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Pro Se / Self Representation

This site provides information to individuals who are representing themselves in civil matters in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania without the assistance of an attorney. This website is intended as an informative and practical resource for these litigants and is not a substitute for legal advice from an experienced attorney. The information is procedural in nature and should be read in conjunction with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Local Rules of this Court and the individual practices of the Judge assigned to your case. In addition, this website includes the following materials which may be useful to you in representing yourself: The Court’s Notice of Guidelines for Representing Yourself (Appearing “Pro Se”) in Civil Cases, and a variety of Forms for documents commonly used in civil cases.

If you do not have an attorney to represent you, you are proceeding “pro se”. If you represent yourself in Court, you are called a “pro se litigant” or a “self-represented litigant”. “Pro se” is a Latin term, meaning “on one’s own behalf” and a “litigant” or a “party” is someone who is either suing someone or is being sued in court.

The right to appear pro se in a civil case in federal court is contained in a statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1654. Thus, anyone can appear pro se, and anyone who appears before the Court without an attorney is considered pro se. There are, however, certain limitations to self-representation, such as:

  • Corporations and partnerships must be represented by an attorney.
  • A pro se litigant may not represent a class in a class action.
  • A non-attorney parent may not appear pro se on behalf of a child, except to appeal the denial of the child’s social security benefits.

A civil case, which is the only type of case you can file in federal court, is different from a criminal case, which can only be brought by government officials. In a civil case, you do not have a constitutional right to appointed counsel. Therefore, if you file a civil case pro se, you should be prepared to pursue it to completion on your own because the Court appoints counsel only under certain limited circumstances that may not be met by your case.

Be advised that Clerk’s Office employees are forbidden by law from giving you legal advice. They are, however, permitted to answer questions regarding procedure and how to access legal forms and reference materials. Listed below is a guide to what information the staff of the Clerk’s Office can and cannot provide:

Information the Clerk’s Office Can Provide:

  • Information regarding Court policies and procedures
  • Information from your case docket and how to obtain information from a public computer terminal located in the Clerk’s Office
  • Court forms and court schedules

Information the Clerk’s Office Cannot Provide:

  • Legal advice
  • Guidance on whether or not you should file a case or other pleadings
  • Instruction on what to write in court documents and what to say in court proceedings
  • Interpretation of court orders
  • Computation of deadlines in your case
  • Direct communication with the assigned Judge on your behalf
  • Direction on what to do next in your case