Representing Yourself in Court : An Introduction to Representing Yourself

What does "pro bono" mean?

Pro bono means that an attorney is representing you for free or for a reduced fee.   If you are looking for an attorney, search the directory now.

What is it called when I plan to represent myself without an attorney?

It means you are "pro se", meaning to represent yourself without having a lawyer help you.

What rules do I follow when I am representing myself?

The court is a very traditional place.  When you are representing yourself in court, you are trying to persuade a judge or jury that you are right. So you must act, dress, and speak in a way that helps you with your case.

Here are some tips:

1. Be on time

  • Your case can be dismissed if you are late.

  • The judge may make a decision without hearing your side.

For more information about representing yourself in court, see the Ohio State Bar Foundation Keys to the Courtroom brochure.

What do I do if I know I am going to be late to court?

  • Call the court, ask to speak with the secretary of the judge assigned to your case. Ask the secretary to tell the judge why you are late & when you expect to arrive.

2. Dress neatly

  • You do not need fancy clothes, just make sure you are neat and clean.

  • Tank tops, shorts, ripped jeans or baseball hats are not acceptable. T-shirts or hats with messages such as “Legalize Marijuana” or “Where’s the Beef,” while funny, are not acceptable for court.

3. Be respectful

  • How you act is as important as how you look. Just like an attorney, you must be respectful to everyone in the court, including the judge, court staff and the other party involved in your case.

  • Do not speak while others are speaking. Do not get into an argument with the other side. If you disagree with what the other side is saying, wait until he or she is done and then tell the judge.

  • Speak to the judge only when you are told it is your turn. Address the judge as “your honor.” Never interrupt the judge.

  • Try to control your emotions as much as possible, especially anger.

4. Do not bring children with you to court

It is okay to bring your child if it is a custody or visitation case and the judge or magistrate needs to talk with your child. In all other cases, find someone to look after your child.

5. Turn off all cell phones and pagers

Turn your phone/pager off when you enter the court. Ringing phones and beeping pagers are very distracting and make some judges very mad, which will not help your case!

What can I expect when I arrive at the Courthouse?

  1. Check in at the clerk’s office to find out which courtroom to go to.

  2. Go into the courtroom and sit quietly until your case is called. You may have to wait for up to an hour; just be patient.

  3. When your case is called, walk to the table or podium for lawyers in front of the judge and stand facing the judge. The judge will tell you when to speak.

  4. When the judge asks you to present your case, tell the judge what it is that you are requesting and why you are requesting it.

  5. After you are finished, the other side will have a chance to ask you questions.

  6. Next, the other side will present his/her case. Don’t forget, if you disagree with something the other side says, do not interrupt. You will have an opportunity to ask the other side questions when he/she is finished talking.

During the hearing the judge may ask you questions, so:

  • If you don’t understand the question, say so. Don’t answer until you fully understand the question.

  • If you don’t know the answer, say “I do not know.”

  • Do not be afraid to admit that you don’t know something.

Decisions are not always made right away.

In most cases, you will receive the judge’s decision in the mail within two weeks.

WARNINGS:

Do not try to try to talk to the judge about your case before your case is called.

  • The law prevents the judge from talking to one party if the other party is not present (unless the case is currently before the court).

  • This one-sided conversation is called an “ex parte communication” and it is not allowed.

  • Any letter, motion, or request you send to the court will be ignored by the judge (because it is an ex parte communication) unless you send a copy of that letter or request to the opposing party as well.

  • Otherwise the judge will not even read your letter.

For example:

If you write a letter to the judge requesting that the court date for your divorce be changed, you must also send a copy of this letter to your spouse and let the judge know that you have done this.

Do not ask court staff for legal advice.

  • Court staff are not attorneys and cannot provide legal advice. More importantly, they are employees of the court and must treat both sides in a case fairly. It is unfair and against the rules for them to help one party and not the other.

  • However, court staff can answer questions about court procedure, court rules and the meaning of certain legal terms.

Do not ask law librarians for legal advice.

  • Your county may have a law library that keeps legal reference books that are used by judges, local lawyers and their staffs.

  • Most law librarians are not attorneys and cannot provide legal advice. Even if a librarian is an attorney, they are not acting as your attorney and cannot give you legal advice.

  • They cannot tell you which form you need or what information to put on the form.

  • Read the instructions provided and try to figure this out for yourself.

How do I file an appeal if I am representing myself?

The Supreme Court of Ohio provides a Pro Se Guide for filing an appeal in Ohio.


See also the Forms & Education tab in this section for more information.

The information in this site is not intended as legal advice.
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