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In Law, what is a Pro Per?

By Venus D.
Updated May 16, 2024
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Pro per is an abbreviation of the Latin term in propria persona, which means "by one's self." In legal terms, it refers to someone who chooses to act as his or her own legal counsel in a lawsuit, despite not being a lawyer. This term is synonymous with pro se, which is a term usually used by federal courts while pro per is commonly used by state courts. When a pro per litigant files legal papers, he or she must write "in pro per" on the bottom of the first page of the document, where, if there was legal counsel present, it would read "attorney for the plaintiff."

Pros and Cons

There are a number of reasons that a person may elect to represent himself instead of using proper legal counsel, one of which is to avoid the financial burden incurred with legal representation. Other reasons to represent onself are the confidence a person has in being able to create a strong legal defense, the personal reasons for pursuing a case, and the inability to find appropriate counsel. Many times, a person chooses to forgo an attorney when the cost of hiring an attorney is higher than the claims being made against the person; this often happens in small claims court.

Some people choose to defend themselves without any previous legal background or knowledge, which can prove to be a challenge in some cases. While a person will usually have several weeks to study and prepare for the case, it may not be possible to learn every law or detail, which could result in losing the claim. Often times the more complex a case is, the more legal knowledge a person needs in order to successfully defend himself. A lack of time, resources, and knowledge can be negative points of self-representation.

Things to Consider

The Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments allow someone who is involved in a criminal prosecution to waive the right to counsel; however, legal assistance may be available for people who choose to go pro per. In civil law courts, there are no clear rules regarding the right to counsel, so while courts allow for the submission of legal documents pro per, they might not allow for corporations to appear in court without proper legal representation.


One example of a pro per case is Van Orden vs. Perry. Thomas Van Orden, who was a destitute, successfully argued pro per his case for removing a public display of the Ten Commandments, all the way to the Supreme Court. Van Orden was once a lawyer, but at the time of the case had a suspended license. The Supreme Court's decision was delivered on 27 June 2005, with a vote of five to four, stating that a public religious display did not violate the Constitution and the display was allowed to remain in place.

A more common example of when it may make sense to defend oneself is during a divorce hearing. When going through a divorce, many people experience financial struggles due to the loss of the ex's income. This loss of income may be a factor in choosing not to hire a legal counselor, as the fees and rates for lawyers may be too expensive on a single income.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon942489 — On Mar 27, 2014

What is the term "RPO and judgment" in a superior court setting?

By anon289062 — On Sep 02, 2012

"In propria persona" is a Latin legal term and means "In proper person". In propria persona speaks to the manner of pleading in court - in your proper person without representation by someone else, such as an attorney. JD

By anon103004 — On Aug 10, 2010

my husband filed for a divorce in April and has side jobs that are not on the divorce papers. what are my rights to that side job money and I want that added to the divorce papers. we have a court date next week. Can you help me with trying to figure what to do and what to say to the judge?

By anon80963 — On Apr 29, 2010

The fact that he lost the case at the Supreme Court is an enormous success. In every case, at every level only one side wins.

In your estimation, only those that win a Supreme Court judgment are successful, there are extremely few successful lawyers. For him to get through the initial trial and win is exceptional.

And, even though the final judgment at the Supreme Court didn't go his way, he won a lot of ground, furthered the understanding of this legal issue and set precedence for many aspects of this issue, some of those were in agreement with his side of the case.

By lmiklaucic — On May 27, 2009

My estranged husband wants to refinance our house but because of my poor credit rating (long story)he isn't able to get a good rate. He wants me to quitclaim my interest in the house to him and then reinstate me to the title by means of a grant deed after the loan goes through. He says the documents will be signed simultaneously but that he will hold the grant deed for about a week. I'm worried. Can anyone offer me advice?

By olen3105 — On Dec 28, 2008

Well, Mr. Van Orden was successful in one way...he took a case all the way to the US Supreme Court without any money from his pocket. BUT, he lost the case by one vote in the Supreme Court. I'm not sure if you can consider THAT a success!

By anon22852 — On Dec 11, 2008

If the defendant in a child custody case files a motion of objections to referees recommendations does that mean that they can no longer be represented by an attorney for the rest of the case? It is in Michigan.

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