These are the top five mistakes I see people representing themself make.   There are, unfortunately, more that I could write about.

Not Understanding the Law and the Rules.

When a person representing him or herself, they are held to the same standard of knowing the rules and the law as an attorney.  The problem is that it is the very rare self-represented “pro se” litigant that can know these things.   The rules and the law are complex. Just as there are rules about filing documents and the law on any given subject, there are specific rules about how evidence is presented in court. Take for example, hearsay.   There are rules and there are exceptions to the hearsay rules.  They are complicated.

Not Knowing How to Act in Court.

The courtroom is not the Jerry Springer Show.   Every judge has their own way of running the courtroom, but none allow the kind of antics you see on television. How you act matters because you are on stage and under scrutiny the minute you walk into the courthouse.  Be very careful on what you say in elevators and in hallways.   You never know if the judge is on the elevator or walking by.  Also, you should dress appropriately for court.

Not Knowing How to Correct Mistakes.

Unrepresented parties are not only likely to make mistakes, but they are also very unlikely to know the mistake happened or how to fix it.  For example, proper service has specifc rules.   Fixing problems with service can be difficult.

Being Late.

Make sure to be on time.  Judges don’t like tardiness.  It’s perceived as disrespectful to the court. Be professional and polite.  Resist outbursts of any kind, even if statements are made you disagree with.  All of your actions will be closely scrutinized by the court, and you need to act accordingly.

Being Unprofessional.

This is a catch-all problem I see all the time.   Not only do pro se litigants not know the rules, the law, or anything else about the process, they don’t know how to prepare for court, and they don’t know what to focus on in their presentation.

In conclusion, if you can hire an attorney you should.  If you can’t hire an attorney for the full case, find someone to consult with to give you advice.


Family law attorney Scott Allen handles cases every day and has over twenty-eight years of experience. If you have questions or need assistance call him at (919) 863-4183 or email at