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 fair outcome when one side has a lawyer but the other side 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.

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Eric Price
March 12, 2023 12:01 pm

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

Frank D.
Reply to  Eric Price
March 16, 2023 9:25 pm

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

Edmond Dantes
Reply to  Frank D.
April 1, 2023 7:00 pm

yeah right!!!!!!

Reply to  Frank D.
April 23, 2024 5:16 pm

If everything in the Constitution and Bill of Rights is to protect the defendant, (as you incorrectly state) . Why is it that the government has a 97% successful conviction rate in federal court against defendants?

David Hess
Reply to  Eric Price
September 7, 2023 12:08 pm

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.

Reply to  Eric Price
January 6, 2024 12:05 am

As a woman with a disability, by law, they have to accommodate me, so the play will be adjusted, and the truth I believe will come out,

Reply to  Eric Price
January 28, 2024 7:10 pm

Eric, I can certainly understand your frustration. I am someone who represented myself in court a few times – losing AND winning. This is before I went to law school. When you speak of a legal system that’s based on a monarchial society – you’re not quite right. Western Jurisprudence finds its basis in Christianity. The legal system we know of today sprung up around the same time that Christianity was finding its heyday in the Holy Roman Empire. Think about it: When somebody commits a crime (sin), they’re committing a crime against the people (God), and not an individual. You are brought before an old white man to be judged. Punishment is banishment to an awful place you don’t want to be. However, you are right about presumption of guilt. When a criminal is brought into court it is assumed that the police have done their job and due diligence in bringing in the correct person. What the job of the prosecution is, is to make it constitutional. Now what is not true, overall, is that attorneys think they’re better than you in terms of their education. That is insecurity seeping in. I know cuz I used to feel the same way. Attorneys know the legal system better than you, most definitely, but we know the buck stops there. The attitude that comes in dealing with self represented litigants is unfortunate and needs to be addressed. I liken it to this: Say you’re a construction worker, and you’re building a house. You’ve been doing your job for sometime and you’ve gotten pretty good at it. You and the foreman have a good working relationship, as do you and all of your capable co-workers. One day, a volunteer comes along. They’ve never lifted a hammer, but for some reason they’re here and they’ve been assigned to work with you. Now, theoretically, there is no seniority, so you have no power over this newcomer, in fact, the foreman is to treat him with as much clout as you have. Will he slow you down? Yes. Will he ask stupid questions? Yes. Can he be fired from the job? No. This is where the other side is coming from, and it isn’t fair to either side. Our laws allow for self-representation and put the cost of paying for an attorney out of most people’s reach. But it then punishes people for not being rich enough by ensuring a judgment not in their favor. Sure, judges are supposed to be impartial, but remember they’re just lawyers with a promotion. And while you won’t see them again after your trial, they have to work with these attorneys day in and day out. I don’t see exactly what you mean by getting rich off the taxpayers, though. That’s usually corporations, not individuals.

Bryan Brown
June 12, 2023 7:35 am

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

Moshe Israel
Reply to  Bryan Brown
September 26, 2023 7:55 pm

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.

Reply to  Bryan Brown
October 1, 2023 2:45 am

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

Reply to  Mattie
January 28, 2024 7:24 pm

Hey Mattie, I wish I could give you a crash course on appellate briefs, but there’s not enough space here. What I can say is to be succinct, logical, and knowledgeable. Stick to there individual reasons why it should be appealed. Remember, an appeal isn’t a new trial, it’ s a chance for you to say WHY the district court erred in its discretion to grant summary judgment. And you should know the various rules that apply to what you’re claiming. For example, attorneys have the obligation to due their due diligence before submitting any paperwork to the court. That is why, so often, lawyers can get away with shit because the presumption is, they’re being honest and thorough (I know, right?). Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 11 provides sanctions against the offending party that would, for instance, file a summary judgment based upon forged evidence. Best of luck to you!@

Reply to  Mattie
April 13, 2024 7:41 pm

What was your argument for the Court to deny summary judgment? How did you go about rebuttal of the “admissible evidence” that was a was presented as exhibits? In appellate court you can only bring arguments that you brought objections against in your motion to deny summary judgment. MSJ are very telling. They play all their cards when they file it, and that’s good for the other side. If you got an appellant hearing, you are probably in a decent position.

Bryan Brown
June 12, 2023 7:41 am

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’

Barbara Pohanish
June 22, 2023 12:42 pm

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

Barbara a pohanish
Reply to  Barbara Pohanish
June 22, 2023 12:50 pm

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

Edward Crespo
July 28, 2023 11:48 pm

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!

Derrick Nicholson
November 5, 2023 1:46 am

What to do when judge’s are getting paid to dismiss cases

Wajid al-Qadaffi
November 11, 2023 7:03 pm

I , a Blackman , have prevailed more than once as a ps litigant. My first advantage was to believe I can win over the powerful. Second advantage, knowledge that emotion and a meritoreous , prima facie case was NOT enough to prevail in court. I needed to study, study, study, the elements of each claim, evidence of each claim, admissability of evidence. In short, I needed to think as a seasoned attorney. I often tell aquaintences the only diffeence between them and attorneys is what is read or not read.My first civil rights complaint vs.CNY/NYPD my attorney provided a draft complaint of four claims and I added an additional five after I edited. Im proud to say that in a Article 78 Special Proceeding , Judge Palmer(FNU)____________presided and after oral arguments and in his written opinion he wrote, “Mr.Qadaffi’s was flawless and I thought he was a lawyer.” Point is, we, as pro se litigants can”t expect charity , we must come flawlessly leaving our opponent no way out. This is not checkers its chess!

Reply to  Wajid al-Qadaffi
April 13, 2024 7:49 pm

I agree with this whole heartedly!! I like to discuss what move I believe opposing cousel will make before I file a document into the Court. It really feels great when they do exactly what you predict.

December 9, 2023 8:53 pm

Chess and not checkers is right. Heres a good one. I recently lost an eviction case, representing myself. My ledger did not stand up in court but LL ledger did. Also, LL twin sister was there acting as her!!