The Perils of Being a Pro Se Litigant in New Jersey: A Cautionary Tale

pro se litigant

When a litigant decides to proceed without the assistance of a lawyer, they are called a pro se litigant. Every litigant involved in a civil or criminal case has the right to choose to proceed through the legal process without the assistance of legal counsel. Unfortunately, there is an old adage that is commonly heard throughout the legal community that states

“A lawyer who represents himself or herself has a fool for a client.”

There are several reasons why it is dangerous and difficult for pro se litigants, including but not limited to the many rules, procedures, deadlines, laws, and cases that a litigant must understand and be prepared to utilize on the spot. It is also important to note that a court in New Jersey will not lower its legal standards for a pro se litigant. For those reasons, it is often beneficial to discuss a legal case with an experienced New Jersey litigation attorney before deciding to proceed without legal assistance.


Lack of Experience in the Legal System

The most common danger associated with pro se litigants is the lack of experience with the legal system. When one side lacks the experience necessary in a court case, the opposition will capitalize on it and make it more difficult for the pro se litigant to get through the court process. A lack of experience typically relates to preparing and filing court documents, gathering and presenting evidence, and understanding the specific rules of the court.

Preparing and Filing Court Documents

Court documents generally include the initial pleadings, responsive pleadings, motions, briefs, and other complex filings. For most cases, filing the necessary court documents is a precursor to having a case heardpro se litigant court filingsbefore a judge or jury. Many cases are dismissed or never get to a trial because of improper filings.

 Improper filings commonly include failing to file the correct court document, filing the court document after a deadline, failing to include the necessary information in a filing, or failing to correctly format or serve a court document. It is imperative to remember that a procedure might seem insignificant; however, it could make the difference between a case proceeding to trial and a case being dismissed.

Gathering and Presenting Evidence

One of the most complex areas of litigation is correctly obtaining evidence and properly presenting it in court documents and before the court at a trial.

Unfortunately, the process of collecting evidence is not always straightforward and often requires an experienced litigation attorney to submit the necessary paperwork and seek out the relevant individuals. Furthermore, once all of the evidence is collected, the tough part really begins.

New Jersey law contains several rules for presenting evidence at a trial, including hearsay rules. Even if a pro se litigant believes they have read everything about the evidence laws and procedures, it is challenging to stand before the judge and remember everything and argue against a skilled lawyer who has learned and applied such laws and procedures for years. A judge will not be lenient or allow evidence into a trial simply because a litigant is self-represented.

Court Rules and Procedures

New Jersey courts have specific rules and procedures that each litigant must follow throughout a case. It is also critical to note that certain courts and judges might have different rules and procedures from others throughout the state. Along with the normal rules relating to deadlines, there will likely be rules about what should be included in court documents and how to proceed through the pre-trial and trial stages.

The court-specific rules and procedures can typically be found on the court’s website or at the court; however, New Jersey statutes and other laws that contain relevant rules could be difficult for a pro se litigant to locate. When deciding whether to proceed without representation in a court case, it is important to understand that New Jersey courts do not like to force a lawyer to jump into a case that has already commenced.

Once a decision is made for self-representation, it could be difficult to turn back, and a pro se litigant could be fighting for his or her rights without the necessary knowledge to adequately protect those rights. As such, it is highly recommended to utilize the assistance of a well-versed trial attorney in New Jersey to ensure an individual’s legal rights are protected.

Emotional Involvement in a Case

Another common danger associated with self-representation is being too close and emotionally attached to the case. In other words, it is hard for a pro se litigant to be objective and this can interfere with the legal strategy in a case. An emotional attachment commonly leads to blind spots, which prevent a pro se litigant from identifying potential negatives in their case.

Additionally, it can be emotionally exhausting for a self-represented person to handle an entire legal proceeding by themselves, which can cause significant problems. It is much easier for a litigation attorney to stay emotionally detached from a case, so that they can identify all negatives associated with a case to determine arguments the other side might present at trial. Furthermore, a skilled New Jersey trial lawyer understands what to expect throughout the legal process, which could help alleviate an individual’s concerns.

Contact a Litigation Attorney in New Jersey Today

Being a pro se litigant can often save money on legal costs; however, the expense of failing to hire an experienced lawyer, such as losing a case, could be much higher than any legal costs. Most lawyers would say that they would not choose to represent themselves in a legal matter because of the many dangers, especially the inherent bias in self-representation.

It is hard to find a detached third party to provide advice or insight that could make a significant difference in an outcome. A dedicated New Jersey litigation lawyer could help provide the necessary advice to navigate the legal complexities of a case and fight for a favorable outcome.

Please contact me today for a free consultation at 201.342.1700

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