Litigants or parties representing themselves in court without the assistance of an attorney are known as pro se litigants. “Pro se” is Latin for “in one's own behalf”. The right to appear pro se in a civil case in federal court is defined by statute 28 U.S.C. § 1654.
As a Pro Se litigant, you act as your own attorney, and must present your case, with all definition, exhibits and rebuttals on the stand, by yourself and for yourself. With this being said, you must also conduct yourself in a manner of composure, respect to the court and to the adversary, and/or the adversary's attorney, and basic decorum. It is important to dress appropriately as well as behave appropriately, so as to gain the court's respect. Any off the cuff commenting, interrupting either the Judge or the adversary at any time will not only make you look poorly in the eyes of the court, it may also cause you to lose ground in your defense by showing erratic behavior.
Things to Remember when Preparing Your Case
This is YOUR case... own it!
Self-represented litigants will often become reactive to the other side. If there is an attorney on the other side, Pro se litigants will spend much time responding to discovery requests, summary judgment motions, motions to dismiss, and other filings that they forget to formulate a strategy. They forget, or don't know how to obtain their own discovery or object to certain requests because they’re overwhelmed and may feel a bit intimidated. A Pro se litigant may feel as though they are behind and in a constant reactive state.
Stay focused on your case. Reacting - in anger by moving for sanctions, writing letters to the judge, reporting lawyer behavior in a hearing, or moving to disqualify a lawyer - makes thinking and strategizing difficult. That’s not to say certain issues shouldn’t be addressed. If you must take an issue head-on, object to the questioning and do not allow an adversary to veer off track. Only address comments, malicious hearsay or conjured evidence if it hurts your case, not when it hurts your feelings.
Do your due diligence - in other words - do some research, learn the laws relevant to your case. The more you know, the better prepared and armed you will be if (and most often when) an adversary omits pertinent information, evidence, or accuses you of certain things. Ignorance is NOT, again NOT a form of defense. You cannot go back and ask for a re-do because you didn't know something. Everything you know is to be used the day of court... so know everything you can the day of court!
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