In the United States, it’s not always necessary to have the assistance of an attorney as you navigate the court system. Those who choose this path by exercising their right to self-representation are called “pro se” litigants.

Yet while it may be possible to proceed without legal counsel, the more relevant issue is whether it makes sense. For most people, that’s a determination that needs to be made on a case by case basis, after carefully weighing all considerations.

To better illustrate how this process works, let’s take a closer look at pro se representation.

Pro se explained

The term “pro se” is derived from Latin and can be simply translated as “on one’s own behalf.” This mean that a pro se litigant will advocate on her own behalf, rather than having an attorney litigate. Pro se representation occurs in both civil and criminal cases. It applies to both plaintiffs and defendants in civil cases and defendants in criminal cases.

The right to represent yourself is long established in U.S. courts, stretching back to the nation’s very beginning. This right has also been affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

There are, however, limits on how far the right to pro se representation can be extended, and these limits vary from state to state. For example, corporations are generally prohibited from non-attorney representation, and pro se litigants may typically not launch a class action lawsuit.

In addition to these and other limits, judges may also prohibit pro se representation for criminal defendants if the defendant does not prove competent in the evaluation of the court. This competency test measures things such as the defendant’s age and education level. The Connecticut Supreme Court has affirmed a particularly stringent competency standard, one that requires pro se defendants in criminal cases to be able to compose both witness and voir dire questions.

Why some people choose pro se 

Cost is the primary reason people opt for self-representation, as they assume that it will be less expensive without incurring legal fees. Court costs and filing fees must still be paid, however.

Some litigants also choose to proceed pro se because they feel that they are best-positioned to plead their case — they believe nobody knows the details quite as well as they do.

In most cases, however, these considerations are outweighed by the fact that most people have no legal education, familiarity with litigation practice and procedure andno courtroom experience, placing them at a severe disadvantage. Without this legal grounding, it’s difficult and sometimes impossible to anticipate legal issues, make tactical legal decisions and even follow basic courthouse protocol.

Additionally, pro se litigants must be willing to dedicate a significant amount of time toward their cases — something that may reduce any financial benefit gained from not hiring an attorney. If the expense of legal representation is still a concern, however, it’s often possible to work with an attorney on a flexible payment schedule.

Finding the right legal partner

If you’re considering pro se representation, we urge you to first consider requesting a free case evaluation from Brickley Law. Attorney Ann Brickley and the Brickley Law Firm have been helping clients win the most challenging cases for more than two decades, thanks to their creative, cost-efficient and client-centered legal strategies.