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Self-Represented Litigants and Trial Preparation – Part 1

Being a self-represented litigant is a challenge. No doubt about it. An evidentiary hearing or trial is where you are most likely to be disadvantaged because you are not familiar with the formal rules of evidence. Nothing in our daily lives prepares us to formally enter evidence as opposed to simply sharing what is happening in our lives conversationally with another. Here is an overview of what you can expect and some tips on how to prepare. You can always hire an attorney as a coach to help you identify what evidence you should submit and how to submit it as well as the timelines and rules for disclosure to the other party. You don’t have to go it alone. If you later decide that you have taken on more than you want to handle alone, you can always transition to full representation.

The first thing to consider is whether you can avoid a hearing or trial by settlement. If settlement is a possibility, that is often the best resolution as it gives you and the other party control over the disposition of the matter rather than giving that authority to a Judge who does not know you and only has a limited time to spend on your case.

Case Outline

The first thing to do is to create an outline of the important aspects of your case.

  • Legal and factual issues
  • Desired outcome
  • Fact identification
  • Legal authority
  • Evidence identification – strengths and weaknesses
  • Witness identification
  • Documentary evidence identification
  • Theory of the case
Facts and Law

It is important to obtain a sufficient factual foundation through disclosure and discovery fact gathering. Only then can the strength and weaknesses of a case be determined. It is important to identify all evidence that can prove a case. This involves identifying people with first-hand evidence who can appear as witnesses and identifying relevant documents that exist. Witnesses are typically served with a subpoena, which compels them to appear. It is important to refer to the law to determine what elements must be proven to establish your claims. Advance planning for the joint trial management certificate is important as well. It sets forth the theory of the case and identifies what evidence will be presented.

Not all information is admissible as evidence. Evidence must be relevant and reliable and submitted in accordance with the rules of evidence. Hearings and trials are time limited so there is not necessarily time to present all evidence desired. Self-represented litigants tend to place emphasis on facts that are not legally relevant. It may be helpful to engage a coach in identifying what evidence is legally relevant and how to present it.

Is it time to turn change into opportunity? At Janko Law and Mediation, LLC we know how to work with you to reach your litigation goals. We are committed to assisting you with pursuing settlement to preserve family relations to the maximum extent possible, however also can advise on representing your interests in contested litigation if desired or necessary. Give us a call for a complimentary case assessment at 303-210-4204, or fill out our confidential online intake form.

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