What is Pro SE?

Pro SE is a legal term that stands for “on behalf of themselves.” Meaning to advocate on one’s own behalf before a court rather than being represented by an attorney.

In 2006 the National Center for State Courts reported many state and federal court systems are experiencing an increasing number od Pro Se litigants. With the majority of pro se cases in family law (2).

The right to represent yourself dates back to the late 1700’s under the Judiciary Act of 1789. The Supreme Court states in the Federal Courts the right to self-representation that criminal defendants have a constitutional right to refuse counsel and represent themselves.

The Judiciary Act of 1789, Stat, 73, 92 was enacted by 1st Congress and signed by President George Washington one day before the Sixth Amendment was proposed provided that in all courts of the United States, the parties may plead and manage their own causes personally or by the assistance of counsel (3).


Constitutional provisions in most U.S. States expressly or interpretation allows individuals to represent one’s own cause in the courts of the state. In many instances, state constitutional provisions regarding the right to petition the government for redress of grievance have been interpreted.

The U.S. Judiciary Act, the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the Federal Rules of Evidence and the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure address the rights of the self-represented litigants.

Section 1654 of title 28 of the United States Code provides: “In all courts of the United States the parties may plead and conduct their own cases personally or by counsel as, by the rules of such courts, respectively, are permitted to manage and conduct causes therein.”

Organizations and laws charged with regulating judicial conduct may affect Pro Se litigants. This is based on the idea that “Judges are charged with ascertaining the truth and not playing referee in the case.” Suggesting that the court should take whatever measure reasonable and necessary to ensure a fair trial. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure rule 56 notes that Many courts take extra care with pro se litigants, advising them of the need to respond and the risk of losing by the summary judgment if an adequate response is not filed. And the court may seek to reassure itself by some examination of the record before granting summary judgment against a pro se litigant”(4).

The Federal Court for the Central District of California permits pro se litigants to receive documents electronically by an Electronic Filing Account (ECF) as of November 1, 2011. The policy of the Central District of California is a cost-saving measure for the court. All they have to do is send in the form, have a PACER account, and provide a valid email address. However, as of May  16, they are prohibited from filing pro se electronically like a litigant represented by counsel.(5)

Effective November 24, 2015, amended Local Rules 2.1(F) and 5.4 of the Federal Court for the Northern District of Florida permit “pro se” litigants to file and receive their documents electronically by following the same local requirements as licensed attorneys for PACER NEXT GEN qualifications and approval for electronic use in particular cases; order of assigned Judge on pro se motion showing the pro se qualifications may be required (6).


The ability of a party to proceed without an attorney in prosecuting or defending a civil action is largely a matter of state law and may vary depending on the court and the positions of the parties. Check with your state for more information.


Many pro se resources can be found in local courts which may offer assistance, public interests groups, The American Bar Association and commercial services that offer pre-made forms allowing self-represented litigants have formally corrected documents.

Self-help legal service providers must not give advice in order to avoid “unauthorized practice of law” which is an unlawful act of non-lawyers practicing law in the United States.

Available Resources for Pro Se

American Judicature Society works to maintain the independence and integrity of the courts and increase public understanding of the justice system. A nonpartisan organization with a national membership of judges, lawyers and other citizens interested in the administration of justice.

Nationa Center for State Courts is a non-profit organization charged with improving judicial administration in the United States and around the world. It functions as a think-tank, library, non-profit consulting firm for the courts, advocate for judicial and legislative reform, and a center of education in the field of judicial administration.

State Justice Institute is a private, nonprofit corporation that awards grants to improve judicial administration in the state courts of the United States.

PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) is a system to obtain case and document information from the United States District Courts, Court of Appeals and Bankruptcy Court.

Civil Rights Complaint Forms are available at the United States Department of Heath and Human Services website

United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) laws and regulations help enhance and protect the health and well-being of all Americans by providing for effective health and human services and fostering advances in medicine, public health, and social services.




  1. Pro SE Legal Representation of the United States, (2016), Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pro_se_legal_representation_in_the_United_States
  2. Madelynn Herman (September 25, 2006). “Self-Representation: Pro Se Statistics”. National Center for State Courts. Archived from the original on 2012-05-04.
  3. Faretta v. California 422 U.S. 806, 813 (1975).
  4. Legal Information Institute, (2016)”Rule 56 Summary Judgement.”, Retrieved from https://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/frcp/rule_56
  5. Pro Se Electronic Filing Services, (2016), Retrieved from http://www.cacd.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Notice-from-the-Clerk-ProSe-Electronic-Service.pdf
  6. United States District Court Northern District of Florida, (2016), “E-Filing (CM/ECF) Info.” Retrieved from http://www.flnd.uscourts.gov/ecf