There’s lots of legal advice for pro se litigants on the interwebs these days, but very little of it actually shows us how to win in court. That’s because it mostly comes from lawyers, and they typically have no experience as pro se litigants. They can (and thankfully do) tell us about procedures and various things we can file, but they can’t tell us how to win. Why? Because the rules are different for us.
What does a lawyer do to contain his emotions surrounding the personal issues in the case? Nothing, because they belong to his client. What can a lawyer tell a pro se litigant about handling the bias and trickery that opposing lawyers, court staff and judges deploy against non-lawyers? Not too much. Since non-lawyers are freed from the Rules of Professional Conduct, how can a lawyer — who is bound by those Rules — prepare a pro se litigant to operate outside them? Hard to imagine.
No, lawyers can tell us how they win in court, but they play on a different field with different rules and equipment. We are forced to play a different game than they play.
Some of us have gratefully received detailed answers to our questions on legal advice websites. Others have found sample answers or motions or discovery documents from the lawyers sharing tips and techniques online. Still others have bought courses or textbooks on handling specific types of cases or litigation in general. And then we show up to court and get crushed by a lawyer who talks over us to a judge who hasn’t bothered to read anything in the file.
So how does a pro se litigant learn how to win in court? If you’re like me and many others, you learn through the Hard Headed School of Failure. You bang your head against the litigation process enough times to learn the ropes, and then you start winning.
But if you’re like our members, you learn from other pro se litigants. You get on the right foot with the right tools, you get trained on the basics of litigation, and you compare notes with others on the same path. Will you still bang your head? You bet, but it’s not as likely to be fatal to your case, and you’ll be better prepared to learn from the experience and keep fighting.
By all means, get all the information you can from the generous lawyers willing to share their knowledge online. But recognize that advice for what it is — and isn’t. Only experienced pro se litigants can teach others how a pro se litigant fights and wins. The next time a lawyer promises to teach you how to win in court, ask when they last appeared before a judge without a law degree.
Still, we all make good use of legal websites. We’ve curated a great selection here. Share your favorites in the comments below.