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Massachusetts law about self-represented litigants

A compilation of laws, regulations, cases, and web sources on self-represented litigants law.
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Table of Contents

Note

Self-represented is often referred to as pro se or unrepresented. All 3 have the same meaning.

Right to self-representation

Massachusetts Constitution Article XII
"...And every subject shall have a right to produce all proofs, that may be favorable to him; to meet the witnesses against him face to face, and to be fully heard in his defence by himself, or his council at his election..."

Comm. v. Mott, 2 Mass. App. Ct. 47 (1974)
"We think the language of article 12 of the Declaration of Rights is unambiguous as to the existence of the right within the Commonwealth ...We think, however, that the right to conduct one's own defense is not wholly unqualified..."

Limited Assistance Representation

Limited Assistance Representation, Massachusetts Court System
Massachusetts courts may allow attorneys to assist self-represented litigants with selected documents or appearances without taking on full representation. Includes links information, lists of qualified attorneys, and more for each court department.

Selected case law

Turner v. Rogers, 564 US 431 (2011)
While the Due Process Clause does not require the provision of counsel in a civil contempt case for failure to pay child support when the opposing parent is not represented by counsel, the court should provide "alternative procedural safeguards," such as "adequate notice of the importance of ability to pay, fair opportunity to present, and to dispute, relevant information, and court findings."

Research for the self-represented

Asking for Help, Massachusetts Court System
"This booklet contains a list of some of the things the court staff can and cannot do for you." Clarifies the role of court staff in assisting pro se litigants.

Going to Court, Massachusetts Court System
Written for the self-represented, "This booklet contains ten helpful tips about how to conduct yourself in court. Please read them carefully before entering the courtroom."

Appeals Court Frequently Asked Questions, Massachusetts Appeals Court
In a question and answer format, provides essential information on how to file an appeal in both civil and criminal cases. Covers everything from the notice of appeal to how long to expect to wait for a decision. Great resource.

If a Creditor Takes you to Court for Unpaid Bills, Massachusetts Legal Help, June 2012
Covers everything you need to know about being sued for debts, with all the steps in the process

If You are Representing Yourself, Division of Administrative Law Appeals (DALA)
If you are representing yourself in one of DALA's general jurisdiction matters (retirement, fair labor wage and hour, Department of Public Health EMT or Nurse Aide matters, Board or Registration in Medicine, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, for examples). 

Legal Research: How to Find and Understand the Law, Nolo, 2018
The well-respected book in electronic format, covers finding and using primary and secondary law. Requires library card for access.

Represent Yourself in Court: How to Prepare and Try a Winning Case, Nolo, 2016
Includes information on starting your case, pretrial procedures, motions, opening statement, cross examination, and more. Requires library card for access.

Representing Yourself in a Civil Case: Things to Consider When Going to Court, Massachusetts Trial Court
"This book is for people who are considering representing themselves in a civil case in a Massachusetts trial court. It is intended to provide an overview of the court process in a civil case and direct you to resources."

Requesting an Order for Your Spouse to Help Pay for Your Attorney (in a divorce matter), Massachusetts Legal Help
All the necessary forms and instructions for Pro Se divorcees to motion the court for attorney fees so they can hire an attorney. Created by Chief Justice Dunphey and the Pro Se Coordinator of the Probate Courts

Checklist for Preparation of Brief and Appendix, Massachusetts Appeals Court
Lists all necessary components with references to court rules for each

A Guide for the Self-Represented Debtor in a Bankruptcy Case, US Bankruptcy Court, District of Mass., June, 2014.
This 80-page manual is designed for the person filing for bankruptcy without an attorney. Includes detailed descriptions of the process, records necessary, forms to file, fees, and more.

How to Research a Legal Problem: A Guide for Non-Lawyers, American Association of Law Libraries, 2009.
Guide includes getting started, where to go, what to look at, and when to stop (often the hardest part of legal research!).

Contact

Phone

Within Massachusetts only

Within Massachusetts only

Online

Reference librarians online Chat with a law librarian 
Reference librarians via email masslawlib@gmail.com

Address

Administrative office (no law library at this location)
2 Center Plaza
9th Floor
Boston, MA 02108
Last updated: September 20, 2018

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