What is Pro Se Litigation?
Posted in Lawsuit on March 24, 2017
The number of people who choose to represent themselves in court has been steadily increasing for decades now. The resources, educational tools and assistance that is readily available has encourage more people to forego the extra expense of hiring a lawyer. What is entailed in representing yourself in a case, and what regulations are there to know?
What Is a Pro Se Litigant?
Pro Se is Latin for “on one’s own behalf.” This means that you are the one doing every step of the lawsuit process; filing the initial claim, gathering evidence, questioning witnesses, negotiating a settlement, meeting with the judge; it’s all your responsibility. So what exactly are the rules for “proceeding pro se?”
How Do I File a Lawsuit?
The lawsuit process is slightly different depending on whether you are filing in state or federal court. If your case does go to trial, it’s important to understand the procedural differences between the two. However, as a pro se litigant, the process for filing a lawsuit is generally the same no matter the court.
- Write your complaint – This is where you state in great detail the reason(s) for the suit. Be sure to include: names and addresses of plaintiff and defendant, jurisdiction (reason for filing in that specific court), allegations against defendant, and the compensation you seek. Don’t worry if it’s not professionally written, the court will take the fact that you are pro se into consideration.
- File your complaint – Include the civil cover sheet, civil category sheet, and a completed summons for each defendant. There is a filing fee of about $400, but if you cannot afford to pay it, you may be able to have it waived by also filing an application to proceed without payment.
- Judicial review – You’ll want to be honest and forthright in the forms you file, because the court may dismiss the case at any time if they find that your stated poverty is untrue, the action frivolous or malicious, fails to state a proper claim or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune.
- Service of process – Once the claim is accepted by the courts, you’ll need to inform all defendants involved that they are being summoned to court by your lawsuit.
What Are the Disadvantages of Pro Se?
One obvious detriment to proceeding pro se is the assumed lack of legal knowledge by all parties involved, and it may very well be true. If you have not gone to law school or otherwise have little to no experience, there will likely be a lot of studying involved. Even though you are representing yourself, you will still be expected to understand the law.
You will also be expected to be aware of and follow all procedures as it relates to the court. Proper filing of documents, communication to the judge, and correct motions are just a few examples of things with which you’ll need to familiarize yourself. These things may not necessarily be seen as disadvantages, but another limitation will be the amount of help you’ll receive.
As you are proceeding pro se, you will not be able to formally seek legal advice from another lawyer. In fact, it’s against the law for court employees or someone from the clerk’s office to give you legal advice. The most you can hope for is help with proper procedure.
If it’s purely cost you are worried about, then a court-appointed attorney may be provided for you, or you could seek to hire a lawyer and try to work with them in a tight budget. If you proceed pro se, follow proper court procedure, be well prepared, and be professional with the judge.