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Pro Se - Defined

Dena Standley | November 11, 2022

Dena Standley
Legal Expert, Paralegal
Dena Standley, BA

Dena Standley is a seasoned paralegal with more than 20 years of experience in legal research and writing, having received a certification as a Legal Assistant/Paralegal from Southern Technical College.

Edited by Hannah Locklear

Hannah Locklear
Editor at SoloSuit
Hannah Locklear, BA

Hannah Locklear is SoloSuit’s Marketing and Impact Manager. With an educational background in Linguistics, Spanish, and International Development from Brigham Young University, Hannah has also worked as a legal support specialist for several years.

Summary: Pro se refers to someone who does not have a lawyer representing them in their court case. Representing yourself in court can seem daunting, but pro se litigants are more common than you might think. If you are facing a civil matter, such as a debt collection lawsuit, you may find that representing yourself is the best option.

Pro se is a legal term that is Latin for "on one's own behalf." "Pro se" refers to a litigant who goes through the trial without appointed legal representation.

Criminal defendants have the right to legal representation under the Sixth Amendment. Still, the same is not true in civil matters, so people often decide to save the expense of legal representation and act as pro se defendants or plaintiffs.

You must choose whether to represent yourself in court or hire an attorney when you are obliged to do so. Although most people decide to work with a lawyer, there are some advantages to acting as a pro se litigant, especially in a debt collection lawsuit.

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Pro se history

It has been decided that parties may plead and administer their own cases in all U.S. courts, either individually or with the assistance of counsel, as permitted by the rules of those courts.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1975 that a defendant in a state criminal prosecution has a protected constitutional right to proceed without counsel when an individual willingly and consciously elects to do so. This conclusion follows from the construction of the Sixth Amendment. The State cannot force an unwilling defendant to accept legal representation. In federal criminal proceedings, a defendant's right to self-representation is enshrined in 28 U.S.C. 1654, which states:

“In all courts of the United States the parties may plead and conduct their own cases personally or by counsel as, by the rules of such courts, respectively, are permitted to manage and conduct causes therein.”

Proceeding pro se

You are acting "pro se" when you don't have representation. A "pro se" or "self-represented" litigant is an individual who represents themselves in court. 28 U.S.C. 1654 of the U.S. law grants individuals in civil cases in federal Court the ability to represent themselves in Court. Anyone can therefore appear pro se, and anyone who does so before the court without legal representation is regarded as pro se.

However, there are several restrictions to self-representation, such as:

  • Partnerships and corporations must have legal representation.
  • In a class action, a pro se litigant cannot represent a class.
  • Unless the parent is appealing the denial of the child's social security payments, a non-attorney parent may not represent a child pro se.

You can navigate some court proceedings without the assistance of an attorney if the issue is simple. For instance, small claims courts have streamlined standards and procedures to make it easier to present claims to the court without involving attorneys. But in other circumstances, the complexity makes it necessary to go through motions, discovery, or other legal processes.

If there are children, money, or other problems that need to be resolved, divorce cases may fall into this category. If you are considering filing for divorce, it may be wise to speak with a lawyer because divorces can be difficult and entail significant legal rights.

Is pro se a good idea?

Choosing to represent yourself in court has benefits and drawbacks. On one hand, you can save money by representing yourself, but you might not be able to prepare as strong of a case on your own. Here are some advantages and disadvantage of appearing pro se in court.

Pro se advantages

Pro se representation has many benefits, most of which are financial. You can avoid paying expensive legal fees by representing yourself. However, there are more advantages to doing it alone. You are likely to have the greatest understanding of your case and circumstance, which can help you present your argument in a clear and efficient way.

On top of the financial benefits of being pro se, representing yourself can save you a lot of time and stress, especially in debt collection cases. If you’re being sued, especially for a smaller amount ($5,000 or less), finding an attorney can be a long, stressful process.

Pro se disadvantages

The main drawback of representing yourself is the increased risk that comes with being unfamiliar with court procedures, legal jargon, etc. If you haven't gone to law school, there are many legal nuances that could make your case very challenging.

In addition, it helps to have some emotional distance from the situation in order to view both sides of the issue and anticipate your opponents' arguments. When you appear in court pro se, it can be a struggle to mask your emotions and focus on the legal facts.

Proceeding pro se

A criminal case, which can only be initiated by government officials, is distinct from a civil case. You do not have a constitutional right to an attorney in a civil matter, but for criminal cases, you do. Because the court only appoints counsel under specific circumstances that your case might not meet, if you file a civil lawsuit pro se, you should be prepared to take it to the conclusion on your own.

It's imperative to select an attorney carefully or to choose to go pro se, depending on the situation you are in. Various situations may require different levels of litigation, including multiple appeals processes and other proceedings for which an attorney is necessary.

Very few popular cases are handled pro se, as self-representation can be a tumultuous and tedious task depending on the situation of the case. There are regulations and procedures that vary from court to court.

How can I defend my debt collection case?

You can save yourself the costs and stress of hiring an attorney by representing yourself in court instead. The idea of appearing pro se might feel daunting, but pro se litigants beat debt collectors in court everyday. Here’s how.

Most people who get sued for a debt would have to pay nearly as much as their debt owed just to hire a lawyer. Some people spend so much time looking for an attorney that they don’t respond to the lawsuit in time and end up losing by default.

When you get sued by a debt collector, the first step to representing yourself and beating them in court is to respond to the lawsuit before your state’s deadline. SoloSuit can help you draft and file a written Answer to your debt collection case in all 50 states. Watch this video to learn more:

If the debt collector has not yet filed suit, you can send a Debt Validation Letter forcing them to prove the debt is yours before they can sue. If you are facing a lawsuit, use SoloSuit to draft and file an Answer to the Summons and Complaint in minutes.

What is SoloSuit?

SoloSuit makes it easy to fight debt collectors.

You can use SoloSuit to respond to a debt lawsuit, to send letters to collectors, and even to settle a debt.

SoloSuit's Answer service is a step-by-step web-app that asks you all the necessary questions to complete your Answer. Upon completion, we'll have an attorney review your document and we'll file it for you.

>>Read the FastCompany article: Debt Lawsuits Are Complicated: This Website Makes Them Simpler To Navigate

>>Read the NPR story on SoloSuit. (We can help you in all 50 states.)

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