SELF REPRESENTATION IN CIVIL CASES
How Does Self-Representation Work In Civil Lawsuits?
In this article, I will try to discuss this topic which is self representation in civil cases in the very best that I can.
In general terms, a civil lawsuit is the court-based process through which Person A can seek to hold Person B liable for some type of wrong. Usually, if Person A is successful, he or she will be awarded compensation for the harm that resulted from Person B’s action or inaction. (Note: civil lawsuits can also be brought by and against businesses and other entities).
So, a civil lawsuit can be brought over a contract dispute, a residential eviction after a broken lease, injuries sustained in a car accident, or countless other harms or disputes.
Unlike a criminal case, which is looking to punish the wrongdoer for a crime, a civil case is meant to compensate the victim.
In civil lawsuits, unlike in criminal cases, there is no constitutional right to representation by an attorney. Likewise, unlike in criminal cases, there is no express right to self-representation, also known as “pro se” or “propria persona” litigation, meaning “on one’s own behalf.” Some civil courts allow self-representation and others do not.
What Is the Advantage of Self Representation?
The majority of criminal defendants who choose to go pro se base their decision on a lack of trust in the judicial system. Many defendants are hesitant to work with a court-appointed defense attorney because they do not trust that the attorney will render good service. In other words, they feel that they can do a better job themselves. Some pro se defendants feel that no person knows the details of their situation better than they do.
Another common reason a defendant might choose pro se representation is the cost involved in hiring an attorney. If the defendant does not like the attorney that the court provides, it might cost them a significant amount of money to hire a private defense lawyer. Saving money is perhaps one of the greatest advantages of pro se representation. However, often times the defendant might be saving money at the risk of losing their case because they are unequipped to argue on their own
Many litigants in civil cases choose to represent themselves. In criminal cases, the reason for this is usually that the defendant is an eccentric who wants to voice his or her unorthodox opinions. In civil cases, however, litigants self-represent for one specific reason: to save money on lawyers (in criminal cases, lawyers are provided free of charge). Some litigants also believe they have more control over their case when they represent themselves rather than have an attorney speak for them. This can be true in some cases, although attorneys are always bound to their client’s wishes and directives.
Now let’s look at some of the disadvantages of self representation. The disadvantages of self-representation in civil courts are largely the same as in criminal courts, although the penalties for losing aren’t as high. In general, pro se litigants are treated the same as regular attorneys: they are expected to be able to give persuasive arguments, answer any questions posed to them by the judge, file the appropriate paperwork within the appropriate deadlines, and know the law, including the procedural rules. Indeed, it is typically the procedural rules which confound a self-representing party, as the rules will often vary greatly from state to state.
Perhaps the greatest disadvantage of pro se representation is that most defendants are not adequately trained in the law to represent themselves. Unless they have been trained in law school, the average criminal defendant will be unfamiliar with the requirements of law needed to prove that they are not guilty. Even common criminal charges like burglary can be complicated because there are many elements to prove. Also, in any criminal trial, there are many procedural rules that must be followed in court, such as how to make objections and how to enter evidence. Procedural rules can be difficult to learn on the spot, especially if the defendant is in the custody of the court. Although a defendant might some knowledge of the law, knowledge alone is not enough to win a case. The defendant must be able to argue their position and persuade the parties that they are not guilty. Again, the average person will usually find it difficult to argue if they lack training in communication and argumentation skills. Language barriers can further complicate the situation.
Finally, one of the main disadvantages of self representation in civil cases is the issue of bias. It is difficult to present evidence and make fair arguments if the defendant cannot see both sides of the situation. Lawyers are trained to consider all the factors in a given case, but most defendants lack the ability to do so.
Now the question is: Is there any help for self representing litigants?
Yes, some judges may allow or require a pro se party to work with coaching attorney. This means that the litigant is free to represent themselves, but a lawyer is available for assistance where necessary. The attorney may assist by explaining some of the more difficult concepts of the law or be present at hearings to assist with procedural rules. This type of hybrid representation setup has recently become a popular compromise between traditional representation and self-representation. Nowadays, self-represented litigants have more help than ever from our courts. They simply have to look to government court websites as a start. From there, they can learn about court procedures, and download court documents for submission. Many state courts now offer “facilitators” who are available on a first-come first-served basis. Facilitators will direct and help a member of the public find what he or she needs, but will not offer legal advice on what he or she “should” do.
Now it will interest you to know that there are alternatives to self representing which is that some judges may allow or require a pro se defendant to work with a “standby attorney”. This means that the defendant is free to represent themselves, but a lawyer is available for assistance when necessary. A standby attorney may be present at hearings and at trial to assist with procedural rules and/or argumentation. This type of hybrid representation setup has recently become a popular compromise between traditional representation and pro se representation.
In conclusion, it is good for one to represent him/herself in a civil lawsuit but you have to know the basic knowledge of a legal proceedings.