It is not the purpose of this chapter to teach the pro se litigant legal research and writing nor is it our goal to sort out the complexities of applying the law, whether it be statutory or case law, to the facts of a particular case. The law prohibits personnel in the Clerk's office from providing information regarding the application of the law to the facts of any case. The intention here is to provide information that is basic to a law library to be used as a guideline.
A court hearing is usually a short and narrowly defined proceeding in which you are not entitled to a jury. A judge conducts the hearing and makes a ruling. Depending on the kind of dispute you’re facing, you may find yourself in a hearing rather than a trial. For example, you’ll probably have a hearing if you are seeking an increase or a decrease in spousal or child support following your divorce or if you need to prove how much money you are entitled to after a defendant has failed to respond to your claims. This book’s advice is as pertinent to hearings as it is to trials. Many of the courtroom procedures and rules of evidence are exactly the same in a hearing as in a trial. And you still must offer evidence in a way that persuades the judge or hearing officer to rule in your favor.
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There are also freely accessible web search engines to assist pro se in finding court decisions that can be cited as an example or analogy to resolve similar questions of law. Google Scholar is the biggest database of full text state and federal courts decisions that can be accessed without charge. These web search engines often allow pro se to select specific state courts to search.
Legal information systems must also be programmed to deal with law-specific words and phrases. Though this is less problematic in the context of words which exist solely in law, legal texts also frequently use polysemes, words may have different meanings when used in a legal or common-speech manner, potentially both within the same document. The legal meanings may be dependent on the area of law in which it is applied. For example, in the context of European Union legislation, the term "worker" has four different meanings:
But in the course of my experience, it became very apparent that the deck was stacked against me just because I was proceeding pro se – that is, representing myself, without an attorney. It's hard enough for a layman to win in court as it is, but the apparent disdain and discrimination that courts and judges show toward pro se litigants make it that much harder.
Fixed Fees. A fixed fee is a set fee for a particular project. For example, a lawyer may charge $500 to write your will. It is unlikely that an attorney will suggest a fixed fee to coach you through your whole case, because the lawyer will have little idea of the amount of work involved. But the lawyer may suggest fixed fees for particular services along the way. For example, you may find a lawyer willing to charge you no more than a specific sum of money to review and edit your complaint or to help you respond to your opponent’s interrogatories.
Some federal courts of appeals allow unrepresented litigants to argue orally (even so nonargument disposition is still possible), and in all courts the percentage of cases in which argument occurs is higher for counseled cases. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court adopted a rule that all persons arguing orally must be attorneys, although the Supreme Court claims it was simply codifying a "long-standing practice of the court." The last non-attorney to argue orally before the Supreme Court was Sam Sloan in 1978.
In a criminal case, a defendant is entitled to legal counsel by the United States Constitution and one can be provided if indigence is shown on the part of the defendant. However, in a civil case, the plaintiff is not entitled to an attorney. There are organizations that can help obtain counsel in civil matters for nominal fees or even on a volunteer basis. The Idaho State Bar has a referral service that lists attorneys who belong to the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers and they are willing to help indigent parties in several different ways. Legal Aid Services is also available as well as the American Civil Liberties Union. There are also attorneys who would be willing to represent you on a contingent fee basis where the attorney collects a fee only if money is won in the suit.
According to the National Center for State Courts 2006 report, in the United States, many state court systems and the federal courts are experiencing an increasing proportion of pro se litigants. Estimates of the pro se rate of family law overall averaged 67% in California, 73% in Florida's large counties, and 70% in some Wisconsin counties. In San Diego, for example, the number of divorce filings involving at least one pro se litigant rose from 46% in 1992 to 77% in 2000, in Florida from 66% in 1999 to 73% in 2001. California reports in 2001 that over 50% of family matters filings in custody and visitation are by pro se litigants. In the U.S. Federal Court system for the year 2013 approximately 27% of civil actions filed, 92% of prisoner petitions and 11% of non-prisoner petitions were filed by pro se litigants. Defendants in political trials tend to participate in the proceedings more than defendants in non-political cases, as they may have greater ability to depart from courtroom norms to speak to political and moral issues.
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Defendants, civil rights organizations, public interest organizations, and government public officials can all set up an account to pay for litigation costs and legal expenses. These legal defense funds can have large membership counts where the members contribute to the fund. Unlike legal financing from legal financing companies, legal defense funds provide a separate account for litigation rather than a one-time cash advancement, nevertheless, both are used for purposes of financing litigation and legal costs.