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Do I Need a Lawyer or Can I Represent Myself?

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.

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. Our website is organized by legal topic, with links that connect you to other organizations that offer legal help and information. LawHelpMN.org 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.

 

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