Representing Yourself in Court

You have the right to represent yourself in District Court without a lawyer, but you are required to know and follow the court rules and the law. Read the court form called Rights and Duties of Self-Represented Parties.

If you are not sure if you need or want a lawyer, you should consult with a lawyer before making your final decision. Many lawyers now offer "limited scope" services, so you can pay for just the consult and not hire the lawyer for full representation. Go to Find a Lawyer for links to search for a lawyer online.

NOTE: A corporation or LLC must be represented by an attorney in District Court, which includes having an attorney sign court papers on behalf of the client corporation or LLC. EXCEPT: For cases limited to the Hennepin County "Housing Court," MN Gen. Rule of Practice 603 may allow a principal (or agent) of the corporation or LLC to sign court papers or appear in court on behalf of the business entity. You should get legal advice if you have questions about this issue in your case.

What is self-representation?

A person who goes to court without being represented by a lawyer is called "self-represented" or "pro se." Pro se is a Latin term that means "for oneself."

You need a lawyer if: (these are only examples)
  • You want legal advice.
  • You do not fully understand papers you received from the other party side or from the court. (Court administration may be able to answer some questions for you.)
  • You cannot afford to lose your case.
  • You have a complicated case.
  • You want to appeal a case.
  • You are charged with a crime.
  • You want to sue someone, but you don't know the legal theory or basis for your claim.
You may not need a lawyer if: (these are only examples)
  • You understand your case well enough to explain it to a judge.
  • You don't get overly nervous speaking in public, like a courtroom.
  • You are organized and keep accurate records.
  • You can write neatly or type.
  • You have time to prepare papers, make copies, learn the required steps, file papers with the court, do legal research and attend court hearings.
  • You have time to respond (right away) to papers you receive from the other party.
  • You are able to read, understand, and respond promptly to all papers you get from the Court.
  • Your case is relatively simple and no one will come forward to argue against what you want.
  • You are comfortable negotiating with the other side or their lawyer, if represented.
  • You speak, read, and write English well.
  • When you read state laws and court rules and cases, you understand what you have read.

How is Conciliation Court different from District Court?

Conciliation Court is also known as "small claims court," and it is designed for people who represent themselves without a lawyer. The Conciliation Court can hear certain types of claims for a limited amount of money. There is no limit on the amount of money for claims filed at the District Court level. Visit the Conciliation Court section of this website for more details on the types of claims and amount of money that can be handled in Conciliation Court.

In District Court, formal rules apply and it is very helpful to have a lawyer. Many people get confused about papers they get during a court case, and they fail to respond and end up losing their case before the trial ever occurs. At the District Court level, there are many steps in the process and many ways the case can end before going to trial. For example, if a person is served with a motion or with "discovery" and fails to respond on time, there can be serious consequences, including dismissal (ending) of the case, judgment in favor of the other side, or money penalties.

Where can I get help?

You can use this website to learn more about court forms and procedures. The website is organized by legal topic, with links that connect you to other organizations that offer legal help and information. is a also good website for the public.

Some courts and county law libraries have staff who answer questions about court forms and processes. Law Librarians can direct you to appropriate legal materials. And, many courthouses have free legal advice clinics. To see if your court has these services, go to Self-Help Services in the Courts.

You can also ask a lawyer to help you with certain parts of your case, but still represent yourself. A lawyer can coach you or do research for you, and can help you understand what is involved in representing yourself. Go to Find a Lawyer.

We strongly encourage you to talk with an attorney if you are not sure what to do in your case.
1.  Don't Miss Your Court Date.  Court is not an appointment that can be missed or rescheduled.  If you miss your court date (including being late) for a criminal case or contempt matter, a warrant may be issued for your arrest.  If the hearing is not a criminal matter, you will likely lose the case by default. If you have a serious reason why you cannot go to court on the assigned day, call the Judge's clerk. Usually you need to file papers requesting a change, or get the other side to agree to change the date.

If you are the defendant or respondent in a case (someone else started the case) and you agree with the other side's requests or don't have any defense, you may think there is no point in going to court. Not going can be dangerous because you might not fully understand everything that can or will be ordered in your absence. It is best to get legal advice before deciding not to go to the hearing.

2.  Allow Plenty of Time to Get to Court.  You should arrive at the courtroom 30 minutes before your hearing time. Consider the traffic, weather, parking, frequency of the bus or light rail, and allow plenty of extra time. You may need to wait in lines for weapons screening, and finding the correct building and courtroom can take time. Being late can make you anxious and unable to do your best. The hearing might last longer than you think, so parking at a meter is not a good idea.

3. Bring your files.  You should have a file with copies of all papers you and the other side have filed with the court, or given to each other. Bring a notepad and pens for taking notes during the hearing.

4. Bring an outline of what you want to say.   As you cover each point, check it off. Before you conclude, look back to see if you covered each point. The Judge will only want to hear information that is needed to evaluate the requests made in the court papers.

Practice explaining your claim to a friend. If your friend doesn't understand you or find your argument convincing, think about how to improve your presentation.

5.  Bring your evidence. Sometimes a court hearing is a trial where you bring all your witnesses and evidence. Other times the hearing has a different purpose. Read all notices and orders you received about the hearing carefully. If you are not sure what will happen at a hearing, or you are not sure what to bring to the hearing, get help right away. You can call court administration or the Judge's clerk. There are limits on how much they can help you, but you can start there.  If you come to the hearing unprepared, you could lose your case or be fined. However, coming unprepared is better than not coming at all.

If you are supposed to bring evidence and witnesses to the hearing, bring everything. If you have documents or pictures, bring the original item and 2 copies (original for the court, one copy for you, one copy for the other side.)  Ask your witnesses to arrive early and dress nicely.  Some documents can't be used as evidence unless the right person is in the courtroom to explain the document and answer questions about it. There are many rules about evidence. (See MN Rules of Evidence.) You may want to talk to a lawyer about what evidence you need and how to make sure your evidence can be considered by the judge or jury.

6.  Dress nicely.  Wear conservative clothing.  Shorts, T-shirts, plunging necklines, and torn clothing are not appropriate. Lawyers are required to wear suits. You do not have to buy new clothing for court, but remember it is a formal place and you want to be conservative and respectful in dress and behavior. 

7.  Do not bring children. Unless the court has told you to bring your children to the hearing, make arrangements for someone to take care of your children.

8. Proper conduct in the courtroom. Certain behaviors are not allowed because they are noisy, distracting or disrespectful.  You cannot: chew gum, eat, read a newspaper, sleep, wear a hat, listen to earphones, carry a cell phone or pager unless it's turned off, have a camera or camera phone, or carry a weapon.

During the hearing you should listen carefully, ask permission of the Judge to speak, talk directly to the judge and not the other side, avoid arguing with or interrupting another person, and control your emotions.  When you talk to the Judge, start by saying "Your Honor". Speak loudly and clearly and remember that only one person can speak at a time. A court reporter is taking down everything said in the courtroom, and can only record one speaker at a time.

9. Before you leave court make sure you understand what happens next.  Do you need to come back for another court hearing? Do you need to prepare a written legal argument or proposed court order?Do you need to take other steps or actions? Will the Judge make an order as a result of the hearing? Sometimes orders are written up right away - as you wait. Or, the judge may think about the case and write an order later and send it in the mail. Politely ask questions if you do not understand what will happen next.
The Minnesota Judicial Branch makes no endorsement or warranty of services by linking to an organization from this website.

First Step

Try to find out where a person is by talking with family members, co-workers and friends of that person. Look in the phonebook, too. You might also be able to find them through one of the other options listed below.

Tip: Keep a record of all the ways you tried to find a person involved in your case. If you cannot find them, you may still be able to "serve" your papers by mail or by publishing a legal notice in a newspaper. You also may need to get a court order or tell the court what the steps you took to try to find that person. 

Personal data that may be useful in your search could include:
  • Full legal name
  • Former legal names
  • Professional licenses
  • Birth date
  • Nicknames
  • Employers
  • Last known address
  • Schools
  • Last known phone number
  • Vehicles & Property owned

Court Records Search

Minnesota courthouses have public computers where you can search Minnesota court records. If the person has a traffic violation or other case you may find their contact information on record with the court. Some records can be viewed on the court's website at MNCIS - MPA Court Records.

U.S. Post Office "Mail Forward"

If you have a last-known address for someone who you think has moved, you might also be able to fill out a form at the U.S. Post Office in their procedure for Request for Change of Address or Boxholder Information Needed for Service of Legal Process (see Exhibit-5-2(b). Depending on the circumstances, the Post Office may be able to give you forwarding information they had for that address, even if the time-frame to forward mail has expired.

Driver and Vehicle Information

If you know the person's full name and birth date, you may be able to do a record request through the MN Dept of Driver and Vehicle Services. Look for the "Record Request" form.

Birth and Death Records

Birth and death records may lead to useful information. These records are maintained by the MN Dept. Public Health.

Persons Who May Have Died

For people you think may be deceased, you could request a search of Social Security records for a fee under the "Freedom of Information Act" Request process.

Persons in the Military

For people you think are or have been in the military, you can search a free online database at the U.S. Dept. of Defense.

Prison Inmates

For people you think may be in the custody of the MN Dept. of Corrections, you may use the MN Offender Locator to search for a name. Most states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons have inmate and offender databases online.

Licensed Professionals

If you think someone has a professional license (e.g., appraiser, insurance agent, mortgage broker, etc.), you could search the online database at the MN Dept. of Commerce. Many states have similar online databases. There is also a nation-wide license database at the Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation.

Lawyers licensed to practice law in Minnesota can be found online at MN Attorney Registration. Most other states have similar online databases.

Legal Process Server

You may have to use a legal process server to do a "skip tracing" on the person. There may be a fee for this service.

Internet Search

You may be able to locate someone by searching for them on the internet. You could start by using a web search engine (e.g., Bing, Google, Yahoo, etc.) to search for a name, phone number, or email address. Please note that there are companies whose business is to collect and sell personal information about people. If you visit the website for a company like that, they may charge fees to get the information.
The Self-Help Center (SHC) provides resources to people who represent themselves in the MN District Courts. The information on this website is not intended as legal advice, but only a general guide to the court process. Talk to a lawyer, if possible, before taking legal action to learn about your legal rights and options.

There is no attorney-client privilege or confidentiality of any information shared by a visitor and the Self-Help Center. 

SHC staff must remain neutral and may provide services to all parties in a case.

SHC staff are not responsible for the outcome of a case.

The SHC tries to keep this website up to date, but makes no guarantees about the accuracy of this information and is not responsible for any consequences that may result from its use.

If you are unsure whether you should use information on this website, talk to a lawyer who is licensed to practice law in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Judicial Branch makes no endorsement or warranty of quality of services by linking to an outside organization from this website.

Read: "What Court Staff Can and Cannot Do for You."


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