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Why being a Pro Se Litigant is Not a Good Idea.

In my legal career, I’ve been consulted by many people who have attempted to represent themselves, and now need a lawyer. I have represented the opponent of litigants representing themselves (pro se). I cannot remember a time when the pro se litigant has been successful in any manner. Although courts are slightly more lenient towards laypeople, they basically expect them to follow the rules of the court, and unless you are in Small Claims Court, that’s almost an impossibility.

For example, you are sued by a plaintiff, and you decide to run into court and file an “Answer” yourself, maybe because you don’t want to pay for a lawyer, or you don’t have time to deal with it. You think you are buying more time. What you have just done is most likely consented to jurisdiction on the case, and have now waived any and all defenses you have to the case. You may have written some of them down, inartfully, but a layperson just doesn’t know the technical legal jargon that is required. Nor do they know the time-frames for motions once the “Answer” is filed. When you realize that you can’t handle the case yourself, you now try to obtain an attorney. That attorney, if she takes the case, now has one hand tied behind her back in handling the case.

A pro se litigant is easy to be “beaten up” by an attorney. It’s easier than taking candy from a baby. The pro se litigant does not know procedure, they cannot take a deposition, don’t know how to conduct discovery, and they cannot properly ask questions at a trial. Most pro se litigants just give up in the middle of the litigation, or have their case dismissed.

If you are being sued, a lawyer could possibly tell you a way to have the case dismissed against you at the outset, or to set a strategy for that to happen at some point in the litigation. There are deadlines for answering a complaint, which is indicated on the Summons. Once that date has passed, you would be in default. It’s possible to have the default vacated, but you would then be at a disadvantage.

In short, when you are served with a Summons, immediately contact a lawyer. If you have a case, contact a lawyer within a reasonable time (so as to not miss a statute of limitations). You will most likely save money in the long run, and will definitely save yourself from many headaches.

Cynthia M. Burke

Categories: Litigation