What You Need to Know When You Represent Yourself in Court

What You Need to Know When You Represent Yourself in Court

You have the right to represent yourself as an individual in Missouri courts. Think about whether this is a good choice for you given your situation. Understand the risks and responsibilities involved.

Some helpful traits:

  • Commit to spending the time and attention required throughout your case.
  • Do the research needed to be successful in handling your case.
  • Organize your paperwork so you have ready access when you need it.
  • Pay attention to details. Court forms can be complicated.
  • Understand what is needed, gather the information and fill out court forms completely.
  • Be comfortable with making decisions without second-guessing yourself.
  • Meet deadlines set by court rules and the judge.
  • Speak clearly, calmly, and logically in court. Avoid displays of emotion.
  • Listen carefully to what the judge says and respond appropriately.
  • Follow up with the details necessary to complete your case.

Representing yourself adequately takes a lot of effort, and in some situations, standard forms have not been created. Your legal rights are affected by how well you manage your case. If you can’t take time to come to court, have trouble staying organized or managing details, you may want to consider using a lawyer to help get this done.

What you need to figure out:

You will need to know the court rules, procedures, and laws that apply to your case. If you have trouble doing research, or are frustrated by following rules, then representing yourself will be less successful. Rules are essential to make sure everyone is treated fairly. They describe, among other things, how you can share information with the court and how you present evidence in court. Lawyers have years of training and experience, but often must do additional research to be successful in court.

Throughout your case you must make decisions that affect the outcome of your case. The financial consequences may be significant. Decisions about the rights of minor children will affect them for years to come. It will be hard to change or undue things. If you lack reasonable understanding of your options under the law, you are likely to be frustrated. The professional advice of a lawyer can help you make the best decision the first time.

How to afford a lawyer when you need help.

There are several methods for hiring a lawyer. A lawyer can take on your whole case or just an appropriate part of it. You can read more about fees based on the work you ask the lawyer to do under “Hiring a Lawyer.” You should have a full and frank discussion with the lawyer about the legal services to be provided, the fees involved, and other costs.


Options when your case is “contested” (less than a full agreement).

Mediation. Missouri courts authorize mediation to help people to explore satisfying options for resolving their disputes and identifying areas of agreement. Mediation is particularly effective in helping parents figure out ways to parent their children after their relationship ends. You may be referred to mediation by the court prior to a trial.

Collaborative law. The lawyers hired by each party cooperate to negotiate a fair and just agreement on all issues. The goal is to use your resources wisely, save time, and reduce stress by safe-guarding the dignity and long term best interests of all involved.


When abuse is a factor in your case.

If you were in a relationship that included physical or emotional abuse, you will benefit from support to make good decisions. A lawyer can help you keep a safe and comfortable distance from abusive tactics. If the other person is good at “hiding” money or property or if you have no idea of their financial status, a lawyer can help you find and safeguard assets. There are programs in Missouri that may connect you with legal services in this situation.