What are the Pros and Cons of Pro Per Representation?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Pro per representation, also referred to as pro se, is what occurs when a person in a legal case decides to represent him or herself, rather than use the services of a lawyer. The pros and cons of pro per representation depend largely on the circumstances of the individual case; simple, uncomplicated lawsuits may be easier to handle pro per than complex cases. Before deciding whether to opt for pro per representation, it is important to carefully examine the laws, case history, and legal process to determine if personal representation is the best choice.

Pro per representation can only work if a divorcing couple is willing to get around the emotionally charged situation of the divorce itself.
Pro per representation can only work if a divorcing couple is willing to get around the emotionally charged situation of the divorce itself.

One of the biggest factors in favor of pro per representation is monetary savings. Lawyers are notoriously expensive, and it may be difficult for people with mid-range incomes to qualify for free or low-cost legal assistance. For those unable to afford a lawyer's services, sometimes the best choice may be to self-represent.

Another excellent reason to opt for self-representation is a personal interest in the facts and outcome of the case. As a primary party, a person involved in a lawsuit will have extreme motivation to vindicate him or herself or prove a legal point. While self-representation requires a person to take on a serious burden of research, responsibility, and action, he or she may be in the best position to do so.

Divorce is one of the most common types of cases where pro per representation is favored. If couples are able to work out an equitable division of assets and responsibilities, they can both avoid the considerable expense of a lawyer. Of course, in order for this to work, a couple must be willing to get around the emotionally charged situation of the divorce itself, but self-representation can be an excellent option for those who can handle a cordial division.

One of the largest downsides to pro per representation is that the law is often complex and far out of the realm of expertise of the principal parties. While certain issues, such as divorce laws, may be fairly simple to understand, many legal areas involve decades of complex legislation, conflicting case precedent, and complicated filing and paperwork requirements. The benefit of a professional lawyer's experience in similar cases may far outweigh the potential monetary costs.

Another major problem with self-representation is a misunderstanding of the court's duty. Judges are usually strongly encouraged to adhere to the law and legal precedent, which is not always identical to the ideals of common sense or fairness. A person representing himself may be naturally inclined to argue for the way the law should be for fairness' sake, but most legal cases require the judge to determine the outcome based on the law as it stands. Self-representation requires a person to leave behind subjective feelings of fairness and build a case based on the laws, which may be difficult for many to accomplish.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments


Defendant has financially destroyed Plaintiff (owner of home) and six months and has been going to court with an eviction attorney. Now the question is which I can not find an answer for: he wants to go pro per but has trouble talking and wants me to read it to the court. Can I do that?

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