the win rates of pro se litigants in that court.123 This evidence, when combined with the evidence in Part III, strengthens this Comment’s finding that pro se reforms in trial courts have been ineffectual at improving litigation outcomes for pro se litigants.
Pro Se is a newsletter published bi-monthly by Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York for incarcerated individuals in New York State prisons. Pro Se provides information and analysis on recent developments in the law. Pro Se advises people in prison of changes in the law, provides practice pieces to assist them in complying with statutory and regulatory requirements, and explains technical aspects of various laws affecting prisoners. Pro Se is sent free of charge to individuals incarcerated in New York State who request to be placed on our mailing list.
Most family divisions of the Vermont Superior Court offer a one-hour program each month. Other divisions offer them quarterly. A lawyer who practices in the family division conducts the program. The lawyer cannot talk to you about the specifics of your case. Instead, you will receive general information about the law and the process. See the schedule below for the county in which you filed your action.
This Comment furthers the legal community’s understanding of issues in pro se litigation by conducting an empirical analysis of pro se reforms in federal district courts. By comparing case outcomes for pro se litigants in district courts that have implemented these types of reforms with the outcomes of similarly situated pro se litigants in courts that have not implemented any reforms, this Comment provides an initial assessment of the impact of those reforms. The analysis reveals that thus far, a wide range of reforms undertaken by federal district courts have not significantly impacted case outcomes for pro se litigants. This analysis conflicts with the intuitions of the Supreme Court, commentators, and judges and clerks of district court offices, who have indicated their belief that these reforms are effective.
So, you have to decide what your goal is: (1) To post your complaint on the web in all its vitriolic splendor and go down in a blaze of glory or (2) to win your case. If its the former, go for it! If its the latter, get some help to draft a complaint in law talk, keep it simple, and go for the bucks you need to survive. You can do that, and still keep the street war going in a forum other than the courtroom. That's the win-win approach.
In May 2001, EDNY began one of the country’s more dramatic pro se reform programs, elevating a magistrate judge to a newly created pro se office focused entirely on overseeing pro se litigation and assigning her broad responsibilities for overseeing pro se litigation.117 These reforms were implemented with the intent to help “facilitate access to the courts” for pro se litigants.118

Your state’s “Rules of Court.” These are rules that set the procedures and deadlines that the courts in a state must follow. Generally, states have separate sets of rules for different kinds of courts. For example, a state may have one set of rules for its municipal courts (courts that try cases involving limited amounts of money), another for its superior courts (courts that try cases involving higher amounts of money), and still others for its appellate courts (courts that review the decisions of municipal and superior courts). All the rules may, however, be published in a single book. Some states also have separate sets of rules for specialized courts, such as family law courts, which hear cases involving divorce, child custody, and child support; or probate courts, which hear cases involving wills and trusts.


Let the pro se party’s voice be heard. Individuals representing themselves at trial in civil litigation are often battling hardships on many fronts. Generally, they have found themselves in an unfamiliar and intimidating setting governed by a labyrinth of substantive and procedural rules, along with unwritten local customs and expectations. This maze can be challenging for even the most tested trial attorney. It is particularly daunting to pro se parties. Of course, it is frequently not by choice that pro se parties are in trial without the benefit of legal counsel. Whether they are acting as a plaintiff or a defendant, their status as a pro se party is many times forced by precarious financial situations. Moreover, the types of lawsuits in which pro se litigants are regularly involved—employment, professional malpractice, personal injury, whistleblower cases, and collections, to name a few—are often particularly rife with emotion and typically involve allegations of a sensitive, personal, and sometimes embarrassing nature. Indeed, these cases are often plagued by feelings of anger, resentment, pride, shame, and revenge. To make the situation even more challenging, pro se litigants frequently take the drastic step of representing themselves in civil litigation because they view themselves as victims of a wrong that must be made right, and they do not view as primary considerations the time and costs associated with redressing the wrong.

According to the National Center for State Courts 2006 report, in the United States, many state court systems and the federal courts are experiencing an increasing proportion of pro se litigants.[1] Estimates of the pro se rate of family law overall averaged 67% in California, 73% in Florida's large counties, and 70% in some Wisconsin counties.[1] In San Diego, for example, the number of divorce filings involving at least one pro se litigant rose from 46% in 1992 to 77% in 2000, in Florida from 66% in 1999 to 73% in 2001.[1] California reports in 2001 that over 50% of family matters filings in custody and visitation are by pro se litigants.[2] In the U.S. Federal Court system for the year 2013 approximately 27% of civil actions filed, 92% of prisoner petitions and 11% of non-prisoner petitions were filed by pro se litigants.[3] Defendants in political trials tend to participate in the proceedings more than defendants in non-political cases, as they may have greater ability to depart from courtroom norms to speak to political and moral issues.[4]

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