If you’re experiencing nightmares of giant cash registers going off, or you break out in a sweat when someone quotes the cost of an investigator or deposition, you must be in a court case. Besides the time and effort involved in prosecuting or defending a lawsuit, there are other legal expenses that add up during the case. If you lose, you’ll recover none of that and may have to pay costs for your opponent. If you settle or win, however, you may recover all or most of it–depending on the type of expense.
If you’re a pro se litigant, you’re not entitled to reimbursement for legal representation. But you may be able to recover compensation for filing fees, travel expenses, and the cost of hiring court reporters, investigators, and expert witnesses.
Let’s discuss more details.
Legal Expenses Pro Se Litigants Can’t Recover
In the past, judges have recognized that pro se litigants deserve compensation for their efforts, particularly when hearings take time away from their employment. Some opinions have proposed a system that would provide attorney-type compensation at the litigant’s usual hourly rate. In the real-world though, attorneys defending against such petitions claim that hourly compensation for pro se litigants is merely lost wages and should be properly classified as damages.
Although many laws allow prevailing litigants to recover compensation for reasonable legal expenses and attorney fees, the wording is often ambiguous. It fails to answer the question of whether pro se litigants are entitled to the same type of compensation as lawyers for the time spent preparing or defending their case, presenting evidence, and attending depositions.
Unfortunately, pro se litigants are almost never compensated for their time, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll go away empty-handed.
Court Costs Pro Se Litigants Can Recover
Pro se litigants who prevail are typically entitled to compensation for reasonable costs based on their actual out-of-pocket expenses. Some statutes, such as the FOIA, specifically state which costs can be recovered. To ensure that you’re eligible, keep track of all expenses, including the following.
• Filing fees
• Process serving
• Photocopying and printing
• Legal research
• Court reporters
• Expert witnesses
• Travel expenses
• Phone bills
According to court protocol, claims for legal fees and filing costs are typically included at the end of the initial petition or complaint along with other damages or relief requested. The prevailing party can then file a motion or submit an itemized bill of costs after the judgment is entered. Parties typically have 10 to 45 days to complete this step although deadlines vary by jurisdiction.
As a pro se litigant, there’s a good chance that you’ll consult an attorney at some point in the process even if that professional doesn’t represent you in court. In this situation, you might be entitled to attorney’s fees paid to a consultant as long as an attorney-client relationship existed. That’s one reason why self-represented lawyers usually can’t recover attorney’s fees. Most courts have ruled that there was no attorney-client relationship because the person didn’t consult an unbiased, neutral third-party for legal advice.
Tips for Recovering Court Costs as a Pro Se Litigant
- Check the local rules of civil procedure to determine what provisions exist for fees and expenses.
- Find out which costs may be recoverable, and keep receipts for expenses incurred throughout the process from discovery through the trial.
- If your legal dispute involves a contract, determine who is responsible for court costs according to that document.
- Identify possible precedents to determine if any pro se litigants have been awarded attorney’s fees in your state.
- Research statutes that apply to your case. In some states, such as Massachusetts, tenants can be awarded legal fees if the landlord is in the wrong and later loses the claim, and in Florida, family law claimants may be awarded legal fees based on economic need.
- If you file a frivolous or invalid claim, you may be stuck paying for the defendant’s legal fees. That’s why it’s important to build a meritorious case on a strong legal foundation.
For your own mental health, consider legal expenses as simply the cost of representing yourself. That way, you won’t stress so much about spending money to support your case. Free yourself up to have different dreams.
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