“While the legal and ethical constraints upon the courts and the judiciary, such as those contained in the Code of Judicial Conduct, apply with equal force to cases involving self-represented litigants, judges have broad discretion within these boundaries. These guidelines have been developed to assist judges in recognizing the areas in which they have discretion and to assist them in the exercise of that discretion.”
1.5 Materials and services for self-represented litigants. Judges should encourage the provision of information and services to better enable self-represented litigants to use the courts. Judges also should encourage self-represented litigants to use these resources.
Commentary: While, at first glance, this role seems more appropriately assigned to court staff, it is important that judges support this function. Many courts have informational handouts that can be made available in the courtroom, as well as in the Clerk’s Office, Registry of Probate, and Probation Office. Judges should encourage the use of such materials. These handouts may include the phone numbers of lawyer referral services and may contain language that explains the advisability of retaining counsel. They also may include frequently asked questions and court specific information, such as information on alternative dispute resolution services, lawyer-for-a-day programs, housing specialists, and crisis centers.
It is important that judges support the provision of services,as well as information, to self-represented litigants. Judges should encourage and work with bar associations, law schools, legal services providers, and other organizations on programs that will provide in-person assistance to self-represented litigants in their courts. These may include, for example, lawyer-for-a-day programs and programs in which attorneys and those working under their supervision meet with litigants in the court and provide advice, assistance, and appropriate referrals. Judges also should endeavor to manage cases involving self-represented litigants in coordination with other services that may be used by or provided to litigants (e.g., mental health and substance abuse services).
Representing Yourself in a Civil Case: Things to Consider When Going to Court (MA) This comprehensive 81-page guide has ten topics for self-represented litigants to consider and utilize when going to court: 1) Access and fariness; 2) Deciding whether to represent yourself; 3) If you decide to hire a lawyer..; 4) Who’s who in the courthouse; 5) Getting ready for your day in court; 6) Starting a civil case; 7) Proceeding with a civil case; 8) Going to trial in a civil case; 9) After the court’s decision; and 10) Settling your case.