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Tips for Litigating Against Unrepresented Parties

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

If you've never been in court against a pro se litigant, that's a good thing.

That's because it's not a good thing when opposing parties know nothing about the law, think they know everything about it, and are generally embarrassing in court. We're not talking about opposing counsel; that's another story.

We're talking about the attorney wanna-be or the person who just can't afford a real lawyer. Here are some tips for dealing with them.

Attorney Wanna-Be

The wanna-be thinks they're smarter than everybody in the courtroom. We're not talking about judges; that's also another story. The unrepresented litigant who acts like a lawyer is a different breed.

"They say that a man who represents himself in court has a fool for a client," explained Gomez Addams. "And with God as my witness, I am that fool!"

No joke, untrained advocates often take their cues from movie and television lawyers. It's usually best to sit back and let them play it out until the judge starts to cringe. No need to interrupt, object, or argue. Or laugh. Usually.

On the other hand, there are expert pro pers. They are wanna-be lawyers who actually could be. They prepare better than most, so don't underestimate your opponent and always prepare for a fight.

Can't Afford a Lawyer

If unrepresented parties simply can't afford legal counsel, they may find sympathy on their side. Judges often give them a little room for error, especially if they look helpless. Treat them like the judge does, and you'll be on the right side.

In any case, you have to focus on the law, the facts, and the rules -- not the courtroom personalities. Real lawyers are notoriously difficult to deal with, so a fumbling pro per may be a breath of fresh air. In either case, the best way to deal with them is to be patient.

With non-lawyers, you may have to do a little more work, like preparing case management statements, pre-trial documents, and other particulars required by the court. But that's the nature of the beast. We're talking about law practice, not pro pers.

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