If you find yourself in the situation where you need to go to court but cannot afford an attorney, you may be able to represent yourself. This is called appearing pro se and it comes with both benefits and drawbacks that you should be aware of before making a decision.
In this blog post, we’ll break down what it means to appear pro se in court, and some of the things you should know if you’re considering representing yourself.
What is the definition of a pro se litigant?
A pro se litigant is someone who represents themselves in court without the assistance of an attorney. The term “pro se” comes from Latin and means “for one’s own person.”
The right to represent oneself in a civil case in federal court is defined by statute 28 U.S.C. $ 1654. This means that, with some limitations, anyone can appear pro se.
What are the benefits of appearing pro se?
There are a few benefits to representing oneself in court.
- Save on legal fees. If you don’t have the money to hire an attorney, or if you don’t qualify for free legal assistance, then representing yourself might be your only option. One of the biggest benefits of representing yourself is that it saves you money. Attorney fees can be expensive and if you are already tight on funds, this may be the only way for you to get the legal help that you need.
- More control over your case. When you have an attorney, they will be making most of the decisions about how to proceed with your case and they may not always see eye to eye with you on how your case should be handled. If you represent yourself, you get to make those decisions and can make sure that your case is handled the way that you want it to be.
- Present your case in the way that you want to. When you have an attorney, they will likely want to present your case in court a certain way. If you represent yourself, you can present your case to the judge however you want (within the rules of evidence and procedure).
What are the drawbacks of appearing pro se?
Although there are some benefits to representing oneself in court, there are also some drawbacks that should be considered before making the decision to go it alone.
- The law is complex and ever-changing. An experienced attorney will have a much better understanding of the law than someone who is representing themselves. This means that you could make some crucial mistakes during your case that could cost you dearly.
- Representing yourself takes time and effort. You will likely need to do a lot of research to prepare for your case—research that an experienced attorney would already know how to do quickly and efficiently.
- Fees upon losing. Although you might save on legal fees by representing yourself, keep in mind that if you lose your case, you will still be responsible for any costs associated with it (e.g., filing fees, expert witness fees).
What resources are available to pro se litigants?
- JusticeDirect: Guides you through the process of preparing your case
- Everybody’s Guide to Small Claims Court
- Step-By-Step Guide to Pro Se Litigation or How to Represent Yourself in Court
Each state also has information on small claims course on the state government website. Find your state for more information!
Appearing pro se can be a good option for those who cannot afford an attorney, but it is not without its risks. It’s important to carefully consider all of the factors involved before making the decision to represent oneself. If you do decide to go ahead with it, make sure you check out JusticeDirect.com so that you’re prepared for the time and effort required to give yourself the best chance at success.