Success rate for pro se litigants

What percentage of pro se litigants are victorious?

Stoid will be along shortly. :wink:

In what sort of cases?

So far, I’ve prevailed in both cases that I was involved with - one was a landlord-tenant dispute in small claims, and the other was defending against an auto finance company that was ignorant of California laws regarding co-signers. That one was fun - I got the plaintiff’s witness to perjure herself. :cool:

You’re a very, very bad man. :smiley:

Did I hear my name?

I don’t think anyone keeps those kinds of statistics. I can’t imagine how they would.

From what I’ve been able to gather, the vast majority of self-represented people are in family court, if that makes a difference.

Most small claims courts have large numbers of cases where both sides are pro se. Someone has to win those.

Beyond that, there are some very rare prominent success stories for pro se litigants. By far the most successful was probably Gideon v. Wainwright, one of the Supreme Court cases that established the right to court-appointed counsel for indigent criminal defendants. After being denied court-appointed counsel in his criminal case, and the conviction that followed, Gideon hand-wrote a cert petition to the Supreme Court from his prison cell. The Supreme Court accepted it, and appointed Abe Fortas to represent Gideon. That’s pretty damn good for a pro se litigant - extraordinary, in fact. Not the way pro se cases normally go.

If up against a professional, very few. Bloody hell even lawyers don’t represent themselves for a reason.

Though judges tend to be a lot easier on people represeting themselves, one particular person was blatantly leading examination in chief, judge pretty much let it slide.

That’s the big concern, evidently. On the other hand, reading materials on the subject produced by actual lawyers and judges talking about their own opinions, expectations and reactions to the self-represented, they are shockingly hostile, with extremely negative expectations and beliefs. Logically, those negative feelings and views are going to make their way into the process.

In immigration appeals, pro se appellants were sucessful 10% of the time, according to a Department of Justice study. By comparison, those represented by pro bono attorneys (many of whom are supervised law students) were successful 40% of the time.

I have done a few small claims court and landlord and tenant court cases on my own and won most of them. In one case I lost because the judge was dumb as a doorknob and could not understand a very simple matter of why some storm windows did not work as they should. Well, maybe I could rephrase that to say that I was unprepared because I did not expect the judge to be that dumb and that an attorney with more experience would have advised me to prepare for a worst case scenario and I could have won if I had had an attorney or if had explained the issue better. OTOH the case was for a couple grand and was not worth getting an attorney.

I think raw statistics are misleading. What about cases were both parties represent themselves?

Not only that. It is misleading to say X% of students who take course Y pass so your chances of passing are X%. Not true. If you are well prepared your chances are close to 100% and if you have not prepared your chances are close to 0%. This is not a random event and neither are court cases.

Having said that, I am now going to contradict myself somewhat. I believe that in immigration and other cases with/against/concerning/related to the government an attorney has a certain standing and leverage which works in his favor.

Immigration is a clear case. In theory two persons who present the same case should get the same result but in practice a lot has to do with other variables and with pure luck and chance. A bureaucrat know he should approve the clear cut cases and reject the clear cut cases but he has a lot of leeway in the middle and here he is going to approve/reject depending on many things. And he knows Joe Schmoe has much less fighting ability than Caspar, Antonelli & Wiener, Attorneys at law, a firm with knowledge of the law, contacts and connections. So the private guy’s application is much more likely to be rejected even if it is identical to one submitted by attorneys. I think this is true in every jurisdiction in every country but in certain cases like INS it is even mor elikely because they are overextended and cannot even take good care of their workload so they have to cut corners. If you add to what I have already said that the attorney knows the ins and outs, not only of the law but also of the bureaucracy, then hiring an attorney makes sense.

But you have to be very careful when drawing conclusions out of statistics. I like to cite the case of a university which admitted more men than women and this was presented as discrimination but when analized by colleges every college admitted more women than men. I have posted this before:

Whoa there turbo. I did not mean for that link to represent anything but what it states: individuals represented by even inexperienced attorneys have 4x the success rates of pro se appellants in the BIA (Immigration Appeals).

I did not dispute that at all, did I? I only made some general observations.

Doesn’t everyone represent themselves in small claims?

Even in Small Claims cases where one side is represented by a lawyer, the pro se guy often wins. Stoid- not quite, after all, sometimes a “inc” is sued or sometimes a Lawyer is, right? But yes, generally Attorneys are not allowed, at least around here. If a company is sued then *“corporation, an employee, officer, or director must go to court. That person can’t be hired just to represent the corporation.”

Thus if the company has a lawyer as “an employee, officer, or director” then the lawyer can represent them. From what I have seen, it is usually not a good idea, however.
But outside Small Claims and Traffic court, I suspect most pro se litigants have fools for lawyers. It’s a bad idea.

Not always. Many times, yes; but I have a few clients who want me to represent them in Small Claims. Mind, in our jurisdiction, the Small Claims limit is $25,000, and if their claim is at the upper end of that limit, some clients just feel more comfortable being represented.

That’s a fairly high limit, though. If a person has a truly “small” claim, then I usually recommend they represent themselves.

In the area of law I practice, in federal court, pro se litigants are rarely successful. In most cases, the fact that they are unable to attracte a lawyer says a lot about the merits of their case (fees are contingent upon their prevailing).

Once in a great while you run into an especially generous judge who decides to toss some especially sympathetic plaintiff a bone, but that is quite rare. When I had not been doing this as long as I have now, I used to get frustrated at the ridiculous lengths courts would go to to accommodate pro se litigants. Now, it is just a part of the job.

I repeat, my comments are limited to the narrow area of law I practice.

Well now I’m all burstin’ with curiousness. What area of law do you practice?

I’d say this rather insightful point makes any objective study more or less meaningless (except in certain fields like immigration, where the facts of any given case can be broadly categorized).

There’s also a second issue, which is cases that never go to trial. In criminal proceedings, that means comparing the sentences accepted by unrepresented defendants to those accepted by represented defendants, or in civil (and most administrative proceedings) the relative sizes of settlements.

Most plaintiffs in personal injury claims, for example, are going to have virtually no idea how to value their claims. In workers’ compensation, for example (IANAL, but I work for a WC attorney), unrepresented claimants either massively overvalue their claims or undervalue them. They either think they’re getting $200,000 for a broken toe, or they accept $3,000 for a multilevel spinal fusion (spinal fusions typically require additional surgery within 25 years, and obviously $3,000 is not going to cover that) because they’re broke.

This article has some statistics on pro se defendants in criminal cases: (pdf) (discussion of success rate begins at pdf page 26) (outcomes for unrepresented defendants were at least as good as for represented defendants).

With respect to civil cases:

*Id. * (pdf) (this is a meta-analysis).

By the same token, someone has to lose.