Representing Yourself in Court

If you represent yourself in court and don't use an attorney, you are acting "pro se." Pro se is a Latin term that means on your own behalf. In legal terms, you are considered a self-representing party.

Things to Consider Before Deciding to Represent Yourself in Court

One thing to consider before deciding to represent yourself in court is what is at stake in the lawsuit. You have to carefully weigh what will happen if the court decides against you. For example, if you are a tenant and want to defend yourself in your landlord's eviction suit, you will be evicted from your apartment if you lose the suit. The parties in a small claims lawsuit often represent themselves because the amount of money involved is relatively small.

Lawyer as Coach

If you decide to represent yourself in court, consider hiring an attorney to act as a coach. You can pay the lawyer for certain types of help, such as preparing legal documents or doing legal research.

Self-Help Services

Some legal associations, courts, or government law libraries provide self-help services for plaintiffs or defendants who want to represent themselves.

Preparing Your Case

Each court has it own set of court rules. It is important to get a copy of the rules of the court that is handling your case. These rules outline the procedures followed by the court and give deadlines for filing court papers. For example, the court rules tell you the number of days you have to file an answer to a complaint if you are a defendant representing yourself. If you do not file an answer within the time allowed, you will lose by default. You will also need to do legal research in a library or on a computer so that you understand what the law is that controls your case. Remember that a case is decided on the facts or evidence presented in court. It is important to organize your documents and records that relate to the case and take them with you when you appear at trial.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.