When two parties get entangled in a civil legal dispute, they head to a courtroom for trial. After that, a judge or jury will decide the matter. This is civil litigation. If you find yourself in a civil action but don’t have a lawyer, you can represent yourself, or proceed pro se.
Pro se is Latin for ‘for oneself’ thus literally meaning ‘on behalf of oneself’. Unlike criminal cases where the government appoints legal representation for those who can’t afford a lawyer, parties in civil cases don’t have that privilege. Thus, if you go pro se, be prepared to see it to completion.
Self-representation is increasing in frequency. A 2015 study reveals that 70 to 90 percent of new civil cases nationwide have pro se litigants. Representing yourself in court is no walk in the park. This guide will enlighten you on things you need to know about the process.
Legal Terms You Should Be Aware Of
Civil Lawsuit. As opposed to a criminal lawsuit, a civil suit is a court proceeding where one person sues another for alleged losses due to the latter’s actions.
Defendant. This is the party being sued.
Hearing. A court proceeding where evidence is presented, law is heard, and a decision is made.
Jurisdiction. Refers to the geographic or subject matter court with the legal authority to hear cases and make judgments.
Plaintiff. Refers to the party bringing legal action against the defendant.
How to Write and File Your Own Motion
A motion is a written request to the court to do something in an open case. Motions are vital to determining the outcome of a case.
How to Draft a Motion
1. Get the Formatting Right
Look at other court documents and note the formatting. Format your documents like that, with the name of the court at the very top. This begins the caption.
2. Complete Your Caption
A caption lists the names of the court, the parties involved, the case number, and other identifying information. If other documents have been filed in the case, use them to get this information.
3. Create a Title
The purpose of the title is to let the court know what your motion is about. As such, the title should contain your request (i.e. Defendant’s Motion for Extension of Time to Answer).
4. Write the Introductory Paragraph
Start by identifying whether you are the defendant or plaintiff. Next, state whether you have an attorney or are making the motion pro se.
5. State Any Applicable Facts
Following your introduction, lay out the facts that you think are relevant to your motion. For instance, let’s say you’re writing a motion to compel discovery. If the other party has copies of a certain document in their possession and you want them to turn that document over, describe the document. You might say, “According to information and belief, the party (plaintiff/defendant) has in their control or possession of a ‘document name’ executed ‘date’ between ‘Defendant and Plaintiff.’”
6. Make Your Argument
The kind of argument you make is dependent on the type of motion you file. State the legal rule you’re relying on. If you don’t know the actual rule or statute, find relevant appellate cases that support your position. Finally, explain how the facts of your case apply to the case law and statute.
7. Request Relief
Any motion is a request for judicial intervention. You are requesting a particular action from the court. So, after laying out your facts, introduction, and argument, state in the “wherefore” clause what you would like the court to do.
8. Create a Signature Block
When you’re done with the body of your argument, start a new paragraph with the following statement, “I swear the information contained above is true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.” Skip two lines. Then add your signature line, followed by your name, address, phone number, and email address.
9. Include a Certificate of Service
The certificate of service is a requirement that you notify the other parties of any case document you file. To certify that you served the other parties in the case with a copy of the motion, write the words “Certificate of Service” in bold. State how you “served” or gave the document to the other parties (i.e. email, snail mail). Underneath that, write the names, addresses and contact information for each of the other parties in the case or their lawyer.
10. Sign the motion.
Filing the Motion
1. Assembling and Copying Your Motion
If there are any attachments that must be included in the motion, put them behind the motion and number them. Also, make copies of these documents.
2. File the Motion
Many pro se litigants have access to a court’s e-filing system. If you have that, take full advantage of it. If you don’t have this access, take the original motion together with all its attachments to the clerk of the court that is hearing your case and give it to them. Also, remember to carry all the other copies you made so you can have them time stamped. The time-stamp signals to every party involved that the motion has been filed.
3. Schedule Your Hearing
Get three court hearing dates from the clerk’s office, and involve the other parties in settling on one of the three dates. When the date has been set, prepare a notice of hearing. Setting a hearing is described in a previous post.
4. Serve Your Motion
Serve or give a copy of the motion to each person on the service list.
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