What are Pro Se Litigants?

Misty Amber Brighton
Misty Amber Brighton
Businessman with a briefcase
Businessman with a briefcase

Pro se litigants are people who are a party to a lawsuit and choose to represent themselves in court. These individuals normally file their own claims with the clerk of court. They may file any motions, such as those needed to continue a trial or suppress evidence, as well. During a hearing, such a litigant speaks on his own behalf and may even question witnesses.

A person who acts as his own lawyer is sometimes called an attorney pro se. In most court systems, private individuals do not need a license to practice law in order to act on their own behalf. Pro se litigants could be either a plaintiff — the person who initiates a lawsuit — or the defendant — someone who has a suit brought against them. These individuals only represent themselves and not witnesses, co-defendants, or co-plaintiffs.

Some of the common suits in which people may represent themselves might be divorce, small claims cases, and bankruptcy. Individuals may also be considered pro se litigants during administrative hearings. These proceedings are usually held by a panel of judges within an administrative or government agency.

In the United States, those who are charged with a crime are not usually permitted to act as an attorney pro se. In these instances, the presiding judge will typically appoint an attorney to represent the accused, if he is unable to pay for one. This trained person represents the client in all proceedings but does not charge him for the work performed. A lawyer who provides such free service to a client is called a pro bono attorney.

People may consult an attorney for advice on how to proceed with a particular case without retaining him or paying a fee for his services. This is usually allowed only one time, in the initial stages of litigation. Even though pro se litigants might begin a case on their own, they could later hire a lawyer to represent them, if the case becomes extremely lengthy or complicated.

Although acting as an attorney pro se can be considerably less expensive than when using a lawyer, doing so can sometimes have devastating consequences. This is because the rules of court are extremely complex and must strictly be adhered to in most court systems. People who are a party to a lawsuit should carefully consider hiring an attorney to represent them, so that their legal rights are not violated.

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