Pro Se Parties Should Think…Then Act
If you have read through the articles on this website then you know that not only do we believe that a person deciding to handle a lawsuit themselves is not only appropriate but in some cases can even be more effective than having a lawyer.
Of course, there are some cases where a lawyer should be used if at all possible (a criminal case, for instance).
However, in going through the various forums and websites to identify issues faced by people representing themselves in legal matters and there seems to be one consistent deficiency which pro se litigants tend to cause.
They don't think before they act.
If a person walks into a lawyer's office, the lawyer could usually file a lawsuit later that day and be safe. It's not because they are a lawyer, but because they have spent years immersing themselves in the law and they instinctively know how to handle certain problems and issues.
Pro se parties don't have this experience to fall back on.
The first thing a pro se litigant needs to do is learn about their case.
Not the facts, although of course they are important, but the law, the procedures, and the issues they are about to face.
It is incredibly important for a pro se litigant to thoroughly understand their cause of action. For our purposes here the definition of cause of action is "the facts and legal theories that give a person the right to seek judicial redress or relief against another."
Their cause of action might be negligence, breach of contract, breach of warranty, or any of a hundred others. The fact that they know the name of the cause of action is negligence, for instance, isn't as important as knowing negligence involves three elements, 1) a duty, 2) a breach of that duty, and 3) the breach of that duty caused the harm now being complained about.
The ability to figure out what the cause of action will be is substantially easier now that the internet is available and anyone can run a search for "cause of action" and find lists to look through. Once the cause or causes of action are determine then it's time to hit the case law searches. Of course, our book, The Guerrilla Guide to Legal Research: Finding the Law for Non-Lawyers can help with that area.
The Rules of Civil Procedure aka The Rules of Court aka The Rules of Trial, etc. are also important. They are important enough that law schools spend months on the topic and they are important enough that you can lose your case just by not following the rules on proper filings. These are available on the internet for all states so there is no excuse for not reading these.
A final note, when a pro se party is planning their work, it's a good idea to keep a notepad handy and jot notes. It's amazing how easy it is to become overwhelmed and start forgetting things.
In conclusion, what this all boils down to is what law school is really about. To be successful in any endeavor in the legal forum you must think like a lawyer!