The following is a guest post by Kenn Goldblatt, the author of, “The Pro Se Litigant’s Civil Litigation Handbook“. If you’d like to submit a guest post on Money Q&A, please check out the site’s guest posting guidelines.
The legal industry is the only activity I know where if you make a mistake, you pay. If your attorney makes a mistake, you pay. If your paralegal makes a mistake, you pay. Also, if the opposing attorney makes a mistake, you pay. And if the judge makes a mistake, you pay.
So understanding the civil litigation process can help you avoid expense-causing mistakes and help you keep your lawyer on track – or keep yourself on track if you opt to proceed pro se and represent yourself.
If the lottery worked the same way, the store clerk would tell you to go outside and buy your ticket from an agent. And, the agent would tell you that he or she would take your money. But, they wouldn’t guarantee that you would get a ticket – or get any money if you win.
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Understanding the Civil Litigation Process
These days, more and more individuals are deciding for a variety of reasons to represent themselves. In fact, in state and federal courts across the United States, about five million individuals are handling their own civil cases of various sorts.
Whether or not they will be successful and prevail depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is understanding precisely how the civil litigation process works and how they can produce the documents they need to convince the judge that they should win.
Typically, judges loathe pro se litigants because they come to court believing what they learned in sixth grade – that if you just come to court and tell the truth, everything will be all right. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Over 5 million individuals are handling their own civil cases in court each year.Click To Tweet
Civil Litigation Is a Contact Sport
Civil litigation is a contact sport – ritualized combat that requires the warriors to know the rules, abide by them, and require the opposing combatant to abide by them as well.
There is a lot to know: the rules of civil procedure, the rules of evidence, local rules of court, proper formatting of pleadings, the language of litigation, and how to find the case law to support their interpretation of the law that applies to their facts. And it requires you to learn a new language: litigation.
Frequently, individuals I am helping ask me, “Isn’t there an easy way to do this?” I always reply, “No, not if you want to win.”
That doesn’t mean that it can’t be done by an ordinary individual with reasonable writing and research skills and a dedication to prevailing. But you cannot underestimate the amount to time and effort it will take to do it right.
As Supreme Court Justice Douglas wrote in one opinion “Legal representation connotes a magic it often does not possess . . . If justice is the goal, why need a layman be barred here?” More and more individuals are agreeing each year and proceeding to represent themselves.
The Pro Se Litigant’s Civil Litigation Handbook
Some courts are grudgingly beginning to accommodate the trend by posting instructions for pro se litigants on their websites. But, there are few places pro se litigants can turn for a detailed, comprehensive explanation of the entire litigation process from pre-filing investigation through trial on the merits and beyond.
As a result, I decided to compile a resource for non-lawyers whether they are proceeding pro se or simply want to manage their litigation while they are being represented by an attorney. The result is The Pro Se Litigant’s Civil Litigation Handbook.
It describes each phase of a typical civil lawsuit and what is required of both plaintiff and defendant as the case progresses. Along the way, it describes what should be happening and provides checklists to keep the litigant on track and on schedule throughout the process.
It also provides a glossary of litigation terms the litigant is likely to encounter, and an appendix of typical pleadings and other required documents so that the reader can see what the final document should look like, and the content is should contain when it is filed with the court.
The book is not meant to be an alternative to a law degree. But, it is meant to equip an average, mature reader with the knowledge and skills necessary to participate effectively in a typical civil lawsuit as either a plaintiff or defendant.
Given the growing exposure that the average citizen has these days to questionable behavior and growing numbers of lawsuits from corporations and litigious individuals, understanding the civil litigation process is becoming increasingly necessary, relevant, and important to protecting your rights – and your money.
Kenn Goldblatt has over two decades of civil litigation experience in six states and three Federal circuits at all levels of both systems up to and including supreme courts as well as substantial experience with Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 as an in-court advocate.