You Can Legally Represent Yourself in Court
Yes, you can legally represent yourself in court. When you self-represent, it is known as pro se representation.
Nationwide, approximately 75 percent
of litigants in family and civil cases show up without an attorney, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune. However, when the American Bar Association surveyed state trial judges, 62 percent said litigants without a lawyer end up with worse outcomes than those who have a lawyer.
Navigating the Judicial Process
The judicial process is designed for lawyers who know how to navigate it successfully. Lawyers know what they can and cannot present as evidence in court. Lawyers know which requests judicial officers can and cannot grant, so their clients ask the judge for outcomes that are possible. Lawyers know the procedures of the court. They know what documents to file and information to include. They also understand the local rules and procedures of the court.
When someone who is unfamiliar with these issues represents him or herself, it can end up causing a lot of frustration in the court, especially for the judge. The person representing him or herself may feel continually interrupted, as was the case in the Tribune story.
How to Represent Yourself in Court
The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) is an interdisciplinary association of professionals dedicated to the resolution of family conflict. They provide resources for families who are involved in a family-court related process, such as divorce, separation, or custody issues.
One of the resources provided is a guide for representing yourself in court
, written from a judge’s perspective. In the guide, the judge provides valuable tips if you are choosing to represent yourself in court.
A strong recommendation made by the judge is to talk to the Clerk of Courts office. This office handles important court papers, and they can recommend other resources, such as local volunteer attorneys or self-help programs.
Alternate Financial Option for Hiring an Attorney
Another suggestion by the judge is to consider that hiring an attorney is not an all-or-nothing scenario. Even if full legal representation is out of reach, partial services can often be an affordable option. For example, an attorney can represent someone in court, even if they do not fill out their paperwork. These are called unbundled legal services.
It may be worthwhile to schedule an initial consultation with a lawyer to explain your situation, understand the next steps involved, and get an estimate for costs. If you can’t afford a lawyer, you also may have the option of free legal aid or low-cost representation through family court.