United States: Practical Tips For Dealing With Pro Se Litigants

Last Updated: August 12 2016
Article by Timothy Jabbour

The usual and customary manner in which attorneys defend employment practices liability claims can change in dramatic fashion if the claim being asserted is brought by a pro se litigant. As the overwhelming majority of pro se litigants are not lawyers, and likely have nothing more than a rudimentary understanding of a court's procedures and rules, litigating a matter against a pro se litigant can present unique challenges and can quite often increase both the time and cost of litigation. An awareness of the distinctive challenges posed by pro se proceedings can help both claims resolution professionals and attorneys in minimizing the difficulties and potential pitfalls associated with pro se claims.

Early Engagement

Never is it more evident how emotionally charged and invested some claimants are than when an individual chooses to seek justice and redress an alleged wrong on their own behalf as a pro se litigant. Moreover, the raw emotion and investment litigants infuse into their pursuit of justice is fed by an animosity towards those who they believe have aggrieved them. If left unaddressed, the emotional investment and potential animosity of a pro se litigant can quickly snowball, ultimately resulting in far more time and money being spent in trying to defend and resolve such claims. Given same, claims resolution professionals and attorneys need to develop unique strategies to effectively deal with situations where the emotions of the pro se litigant are the driving force behind the pursuit of justice.

Dealing with pro se litigants can often be a frustrating proposition. However, early engagement of a pro se litigant will often go a long way in stemming or softening the anger that is frequently the driving force behind their claim. Providing a pro se litigant with an opportunity to voice his or her displeasure and feelings of aggrievement can work to minimize any litigious impulse and provide an early opportunity to resolve the claim prior to the institution of litigation, saving substantial amounts of time and money.

Additionally, given their often elementary understanding of the legal system, educating the pro se claimant on the potential time and cost investment of litigation versus the benefits of a potential early resolution can often awaken the claimant to the realities of litigation. For many pro se litigants, a quick fix can be precisely what they are looking for. Being both polite and professional can frequently elicit a reasonable demand that ultimately might prove to be a fraction of the cost of litigating the claim. While pro se litigants should not be underestimated, a proper approach at the presentation of a claim and prior to the institution of litigation can save companies and insurers significant money and resources.

Lack of Knowledge

Should pre-suit communications with the pro se litigant not result in the resolution of the claim and the filing of a lawsuit by the claimant becomes a reality, the interactions with and strategy for dealing with a pro se plaintiff must be molded to match the different setting. First, it is important to continue to be mindful that the pro se litigant's knowledge of the law and procedural requirements are likely very basic. The implications of this are two-fold.

First, the pro se's lack of knowledge and training in the law will likely result in increased costs as the litigation proceeds, either due to a true lack of knowledge, or the converse, a pro se litigant who believes they understand the law better than the opposing lawyer and court. While both tend to increase the costs of the litigation, the latter frequently manifests itself in improper, nonsensical, and/or trivial arguments and motions being made to the Court. As such filings cannot be ignored, the costs associated with responding to these tend to exponentially grow as courts often are more lenient on pro se litigants with respect to sloppy or inartfully drafted filings. For example, in the United States Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit, Deravin v. Kerik case, the Court has stated, "Indeed, this Court has repeatedly warned that 'the pleading requirements in discrimination cases are very lenient, even de minimis.'" Furthermore, the leniency of the Courts toward pro se litigants is not solely limited to initial pleadings, but usually remains throughout the litigation, necessitating additional investment of time and legal spend in defending the claim.

Second, given the potential for increased costs of litigating against a pro se plaintiff, managing a client's expectations is crucial to facilitating an effective defense, managing the costs of litigation and reaching the ultimate resolution of the claim. Pro se litigants are emotionally charged and invested in their cases and often do not mind pouring their free time into seeking redress for the alleged wrong. Such principled stubbornness can make it extremely difficult to focus the pro se's attention on the actual merits of the claim based upon the law, thereby exposing the client to increased costs. Lawyers need to provide their clients, whether they are a self-insured or an insurance carrier, with a clear picture of the potential costs involved.

While a lawyer must avoid giving the pro se litigant legal advice, by treating a pro se litigant professionally and calmly, counsel can often enlighten the pro se to the realities of meritless motion practice and protracted litigation, thereby reducing the chances that the pro se litigant will file an unnecessary and costly applications to the Court. Effective interaction with a pro se litigant will more often than not result in a streamlining of the litigation process, which will ultimately save the client considerable amounts of time and money.

Settlement Obstacles

Pre-suit communications may not always result in the resolution of a claim. Additionally, even when faced with the costs and time of a lawsuit, the pro se litigant may not express an interest in settlement. The fact that the pro se litigant is not represented by, and therefore cannot be influenced by, counsel renders this situation unique for those opposing pro se litigants, as compared to matters involving adverse represented parties.

Though establishing rapport early on with a pro se litigant may improve the consideration given to the opposing party's counsel and that counsel's opinion of the claim and its procedural posture, mediators or judges may be better positioned to encourage a pro se party to consider settlement.

Furthermore, while a lack of desire to settle may be what the pro se litigant articulates when solicited, it may not be the reality. In response to a request for a demand, the pro se litigant or even the opposing party or counsel may only be thinking in terms of a monetary demand, whereas the settlement value of something non-monetary may need to be considered.

Finally, should a settlement be reached, it is highly important to craft a settlement agreement for a pro se litigant's execution in a thorough manner. Additionally, the settlement agreement should be fully explained to a pro se claimant by involved counsel, in order to ensure that he or she understands the terms, particularly those of non-disclosure or similar post-settlement covenants. In some cases, it may be best to videotape, or otherwise use a court reporter to record, the explanation provided to the pro se claimant by the opposing party's counsel and the pro se claimant's actual execution of the settlement agreement.

Strategies to Limit Exposure

Though facing a claim against a pro se litigant may frequently seem hopeless, there are several ways to try and limit exposure, whether for an uninsured company or an insurer. These include types of both judicial control and intervention and the propositioning of unconventional solutions.

Many pro se litigants have ample time to spend litigating their cases. One way to attempt to minimize costs is to engage in the adversary process as little as possible when appropriate. This strategy is clearly case specific, and depends upon the merits and other factors of each individual case. Once a matter is in litigation, there may be certain situations where a filing by a pro se litigant does not warrant a response or warrants a minimal one. Additionally, there may be times where the underlying merits of a pro se litigant's case are so de minimis that a limited number of affirmative or direct filings are needed. If possible, this approach may save unnecessary discovery, research, and other costs.

Additionally, the setting of mediation and/or settlement conferences is particularly important when opposing pro se parties. These conferences may enable the party opposed to the pro se litigant to achieve results not otherwise attainable in these types of pro se matters. Not only may an unrepresented party become more amenable to settling a case through such conferences, but also these meetings can aid in managing future expectations of pro se litigants.

Another judicially centered approach to limit exposure in pro se matters is one that seeks the Court's intervention. This approach may be most effective if the plaintiff is a frequent flyer before the Court. In such instances, the Court may be willing to intervene and even refuse to permit such frequent abusers of the legal system to file frivolous suits; courts may be willing to order review of the complaints of such frequent flyers before permitting those lawsuits to go forward. In cases of known abuse of the legal system by a pro se party, whether intentional or not, the Court may be the opposing party's best ally.

In addition to judicial approaches to the challenges presented by pro se parties, proposing an unconventional resolution, at any time, may also lead to decreased exposure. The pro se litigant may want to settle for a non-monetary component. Of course, this may present a hurdle to settlements in some matters. For example, this will not work in an employment matter where a party seeks only to become reemployed though no longer employable by the company for any number of legitimate business reasons. That said, this approach may work to an opposing party's advantage in others. For instance, this may be useful both in matters where the pro se litigant may not have fully considered the goals of the litigation and is open to suggestions, and in matters where the pro se party has an identifiable goal that may be easily provided by the defense. This type of non-monetary consideration may consist of something of minimal or no cost to the defense, such as a parking spot, admission into a community college class, or any number of other potentially innocuous benefits.

In other cases, the pro se litigant may be willing to settle for a very nominal amount. Proposing a settlement for even a few hundred dollars may be acceptable to certain pro se litigants. Even if the matter is in litigation and the case is mature, the timing of an offer may greatly affect a pro se litigant's willingness to accept it. If the current financial, employment, or other relevant status of the pro se litigant is known, timing an offer to coincide with the pro se's needs may render an otherwise unacceptable offer an agreeable one. In order to limit exposure in this way, the monitoring of plaintiff's current status, to the extent possible, is instrumental.

These resolution strategies may not always work, and will definitely not all work in every case. However, as an opponent of a pro se litigant or an opponent's counsel, you will never know unless you try.

Pro se litigants frequently present unique challenges to opposing parties. An understanding of these challenges is crucial in identifying how to best approach matters involving pro se parties. In certain situations, opportunities to limit exposure in these matters may be available. It has been said before, but thinking outside the box can truly help with these particular types of litigants.

Practical Tips For Dealing With Pro Se Litigants

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.