Library 2.0

In Propria Persona (Pro Per)

By Peter Rooney and Kerry Prindiville

Pro Per or Self Represented Litigants have always been considered the bane of the legal profession. They clog up the legal system with their ill informed actions, questionable legal reasoning, or by pursuing unfounded or vexatious litigation. Though some of their antics can bring a chuckle from time to time, they represent a considerable amount of work for everyone involved with the legal system. The Pro per litigant is a frustration from clerk to Supreme Court Justice.

Why do I bother reminding you about them? It is because they are an ever growing portion of the legal system and they are not going away (especially in this economy). If we do not do something to assist them, they are going to continue to clog the system and frustrate all of us. So what can we do? We, as legal professionals, need to educate them about services and resources that could help them.

This may seem counterintuitive for those that have to litigate against Pro Pers. Why would you take the time and trouble to assist your opposition if it goes against professional ethics and could possibly put your client’s interests in jeopardy? I am not asking that you sacrifice your client’s position. I am asking that you do your part to help facilitate an economical and efficient California justice system. This can be done by helping to educate the Pro Per on resources that would assist them in understand the system.

California has a variety of resources available for a Pro Per. The California public law libraries have long supported and championed making resources available for the self represented litigant. Many counties have developed collections specifically for those less sophisticated researchers and litigants. Some counties have even set up self-help law centers to assist the Pro Per litigant in filling out forms and general information about the litigation process. They even now have an online presence with the “AskNow” legal reference service to assist legal reference and research. The administrative office of the Courts has developed a good web site, http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/selfhelp/ to assist litigants representing themselves. It provides a wealth of general information and forms necessary to give laymen a basic understanding of the law in California and tools to navigate through it.

Why should we even bother to help this frustrating and annoying segment of the legal system? Well, (cue patriotic music) it may not be perfect, but we have the best legal system in the world. And in order to truly provide justice for all, we must be willing to do our part to assist those who would not otherwise be able to fully participate. For Pro Per litigants, this means informing and educating them about concepts and processes that make up the system; even if they are the opposition. If we do not help these people to better understand, then it will leave a segment population even more skeptical of a system that they do not necessarily trust. And if people lose trust in the system, it will fail (music dims). Or, for the pragmatic, it may remove one little headache or frustration from your day. And considering how most attorneys’ days go, that may be worth it.