What’s a Pro Per in law?

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Pro per is a legal term for someone who represents themselves in court without a lawyer. It is synonymous with pro se, which is used in federal courts. People may choose to represent themselves to avoid the cost of legal representation, have confidence in their ability to build a strong defense, or be unable to find appropriate counsel. However, lack of legal knowledge, time, and resources can be negative points of self-representation. Legal aid may be available, but there are no clear rules in civil law courts. An example of a pro case is Van Orden v. Perry, where an indigent successfully argued for the removal of a public display of the Ten Commandments.

Pro per is an abbreviation of the Latin term in propria persona, which means “from oneself”. In legal terms, it refers to someone who chooses to act as their own counsel in a lawsuit, despite not being a lawyer. This term is synonymous with pro se which is a term usually used by federal courts while pro per is commonly used by state courts. When a pro per litigant files legal documents, he must write “in pro per” at the bottom of the first page of the document, where, if legal counsel were present, it would read “lawyer for the plaintiff”.

pros and cons

There are a number of reasons why a person may choose to represent themselves instead of engaging appropriate legal counsel, one of which is to avoid the financial burden incurred with legal representation. Other reasons for representing themselves are a person’s confidence in being able to build a strong legal defense, personal reasons for pursuing a case, and an inability to find appropriate counsel. Many times, a person chooses to forgo an attorney when the cost of hiring an attorney is greater than the claims brought against the person; this often happens in small claims court.

Some people choose to defend themselves without legal background or knowledge, which can prove challenging in some cases. While a person usually has several weeks to study and prepare for the case, it may not be possible to learn every law or detail, which could result in the loss of credit. Often the more complex a case, the more legal knowledge a person needs to successfully defend himself. Lack of time, resources and knowledge can be negative points of self-representation.

Things to consider
The Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments allow those involved in a criminal case to waive their right to legal representation; however, legal aid may be available to individuals who choose to act professionally. There are no clear rules in civil law courts regarding the right to legal aid, so while courts allow legal documents to be submitted, they may not allow companies to appear in court without adequate legal representation.

An example of a pro case is Van Orden v. Perry. Thomas Van Orden, who was an indigent, successfully argued his case for the removal of a public display of the Ten Commandments, all the way to the Supreme Court. Van Orden was once a lawyer, but at the time of the case he had a suspended license. The Supreme Court decision was handed down on June 27, 2005, by a vote of five to four, stating that a public religious performance did not violate the Constitution and that the performance could remain in effect.

A more common example of when it may make sense to defend yourself is during a divorce hearing. When going through a divorce, many people experience financial hardship due to the ex’s loss of income. This loss of income may be a factor in choosing not to hire legal counsel, as attorney fees and rates may be too expensive on a single income basis.

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