Pro Se Litigant in Action

by Sherri L. Renner, J.D.

Original publication date: Sept. 20, 2012

Palm Beach County Historic Courthouse

Witnessing a Pro Se Litigant in Action

I just finished up at a hearing in court. While I was sitting in the courtroom waiting for my case to be called, I observed another motion hearing. The motion heard just before mine was a mortgage foreclosure matter where the defendant homeowner was representing himself. As I watched and listened to the exchange among this pro se litigant, the bank’s attorney, and the judge, I made a mental list of some pointers I would share with you. Here they are:

Four Tips for the Self-Represented

(1) If the judge is talking, LISTEN. Do not interrupt. Take notes, even if you have to guess at words you’ve never heard before. The judge likely will be giving you valuable information concerning proper procedure and how to get a proper hearing on your issue. If possible, have someone go to court with you to take notes, as well (four ears are better than two). Even if you don’t understand what the judge is telling you, a LawYou “law coach” or other consulting attorney likely will be able to decipher your notes and give you appropriate direction.

(2) When it’s your turn to argue, speak to the judge in a confident but calm and respectful tone. Do not address your opposing party or opposing attorney — after all, it is the judge you need to persuade, not your opposition (a great argument might have that effect, anyway). When it’s your opposition’s turn to speak, do not interrupt. Take notes so you can rebut the portions of the other party’s or attorney’s arguments with which you disagree.

(3) Study the rules of civil procedure, but consult with an attorney, a LawYou law coach, or LawYou America’s educational materials to make sure you are applying the rules correctly to the issue that is before the court.

(4) Understand that even if you have uncovered THE SMOKING GUN, there still is proper procedure that must be followed to get your day in court. Even though you may believe you are entitled to immediate justice, the other side is entitled to due process, as well, so you may have to be both diligent and patient.

Law Coaching would have made a Difference

It was obvious to me that the pro se litigant was familiar with the civil procedural rules. It also was obvious, however, that he lacked knowledge of their proper application to the issue he wanted the court to resolve in light of the type of hearing for which he was in court that day, and lacked sophistication in proper courtroom decorum. A little LawYou coaching for this courageous person would have gone a long way.

Copyright © 2012-2020 by Sherri L. Renner, J.D. and LawYou, Inc. | All rights reserved

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About the Author

Sherri Renner, J.D., is the founder of LawYou America. She fully dedicates her education and years of litigation experience to helping the self-represented.

For information about litigation coaching services or the Association for Pro Se Advancement, please contact Sherri at info@lawyouamerica.com.

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