Should You Represent Yourself?

Are you on time for meetings and deadlines?

  • The court expects you to be on time for hearings and submission of required documents.
  • You must meet deadlines set by court rules and the judge.

Can you make it to the courthouse during the day (regular business hours)?

  • You will need to arrange your work schedule and transportation to get to court, both to file paperwork (unless you eFile) and to attend hearings.
  • Commitment to spending the time and attention required throughout your case is necessary.

Do you fill out and file your own income tax returns?

  • Reading instructions, following steps, and paying attention to detail are necessary to complete required court forms.
  • You must be organized and prepared to successfully file the proper court documents.
  • Organize your paperwork so you have quick access when you need it.
  • Understand what is needed, gather the information and fill out court forms completely.

Are you comfortable doing research in a library or online?

  • Do the research needed to be successful in handling your case.
  • Most people do not know the laws and rules that govern their cases. Learning the laws and rules for your case is required to be successful.
  • Many people are unsure what forms and documents need to be filed with the court to start and continue their cases. The court may provide forms for you to fill out and file, you will likely have questions.
  • You can hire an attorney to do the research only. It may save you significant research time because an attorney is trained to know the laws and rules that govern your case.
  • An attorney may do some research on specific concerns in your case to make the best argument.

Are you comfortable speaking in public?

  • Representing yourself means you must attend all scheduled appearances with the judge. At these appearances you will be required to present your case.
  • Listen carefully to what the judge says and respond appropriately.
  • Speak clearly, calmly, and logically in court; avoid displays of emotion.
  • You must speak to the court yourself. If the other party has an attorney and you do not, you cannot count on the other attorney to help you or speak for you.

Do you easily get angry under stress?

  • Coming to court can be difficult and stressful, because you have something to gain or lose in your case.
  • If you are angry or upset at the other party, you may find it more difficult to control your emotions in the courtroom and while speaking. You may also find that your judgment is clouded by stress or anger.
  • You must be courteous at all times to court staff, the judge, and the other party in your case.
  • You may not interrupt the other party, the judge, or others while they are speaking.

Are you often frustrated by rules you think are unfair or should not apply to you?

  • All types of cases are controlled by rules and procedures. These rules and procedures are in place to give everyone a level playing field.
  • Though a rule may seem silly or wrong, the rule must be followed to make sure your case is handled fairly.

Can you make decisions and stick to them?

  • It is necessary to be comfortable with making decisions without second-guessing yourself.
  • Any doubts or questions should be considered and answered before you start the process..
  • Most court processes are formal and lasting. Once you make a claim, a statement, or a filing, it is difficult to make changes.
  • You must follow up with the details necessary to complete your case.

Can you live with your mistakes?

  • If you represent yourself, you are likely to make some mistakes. If you regret decisions or often dwell on actions you have taken, you may cause yourself stress and anxiety. You may also hurt your ability to be successful in your case.

What is at stake in your case?

  • Every case is important, but some cases may have a bigger effect on you because of the amount of money, property, or other people involved.
  • If you and the other party had a relationship that included physical or emotional abuse, you may have trouble keeping a steady emotional state.
  • Being calm and logical is necessary to make good decisions in your case.

Representing yourself adequately takes time and effort. Your legal rights are affected by how well you manage your case. If you can’t take time to come to court, have trouble staying organized or managing details, you may want to consider using an attorney to assist you.