A pro se litigant is a person appearing before a court on their own behalf, rather than being represented by legal counsel. As scary and risky as it sounds, you would be surprised how often it happens in practice. It is a well-settled constitutional right for an individual to have the ability to represent their legal interests on their own behalf without being required to retain legal counsel. The big question is why someone would take such a risk to represent themselves without engaging a licensed attorney. In short, it boils down to two answers: (1) people cannot afford legal counsel; and (2) legal forms and do-it-yourself guides are becoming increasingly available on the internet, leading individuals to believe they can handle their case on their own without retaining an attorney. In my opinion, neither answer outweighs or justifies the enormous risks a pro se litigant faces when engaging in self-representation. If the expense of an attorney is preventing an individual from hiring competent counsel, there are numerous pro-bono legal aid services available to assist those in financial need. With the prevalence of information and guidelines available on the internet, individuals are led to believe they are equipped to handle their case. I have yet to see it work out in a pro-se litigant’s favor. Most problems arise when the pro se litigant’s one-size-fits-all legal forms do not comply with local rules, state or federal law, or Court-specific rules. I see this happen all the time. Despite their best intentions, a judge does not empathize with a pro se litigant who does not understand the legal system. A judge expects proceedings in their courtroom to be efficient and in compliance with applicable rules of law. Unlike a licensed attorney, a pro-se litigant has not been trained on the technical, and often times mundane, processes to follow in a court proceeding. As a result, trials can drag on become quite circus-like when a pro-se litigant becomes confused as to why they cannot introduce a certain piece of evidence or question a witness on the stand. This is not to say that a pro se litigant is not as smart or educated as a lawyer, often times, the pro se litigant knows the facts of their case better than opposing counsel ever will. I strongly encourage anyone who is considering filing a lawsuit or been sued, to seek assistance from a licensed attorney, and if you are in financial need, to take advantage of the invaluable resources available.
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