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Legal Information

Court System Basics

If I represent myself in court, how will the judge treat me?

You are generally allowed to represent yourself in court if you so choose, except in some very limited circumstances. If you do choose to represent yourself in court some judges may be more lenient with you but others may hold you to the same standards as a lawyer during your court case and might even have unintentional bias against self-represented litigants. In other words, the judge may expect you to know:

  • what the purpose of the different court appearances and conferences are in your particular case;
  • whether or not discovery is allowed;
  • what motions may be filed;
  • how to conduct a trial in general and, specifically, how to introduce evidence, question witnesses, and object to unfavorable evidence.

This may sound like a lot to take in, but you can review the other pages in this Preparing for Court – By Yourself section for basics on these areas of trial practice. Most states also have materials for self-represented litigants on their court websites and some might even have self-help centers in the courthouse where you can go to get brief advice or help with filling out court forms.

Some cases are especially complicated and involve important legal rights. In those cases, it is important to have a lawyer. If any of the following are issues in your case, then you should strongly consider hiring a lawyer to help you, if possible:

  • parental kidnapping;
  • contested divorce;
  • contested custody;
  • immigration; or
  • the other party has a lawyer.