Pro per is an abbreviation of the Latin term in propria persona, which means "by one's self." In legal terms, it refers to someone who chooses to act as his or her own legal 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 papers, he or she must write "in pro per" on the bottom of the first page of the document, where, if there was legal counsel present, it would read "attorney for the plaintiff."
Pros and Cons
There are a number of reasons that a person may elect to represent himself instead of using proper legal counsel, one of which is to avoid the financial burden incurred with legal representation. Other reasons to represent onself are the confidence a person has in being able to create a strong legal defense, the personal reasons for pursuing a case, and the inability to find appropriate counsel. Many times, a person chooses to forgo an attorney when the cost of hiring an attorney is higher than the claims being made against the person; this often happens in small claims court.
Some people choose to defend themselves without any previous legal background or knowledge, which can prove to be a challenge in some cases. While a person will usually have several weeks to study and prepare for the case, it may not be possible to learn every law or detail, which could result in losing the claim. Often times the more complex a case is, the more legal knowledge a person needs in order to successfully defend himself. A lack of time, resources, and knowledge can be negative points of self-representation.
Things to Consider
The Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments allow someone who is involved in a criminal prosecution to waive the right to counsel; however, legal assistance may be available for people who choose to go pro per. In civil law courts, there are no clear rules regarding the right to counsel, so while courts allow for the submission of legal documents pro per, they might not allow for corporations to appear in court without proper legal representation.
One example of a pro per case is Van Orden vs. Perry. Thomas Van Orden, who was a destitute, successfully argued pro per his case for removing 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 had a suspended license. The Supreme Court's decision was delivered on 27 June 2005, with a vote of five to four, stating that a public religious display did not violate the Constitution and the display was allowed to remain in place.
A more common example of when it may make sense to defend oneself is during a divorce hearing. When going through a divorce, many people experience financial struggles due to the loss of the ex's income. This loss of income may be a factor in choosing not to hire a legal counselor, as the fees and rates for lawyers may be too expensive on a single income.