The Supreme Court noted that "[i]n the federal courts, the right of self-representation has been protected by statute since the beginnings of our Nation. Section 35 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, 1 Stat. 73, 92, enacted by the First Congress and signed by President Washington one day before the Sixth Amendment was proposed, provided that 'in all the courts of the United States, the parties may plead and manage their own causes personally or by the assistance of counsel.'"[5]
We’re pro se litigants, and we talk to other pro se litigants all day every day, probably more than any lawyer does. I can tell you no one needs to “pit” pro se’s against lawyers; you guys have that covered. Perhaps if you all would take more seriously your obligation to deliver access to justice, we wouldn’t need to stand in for you. Thanks again for the comment.
Oftentimes, self-represented litigants become reactive when there’s a lawyer on the other side. Instead of getting ahead of things or running their own case, they let the lawyer take the lead. They spend so much time responding to discovery requests, summary judgment motions, motions to dismiss, and other filings that they don’t formulate a strategy of their own. They don’t do their own discovery or object to certain requests because they’re swamped and often intimidated. So, they’re always behind and in a constant reactive state. If a wise opponent sees how reactive you are, they can walk you right into an error. So, take control of your case. Never let a lawyer think that he’s in charge of it.
85. Although it’s difficult to pinpoint the factors most responsible for the unfavorable outcomes for many or most pro se litigants, some issues that many district judges cite in explaining the typical challenges of pro se litigants include: pro se plaintiffs’ lack of ability to write legally comprehensible pleadings or submissions, lack of ability to respond to legal motions in fruitful ways, lack of knowledge about relevant legal precedents, issues with timeliness in the legal process, and failure to understand the legal consequences of their actions. For a more complete list of issues that judges perceive pro se litigants face, see Stienstra, Bataillon, and Cantone, Assistance to Pro Se Litigants in U.S. District Courts at *21–23 (cited in note 11).
Amendments.15 The Sixth Amendment famously states that, “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to . . . the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”16 The Supreme Court has clarified the scope of the right to counsel in criminal prosecutions through a series of landmark cases, gradually converting a guaranteed right to provide one’s own counsel into a right to
The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the right to representation by counsel.  In 1975, the Supreme Court held that the structure of the Sixth Amendment necessarily implies that a defendant in a state criminal trial has a constitutional right to proceed without counsel when he voluntarily and intelligently elects to do so. See Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975).  Thus, an unwilling defendant may not be compelled by the State to accept the assistance of a lawyer.  A defendant's right to self-represenatation in federal criminal proceedings is codified in 28 U.S.C. § 1654. 

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.
The EDNY pro se office has two primary functions.119 First, the magistrate judge’s pro se office—comprised of staff attorneys and administrative office employees—proposes initial orders to the assigned judge, including to dismiss or to direct the litigant to amend the complaint, and responds to inquiries from the judge’s offices about the cases. As part of these initial duties, the office gives procedural advice to individuals about filing and litigating their claims by answering questions and making forms and instructions available. Second, the magistrate judge automatically oversees all pro se cases that survive screening, handles pretrial matters, and presides at trial with the parties’ consent.120 These reforms do not exactly mimic those discussed in the FJC Survey and evaluated in the empirical analysis above. However, they do include a number of efforts similar to those evaluated in
According to Boston Bar Association Task Force 1998 report in every court studied by the task force, litigants without lawyers are present in surprising numbers. In some counties, over 75% of the cases in Probate and Family Courts have at least one party unrepresented. In the Northeast Housing Court, over 50% of the landlords and 92% of the tenants appear without lawyers in summary process cases.[40]
Congratulations! You have just filed your first Pro Se complaint. Feel free to share your new knowledge with as many people as you can, including any materials in this packet. Nothing is copyrighted, and duplication is encouraged. If you need any further assistance, please call the Pa. Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities at (717) 238-0172 voice or (717) 238-3433 TTY.
More generally, win rates are an imperfect outcome variable for evaluating the effectiveness of pro se reform, and some caution is warranted when making inferences based on this analysis. The thorniest issue is that a large portion of civil cases are disposed of in ways that do not typically result in final judgments being entered, so win rates do not directly shed light on how pro se litigants fare in those cases. Some district court reforms might plausibly result in more favorable settlements for pro se litigants, and thus improved outcomes for pro se litigants while not materially affecting the win rates of pro se litigants upon final judgment.97 That said, there is a good theoretical reason to believe that win rates upon final judgment correlate with the favorability of settlements: in typical litigation settings, if both parties have similar beliefs about the probability of winning at trial and make economically rational decisions, they ought to come to a settlement weighted to favor the party more likely to prevail at trial.98 The AO data, however, does not include any measure of settlement quality that could be used to confirm or analyze the relationship for these types of cases.
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.
When pro se litigants feel they are being shut out from the process or that their voices are being stifled, these challenges—and the accompanying risks—are amplified. In fact, studies show that notions of fairness heavily influence and guide pro se litigants. Id. at 4. Indeed, “research has repeatedly established that when litigants perceive that a decision-making process is fair, they are more likely to be satisfied with the outcome.” Self-Represented Litigation Network, Handling Cases Involving Self-Represented Litigants: A National Bench Guide for Judges 2–4 (2008).
I truly do appreciate the work you do and the information you provide as this is a great service to "all" citizens. Certainly more "legal information" is needed to increase "legal literacy" in the world today. I am amazed that you are able to respond so quickly given your "one man" operation. The "legacy" you are leaving by promoting "legal education" is important to this generation as well as future generations and I commend you for your efforts to impart of your knowledge. ... Leonard S.
“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.”
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.

11. See Donna Stienstra, Jared Bataillon, and Jason A. Cantone, Assistance to Pro Se Litigants in U.S. District Courts: A Report on Surveys of Clerks of Court and Chief Judges *3 (Federal Judicial Center, 2011), archived at http://perma.cc/8TYT-7Y43 (reporting that 90 percent of the US district courts surveyed have adopted at least one procedural reform).
For example, the Federal Rules of Evidence (often referred to as the FRE) govern the introduction of evidence in federal court trials. But about 40 states also use the FRE in their state court trials. And even those states that have not formally adopted the FRE have evidence rules that are quite similar to them. This means that, for the most part, trials are conducted in the same way nationwide. Another set of federal rules, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (or FRCP) apply similarly to govern procedural (rather than evidentiary) rules. Because of this basic uniformity, the book frequently refers you to ­specific rules that, even if they differ somewhat from your state’s rules, should help you understand the basic procedures that will apply to your case.
In addition to dropping the above cases, I undertook a series of steps to consolidate multiple records from certain cases and prevent those cases from being double-counted. To do so, I first created unique identifiers for each case based on the district, office, and docket number of its first filing. I then used those unique identifiers to consolidate multiple records that correspond to the same case into single records. I considered the filing date to be the first date on which the case was filed and the termination date to be the final date on which the case was terminated.

You might expect lawyers who disrespect their professional colleagues to be even more disrespectful of pro se litigants. If an adversary’s lawyer tries to intimidate you, keep your cool. Look to the judge for help, and don’t try to out-bully a bully. Perhaps realizing that most lawyers and bar associations disavow bullying tactics can help you do so.


Individual lawyers almost always find it difficult to actually see the bias against the self-represented that pervades our courts, just as a few years ago, judges who complimented woman lawyers on their looks were shocked when they were labeled as sexist. Few lawyers are able or willing to come to terms with the fact that a significant portion of their livelihood is based squarely on barriers to self-representation that the courts erect and enforce.
In the same vein of using your body, working out--even for just ten minutes a day-- can do wonders for clearing up your mind. When we work out, as I'm sure you know, our bodies emit endorphins that allow us to feel happy--even if we can't explain why. If you don't have time to squeeze in a full-body workout or some substantial cardio that day, just do a couple jumping jacks or take a brisk walk around the block. How much better--and more confident--you feel will amaze you.

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.

All jurisdictions have adopted rules regarding unbundled legal services. For example, most states follow the American Bar Association’s Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2(c), which provides that lawyers may limit the scope of their representation, as long as the limitations are reasonable under the circumstances, and the client gives informed consent.
The primary dataset used in this Comment consists of administrative records of civil cases filed in federal district courts, which are collected and published by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts (AO).76 The AO dataset includes the district court in which the case was filed, the docket number of each case, the date on which the case was filed, the nature of the suit, the procedural progress of the case at the time the case was disposed of, the manner in which the case was disposed of, the party that the final judgment of the case was in favor of, and whether the plaintiff or the defendant was a pro se party.77

Resource Guide on Serving Self-Represented Litigants Remotely (SRLN 2016). (July 2016). Self-Represented Litigants Network The Resource Guide provides options for courts and other entities interested in providing services to self-represented litigants using means that are not face-to-face, instead of, or in addition to, in-person alternatives such as walk-in services, workshops, and clinics. 


Individual lawyers almost always find it difficult to actually see the bias against the self-represented that pervades our courts, just as a few years ago, judges who complimented woman lawyers on their looks were shocked when they were labeled as sexist. Few lawyers are able or willing to come to terms with the fact that a significant portion of their livelihood is based squarely on barriers to self-representation that the courts erect and enforce.
132. See generally D. James Greiner, Dalié Jiménez, and Lois R. Lupica, Self-Help, Reimagined, 92 Ind L J 1119 (2017). It is difficult to synthesize their conclusions into a simple path toward providing pro se litigants with effective assistance, but they emphasize in particular the need for breaking legal problems down into their constituent components, including mental, psychological, and cognitive issues, as well as identifying and implementing relevant research from nonlegal literature to address those problems. They emphasize in particular that often the “relevant tasks have little to do with formal law.” Id at 1172.
Although it's a little cheesy, having an alter ego of sorts is a very helpful way to boost self-confidence. If we pretend like we're someone else--strong, willful, self-confident--we never have to subject ourselves to the fear of our personal worth not being enough for others. We should not necessarily lie about who we are, or invent false facts, but instead find another mode of existence in which we may tap into to be comfortable in our own skin.
77. For more discussion of the nature of these fields and other data contained in the AO dataset, see generally Integrated Data Base Civil Documentation (Federal Judicial Center, 2017), archived at http://perma.cc/LT4F-2W5E. Additionally, several other fields are used in the data processing that is conducted before the analysis, such as using the docket number assigned by the district court to avoid double-counting cases. For more discussion of the data cleaning process, including the data used in that process, see
It was very nice of Kenn to share all that esoteric knowledge regarding the litigation process. I think most lawyers would only be interested in non disclosure of their dirty tricks, so many thanks to Kenn. I have not made the decision of going pro se, but even if I don't, the book is still worth to read to attain some understanding of what is going on behind the scenes in one's lawsuit.
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.
Contingency Fees. When representing people in personal injury cases, lawyers often take a percentage of the final judgment—often one-third, but varying depending on factors such as whether a case settles before trial—as their fee. Because you will try your own case, you will probably not use a contingency fee arrangement. If your coach suggests one, do not agree to give too high a percentage, since you will be doing most of the work.
62. See, for example, Robert Bacharach and Lyn Entzeroth, Judicial Advocacy in Pro Se Litigation: A Return to Neutrality, 42 Ind L Rev 19, 34–35 (2009) (arguing that “ad hoc” rules applied to pro se litigants often end up disadvantaging rather than aiding pro se litigants, and specifically describing how attempts by judges to help pro se litigants make initial claims could lead to more dismissals of those claims, thus threatening their pauper status).
Narrow exceptions to this principle have also been suggested by other courts in the United States. For example, according to one district court a state-licensed attorney who is acting as pro se may collect attorney's fees when he represents a class (of which he is a member) in a class action lawsuit,[53] or according to another court represents a law firm of which he is a member.[54] In each of those instances, a non-attorney would be barred from conducting the representation altogether. One district court found that this policy does not prevent a pro se attorney from recovering fees paid for consultations with outside counsel.[55] Pro se who are not state-licensed attorneys cannot bring up a class action lawsuit.[22]
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