People who represent themselves in court are called “pro per” or “pro se” litigants. When they file papers with the court, instead of identifying an attorney as their representative on their papers, they write that they are “pro per” or “pro se” in the space where the paper asks who the attorney is representing.
Individuals have the right to represent themselves in court. People do this for a variety of reasons. In all criminal matters an individual has the right to be represented by an attorney, and if a person cannot afford an attorney, the Court will appoint an attorney to represent the person. In non-criminal juvenile matters and in some other situations, the Court may appoint an attorney for a person if they cannot afford one. In civil, family law, and probate matters, people may represent themselves. The Court will not appoint an attorney for them. In small claims matters, individuals must represent themselves; attorneys are not allowed to represent anyone in a small claims matter except on appeal. Sometimes the court will recommend that a person seek advice from or hire an attorney to help them, particularly if the case is more complicated or there are issues in the case for which legal advice would be very helpful. However, the Court cannot recommend specific attorneys.
What Do I Need to Know to Represent Myself?
If you represent yourself in Court, you are expected to understand the law, rules and procedures that apply to your case.
You will need to follow those in presenting your case to the court and getting your matter resolved, whether by settling with the other party, using an appropriate administrative process or going to trial.
You cannot come to Court and tell the judge that you are not a lawyer and do not understand what you are supposed to do.
The judge cannot give you legal advice about your case nor make decisions based on your lack of legal
knowledge or understanding.
They must follow the law.
They may suggest you speak with an attorney, but cannot recommend specific individuals or firms to you.
Each type of case has special rules and procedures that apply. To access the Court's Local Rules, click here
Some Basic Information You Should Know
Below are links to some of the basic information you will need if you are representing yourself in Court. Click on the topic you want for more information.
Finding Legal Assistance
The Resource Center
provides a variety of legal resources that may be helpful as you work to resolve your legal matter.
Self-Help/Family Law Facilitator Services
Is There Any Help I Can Get at Court?
The Superior Court has a Self-Help Services program, which includes the Self-Help Center and the Office of the Family Law Facilitator.
For information on their locations, hours, basic services and workshops, click here
. Para informacion sobre horas, locaciones, y talleres, oprima aqui
If you do not have an attorney, the Self-Help Center and Family Law Facilitator staff and volunteers can assist you with procedural information and instruction on completing forms in the following types of cases:
- Child support (including DCSS cases)
- Spousal support
- Petitions for custody, visitation and support
- Divorce, legal separation or nullity actions
- Guardianships of the person
- Parentage actions (paternity)
- Restraining orders (domestic violence, civil harassment, elder abuse)
- Small claims
- Unlawful detainers (evictions) and landlord/tenant problems
- General civil cases
PLEASE NOTE: WE CANNOT GIVE LEGAL ADVICE.
Assistance is available in person, by telephone, and by writing us. We also have a number of workshops each week where we show people how to complete forms step-by-step and provide information. Workshops are by appointment only, on the following topics: starting a divorce when you have children, starting a parentage (paternity) action, preparing papers to ask for family law orders (Order to Show Cause), preparing judgment papers, Spanish-only family law clinic, and guardianship of the person workshop. In addition, workshops are provided by Volunteer Legal Services Corporation (VLSC) and the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) on: consumer debt (EBCLC and VLSC), evictions for low-income landlords (VLSC), and bankruptcy (VLSC). All workshops, except the Spanish clinics, are by appointment only. The Spanish workshops are limited to the first 10 people per session.
What Kinds of Help We Offer
- Explain general court rules, procedures and practices to help you understand the steps you need to take in your case to bring it to a resolution.
- Provide court forms and instructions (limited to areas of law covered by our services).
- Give you brief instruction on how to complete legal forms and review completed forms (or help you with an appointment for an appropriate workshop).
- Provide appropriate information from your court file.
- Assist you with how to locate appropriate legal materials and resources relevant to your case.
- Make referrals to other legal aid and community resources that may be able to help you.
- Provide access to the court’s DomainWeb on our public access computers.
- Provide you with written information on a number of topics, from mediation to where to pay your parking ticket.
NOTE: We can only provide information and assistance with matters in California. If you have a case in another state, we cannot assist you with that case.
We have drop-in hours at our four locations in the county each week. The Oakland office is open the same hours as the clerk’s offices, except on Fridays, when we close at one. Hours at other offices vary. We also have phone hours Monday through Thursday from 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. The telephone number is 510-272-1393. Phone calls are taken only during the stated hours. Calls received outside those hours are not returned. You can write to Self-Help Services at: 1225 Fallon Street, Room 109, Oakland, CA 94612.
What We Cannot Do:
We cannot give legal advice. What does this mean? It means we cannot:
- Tell you if you should file a case in the courts or not.
- Tell you what to say on your court forms or papers.
- Tell you what to say in court.
- Talk to the judge for you, or tell you what a judge is likely to do.
- Let you talk to the judge outside of your court hearing.
- Change an order the court has made.
- Give you an opinion about what you should or should not do or say, or what may happen if you file an action, or at your hearing or trial.
Sometimes it is difficult to know where to start. Below are some brief answers to frequently asked questions.
What is a Civil Case?
Civil cases are all the cases that don’t involve breaking the law in such a way that you can be punished by a serious fine or jail/prison time (this is criminal law). Generally, civil cases may be disputes about a contract, damage to property, or someone being injured. They also involve special relationships, like families or dealing with someone’s property when they die. Common types of civil cases include:
- Family Law. These cases involve divorce (also called a dissolution), legal separation, nullity of a marriage, parentage (paternity) actions, child support (often an action by the Department. of Child Support Services(DCSS)), and petitions for custody, visitation and support.
- Juvenile Cases: Cases about child abuse or neglect are called juvenile dependency cases. When a person under age 18 breaks the law, their matter may be a juvenile delinquency case.
- Small Claims: These are cases that are for $7,500.00 or less (for individual claims). The parties represent themselves in court – an attorney may not represent you except if there is an appeal. Only the defendant may appeal.
- Landlord/Tenant: Most commonly, these are “unlawful detainers” (evictions) – cases about renting or leasing property, either to live in or for a business. The issues are about whether or not the tenant can stay on the property and whether the tenant may owe the landlord for unpaid rent or damages.
- Probate: These are cases that deal with caring for people who cannot care for themselves, and the assets and debts of someone who has died. Common types of probate cases involve: Elder Abuse, Guardianships for children whose parents cannot care for them. Conservatorships for adults who cannot care for themselves or handle their financial and property affairs, and dealing with the property (estate) of someone who has died.
Each of these types of cases is handled by a different part of the court.
For more information, click here
for Court Divisions – and then select the division that interests you. Each court division on this website offers a FAQ section with additional information.
Please Explain Why We Give People the Titles We Do in Court
In a court action, the people involved each have a title. This helps make clear each person's role in the court.
- Plaintiff: This is the person who starts any civil action (law suit) and is making a claim that another person, business, institution, organization, agency, or other type of entity is responsible for causing them damage of some kind and should compensate them for the damage or take other steps to make them whole again.
- Defendant: This is the person or other entity that the plaintiff claims is responsible for their damages and is obligated to compensate them or otherwise take steps to make them whole again.
- Petitioner: In some types of cases, the issues are not about damage, but are about relationships and resolving matters in those relationships, or creating a way to care for someone who can’t help themselves. In these types of cases, the person asking the court to make decisions is actually “petitioning” the court for a decision or asking the court to give them authority to take certain actions.
- Respondent: This is the person who also has an interest in the decision the court may make when the Petitioner files papers asking the court to take action. They are entitled to be notified that papers have been filed with the court asking for a decision or grant of authority, and to “respond” in order to protect any interest that they have in the matter or to ask the court to take different action from what the Petitioner is seeking.
- Party: Each person or entity that is named in the papers that start a case is a Party to that action. Every party has a right to be notified of all the procedures that take place in the action, and to respond or participate in each step of the action until its conclusion.
- Default: If a Defendant or Respondent fails to file papers answering the complaint or a petition in the time required, the Plaintiff or Petitioner may ask the court to enter their "Default" meaning that they may lose the right to respond or participate in the action.