Many people in court proceedings represent themselves, but there are risks involved. This page will help you decide whether representing yourself is a good idea, and will give you some tips on how to represent yourself effectively if you choose to go it alone.
Risks Of Representing Yourself
The biggest risk in representing yourself without a lawyer is that you will lose your case! This might happen if:
- You cannot meet all the technical requirements to prove your case.
- You do not follow all the required court procedures. Your case may be dismissed or the other side could win their case against you.
If you lose your case, the judge could order you to pay for the other side's court costs and attorney's fees.
Use the following checklist to help you decide whether it is a good idea for you to represent yourself. Mark which ones apply to you and your case. The more sections you mark, the more risky it might be to represent yourself and the more you might want to think about hiring an attorney.
I have a complicated case or a case that might become complicated.
I do not feel confident that I can express my ideas and thoughts in writing.
I am usually not on time and have a hard time meeting deadlines.
I want or need legal advice.
I am not available during the day during business hours.
It will be difficult for me to arrange for time off and daycare during the day.
I do not believe I will be able to stand in front of a judge and explain my story.
I am not comfortable doing research in a library or on a computer.
I am worried that the other side will not play fair.
I get angry easily, especially when I am under stress.
I am often frustrated by rules I think are unfair or that I think should not apply to me.
I might be too close emotionally to the case and might not be objective.
My case might require an expert to testify in support of my claims.
I tend to be indecisive, and it is hard for me to make a decision.
There will likely be a lawyer on the other side of my case.
The other side has indicated they will vigorously fight the case.
All or most of the evidence that I will need to prove my case is in the possession of the other party, and the other party will probably not give it up to me easily.
I have a difficult time living with my mistakes and the consequences of my decisions.
Even if you decide to represent yourself, it is always best to consult with a lawyer up front to find out your legal rights. An attorney can help you understand your rights, the law, and give you advice on how to proceed. Visit Find Legal Help to learn more.
Tips For Representing Yourself
If you choose to represent yourself, here are some basic tips and recommendations you should follow:
Learn the laws and rules that apply to your case.
Even though you are not a lawyer, you are still required to know and follow nearly all of the same laws and court rules as an attorney. Understanding the law that applies to your case can help you focus on what it is that you need to prove. Visit Researching the Law for tips on how to learn about rules and laws that may apply to your case.
Make sure all your written submissions are complete, neat, and timely.
The main way you tell the judge about your side of the story is by preparing and filing written documents. If you are using Self-Help Center forms, make sure you provide all of the required information in the correct blanks and check all the appropriate boxes. If you are preparing your own documents, make sure they comply with the court's rules regarding written submissions. Always make sure your documents are complete, neat, and legible! If your filings do not convey your arguments accurately and thoroughly – or if the judge simply cannot read your writing – you have missed your chance to get your story in front of the judge.
There will probably be deadlines for many of the documents you will need to file in your case. Make sure you know the deadlines and that you get your documents filed on time.
Do not give up without understanding the consequences.
If you are feeling helpless about your case, you might think there is no point in going to court. This can be dangerous, because the court can still make decisions if you are not there. It is best to get legal advice before deciding to give up.
Attend all hearings and get to the courthouse early.
Your court hearing is not an appointment that you can simply reschedule if you miss it. If you need to change your court date for some reason, you will need to file legal documents requesting a different court date or get the other side to agree to the change. This must be done before of your scheduled hearing. If you wait too long, it might be too late to change the hearing date.
Understand how to prepare for and act in court.
There are a lot more tips on the How to Represent Yourself page that explain what to expect at court, how to prepare for your hearing, and what to do (and not do) while in the courtroom.