Pro se litigants are filling the nation’s courts, met with varying degrees of success, but it’s not always clear what success looks like. I’m not sure it looks any different for those with lawyers, though. You either want to win outright, gain a favorable settlement, or delay the inevitable adverse judgment.
When the law is on your side and you’re able to marshall the facts to make your case, you can often win outright. For example, if someone borrows money and doesn’t pay you back, you go to court with an IOU and get a judgment against them.
But when you’re the borrower and you kick up enough dust to make the outcome unclear, you can show the other side that a settlement is in their best interest. Can you deny a fact or two in the complaint and offer a good reason not to pay? Does the IOU have an original signature, or is that just a copy? Did the creditor make it difficult to repay the loan in some way? Have you completed all the discovery you want?
Sometimes there’s no settlement to be had, and you plainly owe the money. In those instances, skillful use of civil procedure can create lengthy distractions in your case. You can delay the inevitable judgment and take the time to arrange your affairs. Say you’ve lost your job and stopped paying your mortgage, and now the bank is foreclosing. There’s no way to pay off the house, and you have no funds that would make for a reasonable settlement. But the truth is, every day the sun rises with you still in the house is another day you’ve won.
Success is never strictly about a court judgment. It’s more about aligning your goals with a strategy to achieve them. Harassing the other side with discovery or raising their litigation costs above the value of the claim are tactics every litigant should consider. Being able to use them is what success looks like for the pro se litigant.
Drop a comment below and share ways you’ve succeeded without winning.