What Does It Mean to Be Pro Se?

By Jedidiah McKeehan

The term, “pro se,” comes from Latin, translating to “for oneself” or “on behalf of themselves”, which means advocating on one’s own behalf before a court, rather than being represented by a lawyer.

Tennessee law spells out that you absolutely do not have to have a lawyer represent you in a lawsuit.  Tennessee Code Annotated section 23-1-109 states, “Any person may conduct and manage the person’s own case in any court of this state.”

It is important to differentiate a person’s ability to represent themselves from the rule that prohibits corporations and business from being represented on a pro se basis.  This is because a corporation is a separate and distinct entity from a “person” who may be an owner, employee or officer of that corporation.

You will often see pro se litigants in General Sessions court in Tennessee, which is what some people refer to as small claims court.  The reason there are pro se litigants here is because individuals either cannot afford a lawyer or they believe the issue they are bringing before the court is simple so they do not need a lawyer.

Occasionally pro se litigants come out on top in their cases.  However, my own personal experience of seeing pro se litigants in court is that it does not go well.  The pro se individual does not know the rules of the court so they do not know what they can and cannot say.  Further, many of them end up attempting to ask the judge for advice on what to do.  Unfortunately, the judge is not allowed to give them legal advice or help them in the handling of their case.

Similarly, when a pro se litigant is asked if they want to cross-examine the opposing party, it always goes terribly because they never know how to ask an appropriate question, but end up just wanting to tell their side of the story, which is more appropriate when it is their own turn to testify.

Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit attorney-knoxville.com for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.

 

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