Most states in the United States have constitutional provisions that allow individuals to represent themselves in that state’s courts (see list of state constitution articles here). Pro se is latin for “for oneself.”
There are a lot of reasons why you may want to represent yourself in court. According to a study by the University of Maryland Law School, pro se litigants choose to proceed with litigation without an attorney because they could not afford a lawyer (57%), they didn’t want to spend the money on a lawyer (18%) or because they believed their case was simple and they didn’t need a lawyer (21%). And if you decide to represent yourself in court, you certainly will not be alone. California reports that over 50% of some types of cases have at least 1 pro se litigant, and in some jurisdictions (like New Hampshire’s district court), 85% of civil cases have at least 1 pro se litigant (source).
Each state divides their court system into sections, with some courts purposefully more friendly to pro se litigants than others. Most people have heard of small claim courts (an excellent place for pro se litigants), but most do not realize there is another “limited jurisdiction” court in-between small claims and the full-blown superior court. These limited jurisdiction courts hear cases with small amounts in dispute, but not quite as small as a small claims court.
While a small claims court will accept claims of up to $2500 – $5000, limited jurisdiction courts will take claims of up to $25,000, or in some instances as much as $75,000 (this depends on where you are). These limited jurisdiction courts are also quite friendly to pro se litigants.
It’s no secret that hiring an attorney can be expensive. If you have a dispute with someone who only owes you $10,000 or $15,000, you could very easily spend that much with an attorney, and not be entitled to ever see the money again! In these instances, it may make financial sense to proceed with the litigation on your own.
While you may be interested in representing yourself in litigation, you may also want some a little help. One of the best places to get legal assistance with your pro se case is in the drafting and filing of your original complaint or petition. This is a very important for the following reasons:
- Mistakes can cost you your claims
- You’ll need advice on where to file, how to file and when to file
- Complaints must meet certain requirements to be valid
- Properly laying out your claim informs the judge of your claims
- You must make reference to the correct statutes to recover
- If you qualify for extra remedies (i.e. interest, attorney fees), it can be demanded
Once your complaint is drafted, you’ll be better prepared to proceed against your adversary in court. From there, you can proceed on your own, contract Wolfe Law Group to help you on an on-going basis, or hire Wolfe Law Group to prepare any supplemental documents.