Common Sense Tips for Pro Se Litigants Round One:
June 18, 2021
You are pro se litigant if you are representing yourself in court. One of the most important things to do as a pro se litigant is to read your court mail carefully. This may sound silly but I have seen it happen over and over where a party has not carefully read the court document and failed to follow a rule, failed to comply with a request or notice, or worst of all, failed to comply with a court order. So Rule Number One is read your court mail! I do not recommend reading your court documents on your phone. Your court documents should be in your hand and at your finger tips, preferably in a binder in chronological order.
There are a lot of reasons folks don’t always carefully read their court mail. One big reason is the stress of it. Sometimes all you need to see is the envelope and you’re immediately stressed out. That happened to me before I was an attorney when I experienced an estate battle between my husband and my in laws. It was a horrible experience and extremely stressful -even just seeing the mail! Try to have some quiet time without interruptions when you are reading your court mail. Read documents more than once to make sure you don’t miss something. Reading court documents more than once is recommended because people are often triggered when they read something in the court document and then the rest of the document is viewed in a haze of anger or fear or both and then it’s easy to miss something.
Another reason people don’t always carefully read their court mail is because sometimes it’s hard to understand and the language can sometimes be confusing. Again, reading documents more than once can be helpful. When that does not work, get a friend or family member to help you read through the document in order to make sure you know what you are supposed to do. Court documents often include tasks that you have to perform, so be prepared to make a homework list and....................
Mark your calendar and know your deadlines. This second rule may sound silly too, but countless pro se litigants have missed court dates and/or deadlines. Even lawyers can miss a court date or a deadline. It happens. One way to prevent that is to have a calendar and to know when your deadlines are. Seeing your deadline(s) on a calendar will help you pace yourself and allow you to schedule the time you need to perform what ever tasks are being asked of you.
One last recommendation I would include in this Round One of common sense tips for pro se litigants is to bring a court reporter to court with you. Family cases are not automatically recorded. The Courthouse does not provide free court reporting services. Most of the time, it’s up to the party to hire a court reporter. Having a court reporter at the court proceedings is a type of insurance for the pro se party. A court reporters job is to record every word said in court. The Court reporter makes the proverbial “Record.” Without a court reporter present, THERE IS NO RECORD OF THE PROCEEDINGS. Without a record of the proceedings it’s very hard to go back and fix a case that went bad and it’s almost impossible to appeal a decision.
Another reason to have a court reporter with you in court is to ensure the proceedings are conducted in a fair manner. Judges are people too. Some judges have a tendency to bend over backwards to make sure the pro se litigant is treated fairly sometimes bordering on offering legal advice (!), and some judges sort of bull doze over pro se litigants and do not afford those folks the same opportunities to present their case as the attorneys. Some judges handle pro se litigants just right. Having a court reporter in the room will often reign in those judges that have a tendency to steam roll over pro se parties, puts everyone on their best behavior, and preserves the record of the proceedings.