Proceeding Pro Se´? 5 Easy Tips For DIY Litigation
Each year, courts nationwide are dealing with the ever-increasing number of pro se´ litigants. If you have made the difficult decision to pursue personal legal matters alone, you are considered to be a pro se´ litigant. While hiring an attorney to provide representation is typically the best way to proceed, doing so may not be an option for many. We all have access to an attorney for criminal matters, but the same does not apply to most civil issues. Pro se´ litigation should not be taken lightly, and certainly will not prove easy. Remembering the following tips as you take this daunting journey, will help to alleviate (some) inevitable stress.
1. Respect the process:
The rules of the court are in place to provide continuity and to allow for appropriate case management. Therefore, the process must be understood and respected. Keep in mind that your case is personal for you, but it is not personal for legal professionals. Tending to legal matters is very difficult, and you have every right to feel emotional. However, it is important to be professional and less emotional when dealing with the court. The process takes time, and the time required is mandated by law. So, it is absolutely imperative that you remain patient and respectful while allowing the process to run its course. You must also keep in mind that you are required to follow the same rules imposed upon attorneys. It is therefore up to you to learn all necessary rules of procedure. Visiting your local courthouse and/or the appropriate judicial branch website for information on proper court procedure is necessary for any pro se´ litigant.
2. Neither solicit nor accept advice from a non-attorney:
There are countless, hard-working legal professionals who possess the knowledge necessary to provide legal advice. However, whether they should provide legal advice is a separate issue. Many remain unaware that it is actually deemed illegal for a non-attorney to provide legal advice. Anyone doing so can face felony charges. For more information about this law, you may refer to the statutes available in your jurisdiction.
Paralegals, law students, and other non-licensed legal professionals are banned from providing legal advice, and it is important for both sides to respect this law as to not be placed in a compromising position. Understanding the difference between guidance and legal advice can definitely be tricky. So, here is an example: Hiring someone to conduct legal research can be a great idea and extremely helpful. The researcher can provide you with links to relevant laws and cases, but should not cross the line of providing legal advice. It will be up to you to synthesize the information received and present it as a legal argument. The researcher cannot draw conclusions for you, and cannot provide assistance with creating your argument. If such assistance is required, you should proceed with an attorney.
3. Be Resourceful:
You should know going in that you are not re-inventing the wheel. In fact, chances are that someone, somewhere had a case just like yours. Try to find it (this is where legal research services come in handy)! Learn as much as you can about the case, regardless of when and where it took place. Take the time to understand how it was developed, how it was resolved, what questions arose in the discovery process, and how the facts of that case relate to your facts. Crafting an argument is not always simple, but we have all done so when needed. Give yourself some credit and recognize skills you already possess.
Find cases that had a favorable outcome and present your facts as closely related to the factual findings in those cases. Then, find the cases that had a negative outcome, and differentiate those facts in your case.
In the end, your ability to be resourceful will be key.
4. Know the difference between procedural and substantive law:
As your case meanders down the slow stream of justice, you must learn how to navigate. The rules by which it travels are known as practice rules or procedural law. You can access these rules in the courthouse library. Typically, the rules govern areas related to timing, pleadings, discovery requests, motion practice, and trial procedure. Essentially, these rules boil down to the when’s and the how’s of your case disposition.
Substantive law is the prism by which the court will look through to determine how to apply the facts of your case to a legal outcome. For example, let’s say you slip on a grape in a local grocery store, breaking your foot in the process. If the court finds the grocery store responsible, it will do so by utilizing the substantive law related to premises liability.
Considering the same facts, let’s say you failed to file your case within the allotted time. Based on that failure, the attorney for the grocery store files a motion to dismiss your case. This would be viewed as a violation of a statute of limitation. This information may not always be available in the practice rules, but it can be found in your state’s general statutes. A statute of limitations violation that bars the court from having jurisdiction over the matter, is a procedural law. See the difference?
5. Ask Questions:
When I reflect on my experiences, in academia or in everyday life, the smartest people I have had the pleasure of knowing have one thing in common. They ask questions, and they ask a lot of questions. Let your mind be thirsty, and water it often with knowledge. Throughout your pro se´ journey, you will have access to many resources, and among the most valuable will be the librarian in the law library.
During law school, attorneys are taught to adequately conduct research, analyze facts/data, and present the law. Understandably, it takes years to hone such abilities and to do so proficiently and effectively. The librarian can save you many wasted hours, and perhaps a few embarrassing moments in the courtroom. The librarian will not provide legal advice. But, you will be pointed in the right direction.
As a Pro se´ litigant, you will need to feel your way through an immense pile of information. You will either collapse or grasp some of the most incomprehensible concepts known to man. To better your chances, ask questions and remember to follow the tips presented.
Disclaimer: We are not attorneys and cannot provide legal advice. The research-based content presented does not in any manner serve as legal advice and is to be used for informational purposes only.
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