Bullies. Threats Of Attorney’s Fees Against Pro Se Litigants

Sometimes in a civil case, an attorney will threaten a pro se litigant with attorney’s fees. If you don’t drop your case, here comes a threat of attorney’s fees. Bam! If you pursue a defense too eagerly. Boom! If you’re digging too deeply in discovery. Splat!

They didn’t expect this fight from you and are willing to use what they have to beat you down. One thing they have is the threat of attorney’s fees. But you’re pro se, the idea is not to pay attorney’s fees. So don’t let them bully you out of pursuing your case.

The Problem With Attorney’s Fees

Where did the idea of attorney’s fees come from? Attorney’s fees began as a sanction for frivolous lawsuits, but they often inhibit the filing of meritorious claims. This alone should be enough to nullify them, but no such luck.

To add insult to injury, a lawyer’s client doesn’t have to worry about paying fees to a pro se litigant to defend themselves or pursue a claim. Pro se litigants cannot get attorneys fees or other compensation for the time they spent litigating meritorious cases. That type of imbalance between the two parties is a due process issue.

Get a Fair Hearing in Court

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There then is the problem with attorney’s fees, the barring of meritorious claims, and denial of due process.

Courts Can Calculate the Costs of Pro Se Litigation

Attorney’s fees should not be awarded against a pro se litigant with a supportable claim or defense. Further, when their opponents pursue frivolous claims or defenses, a self-represented litigant should be allowed to move for litigation fees in addition to court costs.

It should not be difficult to determine the value of prosecuting or defending a case for a pro se litigant. Courts routinely calculate the costs of injury or damages in lawsuits–from emotional distress to medical malpractice to, gasp, attorney’s fees. There are formal calculations in case law! Surely, they can calculate a reasonable amount of compensation owed a pro se litigant for defending or litigating their case.

It’s not that courts can’t make these calculations. It’s that they won’t. Since they won’t, lawyers can continue to threaten pro se litigants, and pro se litigants will continue to get nothing for the work they’ve done to win a case.

What You Can Do About Attorney Threats

Anytime an attorney gets to the point of bullying you, you’re doing something right. You’re not supposed to have gotten this far in the case. Most of the time, the threat of attorney’s fees is just that. A threat. Below are some options to consider in light of an attorney fee threat.

  • If you get a motion for attorney’s fees, persuade the judge that your claim or defense had merit, and granting your opponent attorney’s fees in light of that is a due process violation. There is case law to back you up.
  • Then, at the hearing, make the attorneys prove the value of their services. Did that deposition really have to take place? Did they have to fly to Miami to get evidence? Oftentimes, this argument will help to reduce fees.
  • If you get a judgment against you, pay the fees a little at a time. A gleeful lawyer will typically work with you on this.
  • Appeal an attorney’s fees judgment against you with a due process argument. Keep in mind, this may cost more money.
  • If you’re comfortable with it, walk away from a judgment, and let your opponent’s lawyer come after you for the money. Sometimes they will, sometimes they won’t.

If you win a judgment, move for litigation fees in addition to court costs. Argue the value of your time in litigating the case. Depending on the judge and jurisdiction, you may have a chance of getting it.

Oftentimes, attorney’s fees are just a threat. If you have a meritorious case that’s worth fighting for, don’t be bullied. Perseverance might be the better choice than retreat.

2 thoughts on “Bullies. Threats Of Attorney’s Fees Against Pro Se Litigants”

  1. Hello, thank you for your time,
    I am a Pro Se Plaintiff ,Divorce case in
    Illinois .
    I have been Denied my husbands missing Discovery, I made 18 document requests over 7 mth s directly to opposing councel, Iwas denied, I had to file a motion for document production , My Motion was Heard by the Judge , JUDGE flat out said, I am not going to win as a Pro Se and my request for production is a Moote Point.
    How can I effectively represent myself ,if I am being denied the Information nessary to plead my case?
    I did start out with an Attorney, she Caused serious damage to my case, by NOT reviewing the obtained Subpeona’d records, She then created and submitted a settlement offer to opposing Councel . This settlement offer did not include ANY of my husbands Pension , 401k, bank account or Properties or marital assets.
    SHE basicly made up a number filled in the blanks and submitted a generic offer , she did all of This WITHOUT my knowledge or consent-I foind out when the offer was rejected !!
    Well, when I questioned her about this, she realized I caught her huge mistake , she did not respond to me , She immediately filed for Withdrawl 2 weeks before Pre Trial, and did a document dump on me..
    I can not obtain the information my prior lawyer didn’t get, because I am not an Attorney .
    I am $17,000 in legal debt to the attorney who dumped my case, Didn’t have $$ for a new attorney..
    I have some Proof, but not enough to prove beyond doubt, that my husband dissipated $300,000 worth of investments.
    Husband not only hid investment accounts, and properties he secretly purchased during our marriage.he Omitted all of these accounts from his financial affidavit , produced partial incomplete discovery.
    My husband completely Cashed out one of his employer sponcered retirement accounts (money is gone) I can not get the actual Bank and retirement statements to prove the actual amount , BECAUSE I am not a lawyer , what I did find out Will not be admissible in court.
    25 years of marriage and I will get ZERO because NO ONE will provide a Pro Se’ plaintiff with the Documents/proof needed.
    The Courts are 100% Bias , Self Help desks are not helpful, legal libraries are difficult to navigate through as a Lay person, the Clerk of the Circut court wont even provide me info on how to file the correct papers, illinois does not allow PRO BONO DIVORCE s, so I am told because I am not an Attorney, they can’t help.me..
    So why is ProSe’ even an option when we are set up to fail?
    My entire financial future has been ripped from my hands, while my husband walks away with 3 houses , 2 pensions and a 401k, Stocks Bonds Or as and Annuities..
    Why, WHY is our legal system so Bias and unfair?
    I have no financial future , my cresit was destroyed, my home was foreclosed on, I never got Any type of MAINTANCE or child support..
    This is so wrong..

    1. Kyra, I’m sorry this happened to you. I can relate from my own Pro Se tribulations in both federal and small claims court. The divorce lawyer you described sounds like someone I hired who dumped me when I challenged her biased, inept behavior. IS IT POSSIBLE YOUR LAWYER WAS NAMED ELLEN? I’m getting the same discouragement and gaslighting by the legal community. They blame you for being Pro Se -for not quitting when it’s lawyers who refuse to take a case. It’s a lie to say Pro Se litigants are held to the same standard of lawyers – it’s worse. No where else in society is the strong (trained) pitted against the weak (untrained and damaged). It’s legal corruption made by lawyers to benefit lawyers. But what’s the alternative? Just lay down and die? NEVER! Some chance is better than no chance. Keep fighting Kyra. I’ve learned a lot and would like to help you with some shared resources.

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