Self-Representation: Pro Se Statistics Memorandum
By: Madelynn Herman and Yulia Vangorodska
The Knowledge and Information Service was asked to provide information on the numbers of self-represented litigants in the courts.
Courts are continuing to see an increase in the numbers of litigants who represent themselves. Self-represented litigants are most likely to appear without counsel in Domestic violence, such as Divorce, custody and child support, small claims, landlord/tenant, probate, protective orders, and other civil matters. While national statistics on the numbers of self-represented litigants are not available, several states and many jurisdictions keep track of the numbers of self-represented litigants in their courts. The following list of online reports provides a snapshot of statistics in various jurisdictions around the country, divided into four main categories:
State Court Pro Se Statistics
Committee on Resources for Self-Represented Parties. Strategic Planning Initiative. Report to the Utah Judicial Council, July 25, 2006. (Report available through www.selfhelpsupport.org). This committee report provides recent statistics on the nature of self-represented parties in Utah:
- For divorce cases, 49 percent of petitioners and 81 percent of respondents are self-represented.
- For small-claims cases, 99 percent of petitioners and 99 percent of respondents are self-represented.
- 80 percent of self-represented people coming to the district court clerk’s office seek additional help before
coming to the courthouse. About 60 percent used the court’s Web site, 19 percent sought help from a friend or relative, 11 percent from the court clerk, and 7 percent went to the library. In the justice courts, 59 percent sought no help.
Report of the Joint Iowa Judges Association and Iowa State Bar Association Task Force on Pro Se Litigation (May 18, 2005). American Judicature Society Web site. This report states:
- Information pulled from a random survey of a week of district court schedules in Woodbury County (district judges only), showed there were 72 cases where at least one party was not represented by council out of a total of 125 cases set for that week, or 58% of cases (week of June 7, 2004). Other judges and court personnel report similar information (p. 1).
Challenge to Justice—A Report on Self-Represented Litigants in New Hampshire Courts—Findings and Recommendations of the New Hampshire Supreme Court Task Force on Self Representation. State of New Hampshire Judicial Branch (January 2004). This recent report provides some statistics on pro se litigants in New Hampshire. For example:
- One party is pro se in 85% of all civil cases in the district court and 48% of all civil cases in the superior court.
- In probate court, both sides are unrepresented by lawyers in 38% of the cases.
- In superior court domestic relations cases, almost 70% of cases have one pro se party, while in district court domestic violence cases, 97% of the cases have one pro se party (p. 2).
California Statewide Action Plan for Self-represented Litigants. California Judicial Council Task Force on Self Represented Litigants (2004). See page 2 for statistics. For example:
- Over 4.3 million court users are self represented in California.
- For family law cases: 67% of petitioners at filing (72% for largest counties) are self-represented and 80% of petitioners at disposition for dissolution cases are self-represented.
- For unlawful detainer cases: 34% of petitions at filing are self-represented, and over 90% of defendants are self-represented.
Hough, Bonnie Rose. Description of California Courts Programs on Self Represented Litigants. A paper prepared for a meeting with of the International legal aid group—Harvard (June 2003). This report provides quite a few statistics on self-represented litigants in California. For example, the report states:
- In San Diego, for example, the number of divorce filings involving at least one pro se litigant rose from 46% in 1992 to 77% in 2000.
- A review of case files involving child support issues conducted by the Administrative Office of the Courts between 1995 and 1997 show that both parties were unrepresented in child support matters 63% of the time, and that one party was unrepresented in an additional 21%.
- In a recent survey of pro se assistance plans submitted to the Administrative Office of the Courts by 45 of California counties, estimates of the pro se rate of family law overall averaged 67%. In the larger counties, the average was 72%.
- In domestic violence restraining order cases, litigants are reported to be pro se over 90% of the time.
Pro Se Statistics from Florida Judge McDonald. 9th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida. Judge McDonald tracks pro se statistics in his family court in Osceola County Florida:
Percentage of Hearings where there was at least one Pro Se Litigant for 2001 = 73%.
Percentage of Hearings where there was at least one Pro Se Litigant for 2000 = 72%.
Percentage of Hearings where there was at least one Pro Se Litigant for 1999 = 66%.
John Voelker. Wisconsin Pro Se Task Force Report. The Wisconsin Pro Se Working Group. A Committee of the Office of Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court (December 2000). This report states:
- In some counties, as many as 70% of family cases now involve litigants who represent themselves in court.
- Table 1 shows an increase in pro se litigants in family law cases from 1996 (43%) to 1999 (53%) in the Tenth Judicial Administrative District.
- Table 2 shows an increase in pro se litigants in family law cases from 1996 (69%) to 1999 (72%) in the First Judicial Administrative District.
Report of the Boston Bar Association Task Force on Unrepresented Litigants (August 18, 1998). For example:
- In every court studied by the task force, litigants without lawyers are present in surprising numbers. In some counties, over 75% of the cases in Probate and Family Courts have at least one party unrepresented.
- In the Northeast Housing Court, over 50% of the landlords and 92% of the tenants appear without lawyers in summary process cases.
State Appellate Court Pro Se Statistics:
Montana 2005 Pro Se Statistics. Montana Supreme Court. The statistics provided in this report include civil, criminal, and inmate appeals. For example:
- 33.19% of all filings in the Montana Supreme Court are pro se cases.
- Of those pro se filings, the majority (71.02%) are filed by inmates, while only 28.98% are filed by non-inmates.
- That means that 23.57% of all of the Court’s cases are filed by pro se inmates, and 9.62% of all cases before the Court are filed by non-inmate, pro se litigants.
New Mexico Court of Appeals Pro Se Statistics. For example:
- 11.65% of cases were self-represented from July 2005-January 2006.
- 11.21% of cases were self-represented from July 2004-June 2005.
Federal Court Pro Se Statistics:
U.S. Bankruptcy Court Statistics. Eastern District of California. Pro se district filings are listed:
- 17% of filings were pro se in January 2006.
- 17% of filings were pro se in February 2006.
- 15% of filings were pro se in March 2006.
Statistics on Pro Se Filings in the U.S. Bankruptcy Courts for the District of Massachusetts. These statistics provide a comparison of pro se debtor cases to total bankruptcy cases.
Critical Issues: Planning Priorities for the Wisconsin Court System Fiscal Years 2006-2007 and 2007-2008. Wisconsin Supreme Court (May 2006); This report states:
- 80% of circuit court judges and family court commissioners are trained in technology for managing litigation involving in self represented litigants.
- 50% of counties measure the level of satisfaction of self-represented litigants.
Ryan Craig Munden. Access to Justice: Pro Se Litigation in Indiana (Fall 2005). From the American Judicature Society website:
- Slightly over 88% of judges surveyed believed that the extent to which litigants committed procedural errors was a problem for pro se litigation.
Anne Zimmerman. “Going Pro Se.” Wisconsin Lawyer (December 2000). This article provides several statistics and quotes the 1991 American Bar Association study of family law cases in Maricopa County, Arizona:
- In 88% of divorce cases in Maricopa County Superior court, at least one litigant was self –represented.
- The author also states, “In a 1999 statewide survey of clerks of court, 98% of the respondents noted increases in the number of self-represented litigants over the preceding five years. While most clerks characterized these increases as moderate, nearly 20 percent considered them dramatic.
The Future of Self-Represented Litigation: Report from the March 2005 Summit. Williamsburg, VA: National Center for State Courts (2005). This publication provides a wide range of papers describing several innovative solutions to meeting the needs of pro se litigants as well as provides various statistics. For example:
- From Paper 1: Framing the Issue by John Greacen, “We have learned the following about programs provided by the courts that serve self represented litigants:
- The rates of usage vary dramatically, with only a third of self represented litigants taking advantage of the courts’ programs in some jurisdictions, while 80% use the programs in other jurisdictions.
- That programs tend to serve many more plaintiffs than defendants (with ratios ranging from a low of 2.5 plaintiffs for every defendant for a high of 15 plaintiffs for every defendant) in family law cases; the converse is true in landlord tenant and debt collection cases.”
John Greacen. Self Represented Litigants and Court and Legal Services Responses to their Needs: What We Know. California Judicial Council, Center for Families, Children, and the Courts (2002). This article provides a host of statistics on pro se litigation in various jurisdictions as of 2002.
Ayn Crawley. Trends in Pro Se Litigation. Maryland Legal Assistance Network. Statewide statistics of over 40,000 self-represented users of programs in Maryland in 2002 show:
- 60% were women.
- 44% described themselves as African American and 9% as Hispanic.
- The vast majority had modest incomes.
- Case types:38% – Divorce/Annulment/Separation
32% – Custody
16% – Child Support
11% – Visitation
3% – Alimony/Name Change and Paternity
Self Help Program Models—Report to the Legislature (March 2005) California Courts, Equal Access Project links to several reports on specific self help program models are provided. Within these reports, many program statistics are provided. See also the many appendices. For example, Appendix G reports on customer satisfaction with self help programs.
Selfhelpsupport.org is a national clearinghouse for information related to self-representation. This (free) membership site provides links to over 1500 related publications, reports, or websites.