What does pro se mean?
How do you define pro se?
What does it really mean to represent yourself in court without a lawyer?
We will look at what is the meaning of pro se, its legal definition, what it means to be a pro se plaintiff, pro se defendant or a pro se litigant and more.
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What does pro se mean
In law, when a person represents himself or herself without the representation of an attorney in court, we refer to that as one appearing pro se or one self-representing.
When a person is involved in a civil or criminal case, a person has the right to be represented by an attorney or can choose to act on his or her own behalf.
If the choice is to go to court without an attorney, then that person is considered to be a pro se litigant or pro se defendant.
Mary hires an attorney to file a lawsuit against John for breach of contract.
John personally responds to the lawsuit and decides to defend himself without the assistance of an attorney.
In this case, John is a pro se defendant.
In many countries, including the United States, defendants in court have the right to an attorney.
However, it is not mandatory for the defendant to be represented by counsel.
A person may decide not to deal with the legal system through a lawyer but handle it personally.
Such a right is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
A person can make a clear, voluntary and informed choice not to retain the services of a lawyer or attorney to represent him or her in court (or right to pro se representation).
Pro se meaning
Pro se is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase propria persona meaning “for oneself”.
In other words, when a person makes legal representations in court, files pleadings or argues a case in court without legal counsel, that person is considered to be proceeding “pro se”.
In most cases, individuals (litigants, plaintiffs, defendants or parties) appear in court represented by counsel although some choose to appear pro se (acting on their own behalf).
In recent times, the trend in North America shows that in family law and divorce cases, more and more individuals are no longer hiring a lawyer to represent them and choose to act pro se.
Pro se definition
According to Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, pro se is defined as:
Latin for “for oneself, on one’s own behalf.”
What is notable with this definition is that a person is acting for himself or herself without the help of anyone else.
Pro se pronunciation
The pro se pronunciation is fairly straightforward.
You pronounce it as “pro-say”.
Pro se in a sentence
How do you use the phrase “pro se” in a sentence?
The phrase pro se can be used in a sentence, not necessarily to refer to self-representing litigants.
Let’s look at an example.
The shareholders appear pro se and on behalf of the company.
This means that the shareholders are acting for their own self and as representatives of the company.
Why some choose pro se legal representation
There are many reasons why a person may choose to act on his or her own behalf in court and not hire an attorney.
The most typical reason is that the cost of hiring an attorney is prohibitively expensive.
Many consider that it may cost them less or they will bear less risk if they self-represent before the court instead of hiring a litigation attorney.
High legal fees is the main reason why litigants act pro se
There are other reasons why a party to a lawsuit may choose to proceed pro se:
The main reason though for individuals representing themselves in court is the high legal costs (legal fees) and the financial hardship caused by having to pay for lawyers and legal fees.
Who are pro se litigants
Pro se litigants are those that represent themselves in court.
Acting as a pro se litigant comes with a lot of responsibilities.
In other words, a person must not only have the ability to remember the facts of his or her own case but must also prepare court petitions, file legal documents, serve papers to the adverse party, depose witnesses, plead before a judge or jury and cross-examine witnesses.
Pro se litigants must handle all aspects of the lawsuit by themselves
Attorneys learn their trade by studying law for many years, going through an internship and eventually practicing law.
With many years of experience, they learn the court rules of evidence, the art of litigation, how to depose witnesses, how to present a legal case to a judge and jury.
Pro se litigants must deal with the court rules of evidence
A pro se litigant typically does not have any meaningful experience with the legal system and must not only deal with the litigation matter but also deal with the adverse party, court rules of procedure and preparing a legal case.
Although many jurisdictions consider a person has the right to self-represent in court, in most cases, due to the complexity of the legal matter and what’s legally at risk, the courts strongly recommend a person to retain the services of counsel.
Pro se law
The courts recognize that even though an individual has the right to counsel when involved in a lawsuit, that individual is not bound to exercise that right.
Pro se law is embedded in the U.S. Constitution where the courts have determined that a person is legally entitled to self-representation.
Pro se law (the right to self-represent) is grounded in the U.S. Constitution
In other words, a person can voluntarily and freely decide not to mandate an attorney to handle the legal proceeding.
When that happens, a judge will make sure that the person is informed of the benefits or risks associated with that decision to ensure the person truly understands the consequences or ramifications of such a decision.
If it is clear for the court that a person understands the consequences of his or her decision to self-represent, the courts will allow the matter to proceed pro se.
Statistics show that the number of pro se litigants is rising in divorce and family law
In the United States, the majority of pro se cases are in the following areas of the law:
- Landlord/tenant issues
- Divorce, custody and child support issues
- Probate issues
Pro se divorce, pro se landlord or pro se tenant issues are very common and the statistics show that the number of people representing themselves in family cases and landlord/tenant issues are rising.
Limiting pro se rights
In most cases, the courts and judges will demonstrate a lot of patience with pro se litigants and give them a running chance to handle their own case.
However, in some cases, the court may limit a person’s right to personally act before the court for various reasons.
At the end of the day, whether you are representing yourself or acting through an attorney, the law equally applies to all and the judges cannot make any exception.
Courts expect pro se litigants to respect the court rules
As a result, even a pro se party should respect the court rules, rules of evidence and the law to have a better chance to win the case.
The pro se law is open to individuals handling their own legal matters to the extent their actions, conduct and behaviour do not hamper the judicial process.
If due process and fairness is compromised, the courts may limit pro se rights
In some cases, the court will limit the rights of a pro se plaintiff or pro se defendant when the person:
- is clearly disruptive
- is violent, is abusive
- does not follow the instructions of the court
- is clearly unprepared
- hamper’s a judge’s ability to manage the proceedings
- is constantly late resulting in excessive costs to other party
- obstructs the parties from proceeding in an orderly and fair manner
- Creates confusion for all parties and the judge
There could be a number of other reasons for a court to limit a person’s ability to self-represent.
The rule of thumb is that if the court can proceed in a fair and orderly manner with a pro se litigant, then there should be no problem at all.
Pro se litigant mistakes
There are a few common mistakes pro se litigants make when representing their own legal matter.
Let’s look at what can be avoided (or what you can do) to put more chances on your side if you choose to handle your case “pro se”:
- Do your research to understand have a good understanding of the legal theories that are at play
- Make sure you put all the facts of the case down on paper as objectively as possible
- Put the facts in chronological order so you know how things have evolved
- Don’t argue with the opposing counsel
- Control your emotions when dealing with the case
- Consult with an attorney on the side to get some guidance and legal advice
- Study the court’s rules of evidence so you know what evidence is relevant and how it can be filed in court
- Don’t assume that everything the other party’s counsel demands is something you must share in full (get legal advice if you are not sure)
- Don’t refuse all demands from the other party causing obstruction
- Present your case to a judge in a clear way (don’t confuse the judge)
- Organize your file so your documents are easy to find (don’t waste a judge’s time by shuffling papers)
- Call the courthouse to ask questions about how to file documents
These are some pointers to help you avoid making costly mistakes in court.
A lawsuit is part law (legal doctrine) and part art of litigation (human aspect).
Make sure you research the law, convey the relevant facts and present it in a clear, objective and confident way.
Pro per vs pro se
A person who is acting “in pro per” or a “pro per” is a person who is handling his or her own legal matter.
Pro per and pro se mean the same thing.
The following terms have the same meaning:
- Pro se
- Pro per
- In pro per
- In propria persona
- Propria persona
All of these phrases and abbreviations refer to individuals to appear before the court and make legal representations without the assistance of an attorney.
Pro se FAQ
What is pro se
Pro se is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase propria persona which means for one’s own self or on one’s own behalf.
In the legal system, the phrase pro se is used to refer to those individuals who represent themselves in court without the assistance of an attorney.
What is pro se litigant
A pro se litigant is a person who appears in court either to take action against another or to defend against a legal action without the representation of an attorney.
A pro se litigant is a “self-representing party” or “self-representing litigant”.
What does pro se mean in legal terms
The pro se legal definition is a non-represented party in court (or a self-represented party).
It is a person who participates in civil or criminal legal proceedings or lawsuits without having a lawyer represent his or her interests.
What does it mean to file pro se?
To file pro se is to file a legal document in court proceedings by yourself or submit a legal pleading document to court without going through an attorney.
To file pro se is to suggest that the person is acting on his or her own behalf.
Mary drafts a motion to compel the other party to produce certain documents by herself, serves it to the other party and files it in court.
We say that Mary has filed her motion pro se.
What is the difference between pro per and pro se?
Pro per and pro se have the same meaning.
In Latin, to say that a person is acting for his own self, you’ll use the phrase in “propria persona”.
The acronym for propria persona is pro per or pro se.
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