Information About Representing Yourself
What is self-representation?
A person who is handling their own court case without being represented by an attorney is called "self-represented." Sometimes people use the words "pro se"or "pro per"which are Latin terms that mean someone is representing himself or herself in the case.
Do I need a lawyer or can I represent myself?
You are not required to have an attorney to file papers in your case or to participate in court hearings or a trial. Some people represent themselves because they cannot afford to hire an attorney. Others think they can manage the case on their own. There are several considerations to think about in deciding whether to hire an attorney or to represent yourself.
You need an attorney if:
- You want legal advice
- You do not fully understand the papers you received from the opposing party or from the court. (Court staff may be able to answer some questions for you, particularly if they have to do with procedures.)
- You have a complicated case.
- You are charged with a crime.
- You want to sue someone, but you don’t know the legal theory or basis for your claim.
- You cannot afford to lose your case.
- You cannot explain the issues in your case to a judge.
- You get extremely nervous speaking in public and cannot organize your thoughts to speak in a courtroom.
You may not need an attorney if:
- You understand your case well enough to explain it to a judge.
- You don’t get overly nervous speaking in public, like in a courtroom.
- You are organized and keep accurate records.
- You can write neatly or type.
- You have time to prepare papers, make copies, learn the required steps, file papers with the court, do legal research and attend court hearings.
- You have time to respond (right away) to papers you receive from the opposing party.
- You are able to read, understand, and respond promptly to all papers you get from the court.
- Your case is relatively simple.
- You are comfortable negotiating with the other side or their attorney, if represented.
- When you read state laws and court rules and cases, you understand what you have read.
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What can court staff do to help?
Court staff is ready to help you in whatever way they can. Their role is to provide you with information, not legal advice. They have been instructed not to answer questions that require legal advice. If they don’t know the answer, they may refer you to other resources so you can get the information you need.
|Court Staff Can:
||Court Staff Cannot:
|Explain and answer questions about how the court works.
||Tell you whether or not you should bring your case to court or give you opinions on what will happen in your case.
|Provide you with the number of the Lawyer Referral Service, unbundled legal services list, legal services program, and other services where you can get legal help.
||Give you a referral to a specific attorney.
|Give you general information about court rules, procedures and practices.
||Do research for your case, or tell you what to say in your papers or in court.
|Give you public case information.
||Give you confidential case information.
|Give you information about forms and instructions on how to complete forms.
||Fill out forms for you unless authorized by law or court rule in specific situations.
|Give you information about procedure and options for forms, including what to file to ask the judge to order something.
||Talk to the judge for you or let you talk to the judge outside of court.
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What are some tips for your day in court?
- Don’t miss your court date. Court is not an appointment that can be missed or rescheduled easily. If you miss your court date (including being late) for a criminal case, a warrant may be issued for your arrest. If the hearing is not a criminal matter, you may lose the case by default which means the case will go ahead with you. If you have a serious reason why you cannot go to court on the assigned day, call the Judge's Assistant. In advance of court, you need to file a motion requesting a change of the hearing or trial date.
- Allow plenty of time to get to court. Arrive at the courtroom 30 minutes before your hearing time. Consider the traffic, weather, parking, frequency of the bus, and allow plenty of extra time. You may need to wait in lines for weapons screening, and finding the correct building and courtroom can take time. Being late can make you anxious and unable to do your best. The hearing might last longer than you think. If there is not free parking at your local court, make sure you have enough money to park at a meter or use a pay parking lot.
- Bring your records. This includes a copy of all papers you and the other side have filed with the court or given to each other, and all orders and notices you received from the court. Bring a notepad and pens for taking notes during the hearing.
- Bring an outline of what you want to say. As you cover each point, check it off. Before you conclude, look back to see if you covered each point. The Judge will only want to hear information that is needed to evaluate the requests made in the court papers.
Practice explaining your claim to a friend. If your friend doesn't understand you or find your argument convincing, think about how to improve your presentation.
- Know what the court proceeding is about. Hearings can have different purposes. Some hearings and trials are supposed to decide issues by considering your evidence, including witness testimony and exhibits. Other times the hearing has a different purpose like scheduling a trial date. Read all notices and orders you received about the hearing or trial carefully. If you are supposed to bring evidence and witnesses to the hearing, bring everything that is relevant. If you have documents or pictures, bring the original item and 4 copies (original for the court file, 1 copy for you, 1 copy for the other side, 1 copy for the witness and 1 copy for the judge). Ask your witnesses to arrive early and dress neatly. Some documents can't be used as evidence unless the right person is in the courtroom to explain the document and answer questions about it. There are many rules about evidence. (See Alaska Rules of Evidence). You may want to talk to a lawyer about what evidence you need and how to make sure your evidence can be considered by the judge or jury.
- Dress neatly. Wear conservative clothing. Shorts, T-shirts, plunging necklines, and torn clothing are not appropriate. Lawyers wear suits. You do not have to buy new clothing for court, but remember it is a formal place and you want to be conservative and respectful in dress and behavior.
- Do not bring children. Unless the court has told you to bring your children to the hearing, make arrangements for someone to take care of them.
- Behave properly in the courtroom. Certain behaviors are not allowed because they are noisy, distracting or disrespectful. You cannot: chew gum, eat, sleep, wear a hat, listen to earphones, text, talk on your phone, take photographs, or carry a weapon.
During the hearing listen carefully, ask permission of the Judge to speak, talk directly to the judge and not the other side, avoid arguing with or interrupting another person, and control your emotions. When you talk to the Judge, start by saying "Your Honor." Speak loudly and clearly into the microphone and remember that only one person can speak at a time. A court reporter is taking down everything said in the courtroom, and can only record one speaker at a time.
- Before you leave the courtroom, make sure you understand what happens next. Do you need to come back for another court hearing? Do you need to prepare any written documents to file? Do you need to take other steps or actions? Will the Judge send an order by mail? Politely ask questions if you do not understand what will happen next.
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Can self-represented parties be successful in their cases?
If you are going to represent yourself, you can succeed in your case if you are organized, follow court procedures and prepare. It is important to:
- Educate yourself about all parts of the case. The Court System has resources available in different types of cases for people representing themselves on this website, in clerks’ offices and law libraries.
- Pay attention to all deadlines in your case. Missing a deadline may result in you not being allowed to present some information for the court to consider.
- Organize yourself so you have all of the information you need to move your case forward. Keep copies of everything you file and everything you receive from the other side and the court. Gather any evidence you want to present in court filings and in hearings and trial.
- Send the other side (or their attorney if represented) a copy of every document you file at the court. You must fill out a certificate of service for all filings showing what papers you gave the other side, when and whether you used the mail or hand-delivery.
- Watch a hearing or trial in the same type of case and before the same judge as your case if possible.
- It is always helpful if you can consult with an attorney. Consider finding an attorney who will provide unbundled legal services. This is also called discrete task representation. Basically instead of hiring an attorney for full representation, the client would hire the attorney to perform a specific service that they both agree upon. This may include giving legal advice, drafting documents, doing legal research, or representing someone in court. The Alaska Bar Association can provide you with a list of attorneys who do unbundled legal services.
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2 December 2013
© Alaska Court System
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