Why Do Pro Se Litigants Lose So Often?

Pro se litigants have a reputation for making truly novel arguments in court.

We don’t know the conventions and customs of litigation, so we’re forced to think outside the box.

We often misunderstand the law, or introduce facts that aren’t relevant from a legal perspective.

And let’s not even start on the more technical aspects of litigation — rules of procedure, rules of evidence, witness examination, appellate procedures and so on.

We’re practicing law without a license, which is our right when we’re directly interested in a case.

Get a Fair Hearing in Court

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

But it also means we lose, a lot.

Some of us think we’re going to turn into Robert Kearns, the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper who successfully sued Ford and Chrysler for stealing it.

When Ford claimed all the components of Kearns’ device were preexisting and deserved no patent recognition, Kearns reportedly forced Ford’s expert to read Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities and admit that all the words were preexisting.

Kearns lost his family, his mental health and his belief in the justice system, but he walked away with $30 million.

Unfortunately, as several studies have found, success in court is not a reality for most of us. A Department of Justice study found that pro se litigants in immigration appeals were successful 10% of the time, compared to a 40% success rate for those represented by pro bono attorneys (often students supervised by law professors).

In another study, people needing protective orders were successful in getting them 83% of the time when represented by counsel, while those without lawyers got them at a rate of only 32%.

In some state eviction courts, unrepresented tenants were found to almost never prevail against landlords, whether the landlord brought a lawyer or not.

This comes as no surprise to us, right?

We know the advantage of having a good lawyer. Most of us would hire a lawyer if we had the funds to pay one and could trust them to do a good job.

We’d hire a lawyer to represent us in court the same as we’d hire a doctor to cut out a gall bladder. That’s because the rules of litigation are made by and for lawyers.

But for most of us, hiring a lawyer is not an option.

So besides going to law school, what can we do to win more often?

The first thing is to adjust our expectations. I don’t mean we should expect to lose, but we should release the romantic notion that justice will be done if we simply lay out all the facts and let a judge decide our fate.

Secondly, we should cure our lack of knowledge about legal processes. There are basic procedures that apply to each stage of a case. Following them won’t make you win, but it can keep you from tripping over yourself and losing too easily.

Thirdly, we have got to cure our lack of legal skills. Legal research, legal writing and argument can be learned, and they get better with practice.

That’s where Courtroom5 comes in.

Yes, it’s a home for your case, a place to organize the filings and keep up with your tasks and expenses. But it’s also a place to quickly learn what you need to know — and practice what you need to do — either by yourself or with a little help from your friends in our pro se community.

Because as pro se litigants, we really have got to stop losing so often.

Have you lost a case in the past? Did you diagnose the reasons for losing? Share in the comments below.

11 thoughts on “Why Do Pro Se Litigants Lose So Often?”

  1. The reason we lose in court cuz there’s nowhere in the United States you can get a fair trial because all are guilty who are Accused by the king whether they’re guilty or not. Our legal system is based on a legal system that is from a monarchy and a monarchal society king and queen you are guilty before you step through the door because our legal system does not start for me equal Level Playing Field starts from we got to win win not find the truth and it’s disgusting that we have modeled our official system in this supposedly free country after a legal system from a monarchy that has a king and queen not a free country. How can it be a Level Playing Field it’s not. Everyone in the room already thinks they’re better than you because of their education and it’s called bias but none of them care because they get rich off of the backs of taxpayers our judicial system is a disgrace to our way of life

    1. But everything in the Constitution and specifically in the Bill of Rights regarding trials is designed to protect the defendant.

    2. I suggest that first of all, it’s clear that you have no idea what the Magna Carta is. Read it, and read about it.
      Secondly, it is likewise clear that you have no understanding of the Common Law (no, it’s not just about unmarried people living together).
      Finally, go to your county law library and read some cases in the law reporters.

  2. I believe fully to just lay the facts out and the timeline I. Which the facts occured before a competent judge or jury and let the legal system do what it was ment to do that is settle disputes between people busnisses etc…
    Fairly impartialy open minded to the whole case andthe true story behind .Good Law will always trump Bad Law and integrity of the court and the people who are sworn to protect our rights

    1. I wish the principles of justice were adhered to and respected by the administrators of the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, I personally have witnessed the lack of integrity displayed in the courtroom by judges, prosecutors and other members of the legal community alike which has led to my wrongful imprisonment for the past 8 (+) years. Members of law enforcement have threatened and used other forms of intimidation to still the interest of my former attorneys, most of whom are employed by multinational law firms. Prosecutors have routinely altered documents, email communications and bank records, threatened and coerced witnesses, and have made representations they know not to be true all in the name of politics & racism. All of these acts have been well documented but none of the actors have been held accountable. The only court that I have faith in now is the court of public opinion.

    2. Hi Bryan my name is mattie and I’m representing myself in a retaliation and harassment case against my former employer. My case went to federal and the judge granted the defendant their summary judgment and close mines by the defendant saying that I had poor performance and they put on the merit an evidence of this individual operator report sheet that has someone else name on it and the range dates for the target production number was incorrect I felt like it was abuse of discretion due to the fact the defendant and their lawyer connive their story by a false evidence so now I have a deadline for appellant brief and I’m finished with that but it’s a lot of series that goes with the appellant brief that I don’t know about but I’m definitely learning I just don’t know how to ask the appeal court to reverse the district court decision and I’m wondering do you know if I have to complete all components that comes with it. I’m not a lawyer smh but I do want my case to be heard because I didn’t get to go to trial cause the judge closed it. What your subjection

  3. We need to start thinking with the term “Revolutionary Lawyering” that is what I call it when I’m helping other as aprose unthierendeavors try it again ‘Revolutiinary Lawyering”……one thing I e noticed is you must maintain the level plus at all times when dealing with an paid attorney.Because to know all the Good Law and see the Bad Law
    Seemsto be par for the course of Revolutionary alawyering’

  4. Barbara Pohanish

    A retired bank President used my info to start a new business put liens on my property with property liend

    1. Barbara a pohanish

      I had a Mortgage with bank for 30 years with a bank presifent this man retired started a fincial business astrong possibility he and tax collector placed false liens on property violation of proper Leal rules for n j lien laws

  5. Hello everyone! Greetings from south Florida where we “manufacture” prejudiced, corrupt judges and crooked, lying lawyers! Now…let’s get down to the hard, cold reality of what REALLY happens during any civil litigation where either the Plaintiff or, more commonly, the Defendant, is pro se and the opposing party is represented by counsel. REGARDLESS of the facts, the evidence, the essential requirements of law, the rules of civil procedure, and the TRUTH, the pro se party is going to LOSE its case! Period!
    Because I’ve seldom been financially able to hire a lawyer, I did what most pro se litigants DON’T do, I did my DUE DILIGENCE!!
    I studied and learned the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar that, (supposedly), govern lawyer conduct, the Florida Rules of Judicial Administration, the Rules of Civil Procedure and above all else…the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct. (What a JOKE!). In the Broward County courthouse, hard copies of the Code of Judicial Conduct are in every bathroom stall…in case they run out of toilet paper!
    The unspoken Rule For Judges is that no matter what it takes, NO pro se litigant shall EVER prevail in civil litigation over a lawyer! I’ve watched time and time again as the “Rule Book” goes right out the window! This is especially the case if the Plaintiff happens to be the mighty Bank of America or any of the other major financial institutions with their unlimited financial resources and never-ending parade of dishonest, unethical, crooked, LYING lawyers! I’ve caught SO MANY of them in outright LIES to the judge and I’ve always moved for sanctions against them for Fraud On The Court! Despite the irrefutable evidence, NO judge has ever sanctioned any Bank of America lawyer! The judges give the lawyers a “wink and a nod” and the lying lawyers walk out of court knowing the judges let them get away with it! Bank of America has some of the BEST judges MONEY CAN BUY! I’ve discovered clear evidence of that, too!
    In conclusion, it is axiomatic that the “system of justice” in Broward County, Florida has been totally corrupted. So if you are a pro se litigant, be prepared to either find a way to retain your own lawyer – or be prepared to LOSE your case!!! It’s just THAT simple!

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