I have never yet seen a litigant who represented himself or herself do well in court. I’m sure such people exist, but I have never seen one in action.
Courts generally don’t like self represented parties (known as pro se or pro per parties in legal parlance) because they often slow cases down through their ignorance of the law and legal procedure, they don’t know how to behave properly in court, they often make silly arguments that have no legal merit. Thus, guilt by association takes effect; there is also this sense that if you come into court without a lawyer then you must be wrong, or you must be too stupid to realize that you’re going to lose. These kinds of presumptions are not fair, yet they exist. And there’s even a sense of contempt for the fact that someone has the nerve to come into court who isn’t a lawyer and try to do “a lawyer’s work” without one. Anyone who’s thinking of representing himself or herself in court would be wise to keep these things in mind.
Some of the reasons why courts have little patience with pro se parties are legitimate. I stated at the beginning of this post that I’ve never seen a successful pro se litigant, but I’ve seen plenty of pro se litigant failures. People who make rambling arguments with no supporting legal authority and no real theme or point. People who come into court defiant and unwilling to work within the norms—both written and unwritten— that govern the way the legal system works. It should come as no surprise that people like this are frowned upon by judges in the court system generally.
Some judges don’t prejudge pro se litigants, but most do. In fairness, most pro se litigants are, frankly, not terribly bright or educated and/or have a screw or two loose, so it’s not hard to see why it’s so easy for judges to give in to the temptation to treat all pro se litigants that way.
How to counteract?
Don’t go pro se! Do everything in your power to get a good lawyer to help you. It’s expensive, yes, but worth it, especially if you’re a racial minority and/or don’t speak English well in a town where the judges aren’t themselves bilingual.
If you must proceed pro se, then:
speak clearly and coherently. If you don’t speak English well, you’re in trouble.
Pay a lawyer for an hour’s consultation to help you understand your case, the issues, the law governing your case, and how to argue your case. Have an attorney go over your written court submissions for correct formatting, spelling, punctuation, grammar, and readability. Most attorneys will not do this, but some will, and they’re worth finding.
Wear a clean, well-fitting suit to court. You can pick one up in a thrift store for $20. Wear a simple dress belt. Wear a simple plain white dress shirt that fits. If you’re a man, wear a tie (no cartoon characters or NASCAR logos), dark socks (not white tube socks), and actual black, laced dress shoes that fit and are polished.
Bathe. Shave. Cut and comb your hair. Use deodorant. Trim and clean your nails.
Cover tattoos up completely. Take out the nose and lip rings.
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