There are also freely accessible web search engines to assist pro se in finding court decisions that can be cited as an example or analogy to resolve similar questions of law. Google Scholar is the biggest database of full text state and federal courts decisions that can be accessed without charge. These web search engines often allow pro se to select specific state courts to search.
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According to the 1996 report on pro se by University of Maryland Law School, 57% of pro se said they could not afford a lawyer, 18% said they did not wish to spend the money to hire a lawyer, 21% said they believed that their case was simple and therefore they did not need an attorney. Also, ABA Legal Needs Study shows that 45% of pro se believe that "Lawyers are more concerned with their own self promotion than their client's best interest."
Shauna Strickland. Virginia Self-Represented Litigant Study: Summary of SRL-Related Management Reports for General District Court, Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court, and Circuit Court. (December 2017). This report describes case management reports that OES should consider producing on a regular schedule in an effort to better understand cases with self-represented litigants.
Settle! Of course, given the unique obstacles involved with litigating against a pro se party—including the absence of the important buffer between the party and his or her emotions and, more times than not, unreasonable expectations—the key to trial success may be avoiding trial altogether! To that end, early alternative dispute resolution proceedings can be exceedingly beneficial. A neutral third party can often insert reasonableness otherwise lacking into the pro se party’s view of the strengths and weaknesses of the case.
7Running afoul of Federal Rule 11 has been identified as a problem facing unrepresented litigants pursuing frivolous claims. United States District Court, District of Minnesota, and Federal Bar Association, Minnesota Chapter, Pro Se Project (Minneapolis: United States District Court, District of Minnesota, and Federal Bar Association, Minnesota Chapter, 2016) [LINK]. See also Stienstra et al., Assistance to Pro Se Litigants in U.S. District Courts.
When you go into a foreign country and want to communicate with the inhabitants, you have to talk THEIR lingo. Courtrooms are a foreign country and they have their own language. "Complaint language" (or "law talk") is what they call it. If you don't use it in your pleadings (that's what documents you file with the court are), you will not only not be listened to and taken seriously, you will not be HEARD. They will literally not SEE the words on the page if they are not written in their "language."
One last word on this topic: Just because a person or business is broke does not necessarily mean pursuing a judgment is pointless. The future is uncertain. A person can eventually inherit money, start a successful business, or sell off property. Depending on the state, judgments may be valid for 10-20 years, and can often be renewed. The big question is: How long are you willing to wait to recover your money… if ever?
Telling someone “Trust me” is usually a dead giveaway that they should do exactly the opposite. A trustworthy person doesn’t need to insist on it. Professions of the need for trust are a pretty good sign that someone is trying to sell you something. Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade, the last novel he published in his lifetime, which met with scathing and uncomprehending reviews, plays around with this theme. It’s a disorienting string of loosely connected scenes, tracking the schemes of a shapeshifting trickster aboard a Mississippi steamboat who solicits his fellow passengers through a variety of pitches, always insisting on the need for confidence in the goodness of the world.
You need the ability to think more in terms like, "That is A view" versus "There is my view and the wrong view." "That is A defense" versus "They don't have a defense." Being impatient or intolerant with another's view, defense or assertion appears as immaturity in the courtroom. Opposing side is supposed to have a view, defense or assertion. Many times you will deal with outrageous arguments using deceit and/or lies that would never be used as arguments outside the courtroom.
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Your Day in Court. This is a video clip from King County, Washington featuring Judge Mary Yu and Stephen Gonzalez. Judge Yu explains the basic layout of the courthouse and Judge Gonzalez talks about courtroom procedure. The information in this video is designed for pro se users of the King County court system but it is general enough that court users in any state can benefit from viewing it.
You will deal with all sorts of absurdities, injustices and indignities. You will be told nonsense and lies with people looking you straight in the eye. You must learn to stare absurdities, injustices and indignities square in the face without losing your cool while still defending yourself. Being outraged or emotional does NOT carry the weight it may carry outside the courtroom.
The Judicial Conference has authorized its Committee on Codes of Conduct to render advisory opinions about this Code only when requested by a judge to whom this Code applies. Requests for opinions and other questions concerning this Code and its applicability should be addressed to the Chair of the Committee on Codes of Conduct by email or as follows:
(H) Compensation, Reimbursement, and Financial Reporting. A judge may accept compensation and reimbursement of expenses for the law-related and extrajudicial activities permitted by this Code if the source of the payments does not give the appearance of influencing the judge in the judge’s judicial duties or otherwise give the appearance of impropriety, subject to the following restrictions:
Participants were told that the purpose of the study was to investigate the effects of mood on language use. Participants completed a two-part self-affirmation manipulation and a pre- and post-affirmation state affect checklist. Following standard procedures for manipulating self-affirmation (Cohen et al., 2006; McQueen and Klein, 2006), participants rank-ordered a list of 11 values (e.g., artistic skills, independence) in terms of their personal importance. Participants were then randomly assigned to write for 3 min about their top-ranked value and why it was personally meaningful (self-affirmation condition) or why their bottom-ranked value might be important to someone else (control condition). Affirmation and control writing sheets were pre-randomized and administered so that only subject number and instructions were visible to experimenters, thus blinding them to study condition.
But in the course of my experience, it became very apparent that the deck was stacked against me just because I was proceeding pro se – that is, representing myself, without an attorney. It's hard enough for a layman to win in court as it is, but the apparent disdain and discrimination that courts and judges show toward pro se litigants make it that much harder.
To avoid this disaster scenario, you should find out early on whether your opponent has the financial wherewithal to pay you if you win. Do some basic online research (e.g., Google, Bing, etc.) and social media (Facebook, Instagram, etc.). Is he employed? Does he drive a nice car? Does he appear to have disposable income (vacations, restaurants, property, possessions)?
Public Counsel's Federal Pro Se Clinic can provide free legal assistance to people representing themselves in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The Clinic does not assist with criminal, bankruptcy, habeas, appeals, or any state cases. The Clinic does not provide representation in court and cannot find an attorney to represent you.
Appropriate action may include direct communication with the judge or lawyer, other direct action if available, reporting the conduct to the appropriate authorities, or, when the judge believes that a judge’s or lawyer’s conduct is caused by drugs, alcohol, or a medical condition, making a confidential referral to an assistance program. Appropriate action may also include responding to a subpoena to testify or otherwise cooperating with or participating in judicial or lawyer disciplinary proceedings; a judge should be candid and honest with disciplinary authorities.
The Connecticut Supreme Court narrowed criminal defendant's right to self representation, stating that "we are free to adopt for mentally ill or mentally incapacitated defendants who wish to represent themselves at trial a competency standard that differs from the standard for determining whether such a defendant is competent to stand trial". A Senior Assistant State's Attorney explained that the new standard essentially allows judges to consider whether the defendants are competent enough to perform the skills needed to defend themselves, including composing questions for voir dire and witnesses.