Pro Se Litigants
It is not a medical condition, it is the proper terminology for those who represent themselves in court without an attorney. The benefit to this under the common perception is the savings in money. That being said, nearly all attorneys can tell you of cases where a pro se litigant made their legal issues substantially more messy than necessary due to a lack of knowing what was needed in their matter.
That being said, there a few things a pro se litigant should know:
1. Dress appropriately – the courtroom should be treated with respect, this means you should dress accordingly. Avoid anything that would tend to call attention to you. Where a suit or sport coat if you have one. If that is not a possibility, dress business casual. Do not wear a hat in the courtroom, and if you have a hat on, take it off.
2. Be on time- the judge or commissioner will call through the cases, if neither party is present, your case may be dismissed, if the opposing party is there, and you are not, they may win by default.
3. Be prepared- know the issues of your case, know why you are in court that day, be prepared to argue to the judge or commissioner why you should prevail and be prepared with the evidence you need to make your argument. Bring three copies of any document you may be relying on, a copy for yourself, a copy for the judge or commissioner, and one for the opposing party. Know and follow court rules; do not believe that because you are not an attorney, the judge is obligated or even inclined to make exceptions for you.
4. Be respectful- Address the judge or commissioner as “your honor,” or “the court.” Show respect to the judge or commissioner.
5. Speak clearly- ensure that not only the judge and opposing party can hear you, but also ensure you are audible on “the record.” The proceedings are recorded for reference.
6. If you cannot attend a hearing for any reason, call the judge’s clerk immediately and explain the issue to the clerk. If you have advance warning that you will not be able to attend the hearing, you may need to submit a written motion for a continuance. In either case, the court may or may not give you a continuance for your matter.
7. Do not ask the judge or court staff for legal counsel. While court staff may explain basic procedures, they cannot dispense legal advice.
8. Talking to the judge without the opposing party present is call ex parte communication, and it is usually against the rule. If there is something you need the judge or commissioner to know, put it in writing and submit it through the court, and provide a copy to the opposing party or opposing counsel.
9. Do not address the opposing party in the courtroom. You talk only to the judge or commissioner.
10. Do not interrupt the opposing party, this can be very challenging. Instead, take notes on points you want to address, and then when the judge or commissioner indicates, you can respond, they should show you the same courtesy.
Following these ten suggestions will help you make a far better impression on the court, and will help you be more centered in your dialogue in the court.
Schmidt Law Firm Law Firm
136 East South Temple Street #1500
Salt Lake City, UT 84111