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

No one expects a fair outcome when one side has a lawyer but the other side doesn’t. Level the playing field with Courtroom5.

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.

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July 28, 2023 3:52 pm

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..

Reply to  Kyra
August 20, 2023 2:50 am

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.

Reply to  Kyra
March 16, 2024 1:06 pm

Your best bet now is to just put him as a witness on your witness list you submit for the trial. And then ask all kinds of tough questions in a legal way when you call him or have a chance to cross examine him, which ever happens first. He might choke on the stand and that’s all the evidence you need. A lot of lawyers are scared of a jury.

December 11, 2023 2:56 am

My LADIES‼️ Hearing that your stories are nearly verbatim to that of mine, is terrifying—and then gets me angrier than I’ve ever been! I paid $67,000 over the course of 11 months, paid across the four fraudsters that could not even be bothered to submit evidence, that I literally did all the work in organizing and calculating, then literally placing directly into their hands, the evidence proving that my then husband was falsifying the income he disclosed to the court, by more than 50 percent. He lied about getting the marital home appraised, thereby claiming its value to being at least $250,000 short. Never provided discovery until a day and a half prior to scheduled conferences, where then more than one hundred pages would inundate my inbox. His appraiser submitted an income based rather than FMV, of our Lake Tahoe real estate. Then my husband ‘s expert witness used the same, wildly inappropriate appraisal, then in his report. Said appraisal brought the Tahoe property to less than what it appraised for in February 2007. My Liar never included anything even worthy of being read, in the settlement conference statement they filed. My attorney called the case management conference, “..nothing more than a Meet & Greet.” Well, I lost my home of 22 years and all my pets, in that (blank blank) Meet & Greet. Everytime I tried to collect my personal possessions from the marital home, my husband dedicated every effort , by time and ill will , to obstructing my each and every attempt in collecting my things. He installed a GPS tracking device in my car, installed an entire video / audio surveillance system throughout the home and garage, eventually having his attorney claim that he fear for his life, in an Ex Parte motion for a TRO. Which he was granted and my due process or therefore lack of, was deficated on by that very dishonest and Dishonorable Dixie. Essentially, the irrefutable railroading continues to bury me alive, today. The Dishonorable did not place the preponderance of evidence on my husband. He and the criminals he colluded with, simply had to say that something wasn’t community property, then it became law. Yup, completely divorced from Justice. Obviously, none of the ‘Rights’ were mine, but in fact something for them to tap dance on. I fought for me life, nearly killing myself in trying to learn all of the Statues, Rules, procedures of the State of Nevada and all of the Appellate ones as well. While trying to pour through all of the filings in my case and in my email, which just became more excruciating, by the day. Yup, nada, nothing, not even working right now because I worked for my husband for the last 27 years…don’t even have health insurance, at this time…OK, who’s ready for a glass of wine??! EYECARUMBA, the corruption is like something fierce and (blank blank)! I’m trying to put together a Legal Malpractice, Complaint in Breach to Fiduciary. I (hopefully) plan on ‘Fraud and Misrepresentation’ with another attorney. ‘Fraud Tort’ against my ex. While filing my late father’s probate in the State of Iowa, too. Cheers 🍷 for I never ever sleep anymore.

January 23, 2024 8:17 pm

First, Kyra, Joyce and Monica thank you for sharing your stories here. The three of you are prime examples of strength, in every sense of the word! I, too, am a female battling in court Pro Se. I am battling the number one eviction attorney in the state, who handles over half of all evictions filed here, for an Unlawful Detainer Summons and Complaint. This firm is ruthless and does whatever it takes to win, including some of the most questionable tatics one can imagine. I am still trying to figure out how it even got this far in the court system when the case was filed right in the middle of a 30 Day Notice To Vacate! Someone explain to me how you give someone 30 Days to move and then just decide you are going to violate that notice half way through and file an eviction case against them? I could write a book on all the other issues with this case and I guess I kind of am since I am in the middle of Amending my Answer which includes adding a Counter Claim and also writing a Motion To Dismiss with prejudice. Red flags went up like fireworks at the start of the pandemic when I began seeing even more questionable than usual. I have been arming myself since the start of that pandemic by researching and documenting absolutely everything I deemed questionable. On one hand I am excited to stand up to this firm because it rarely happens, on the other hand I am struggling because the one thing I didn’t study was all that the court process entailed. The fear that I could screw this up because I missed a step in that process is terrifying, given that I think I stand a pretty dang good chance of defeating them. I couldn’t agree more with you ladies on what a battle it is reprenting ones self Pro Se. It is tough and made more difficult by all the research one has to do just to understand the process of what needs to be filed, when and where and the how to of all of it. It is an absolute nightmare but coming across sites like Courtroom5 make me feel like I just hit pay dirt lol. Not all information sites are created equal that is for sure.
I cam across this, another fantastic, article on Courtroom as I was trying to find out about courts awarding attorney fees for Pro Se litigants. It was after reading your comments, ladies, that I realized I had read a previous entry on another site for a reason. I believe that reason was so that I could share it with you in the hopes it may be a little source of inspiration. It is not by any means a given that one will be awarded attorney fees when representing ones self but it offers a way to possibly be awarded them. That is far more than normal information I found when I searched google on the topic, to which the common theme is, No you can’t recover fees if you represent yourself.
So I hope this information helps in some way to encourage you to not to give up on your fight. You are worth it, always! Sometimes it is just a matter of thinking outside the box and remembering that when you color outside the lines you get a whole new picture 🙂 I wish you all the very best! Nothing is impossible and we only fail when we stop trying. With that here is the information I found and the link to it. Much admiration to you ladies!

Awarding Attorney’s Fees to Pro Se Litigants Under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
You may have to copy and paste the link. I am not sure if the direct link will appear in these comments or not. Best of luck!