Massachusetts law about self-represented litigants

Laws, cases, and web sources with information about and for self-represented litigants in Massachusetts.

If you are unable to find the information you are looking for, or if you have a specific question, please contact our law librarians for assistance.

Table of Contents


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

About the self-represented and the 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..."

MGL c. 221, § 48 Prosecution or defense of own suits


Judicial guidelines for civil hearings involving self-represented litigants (with commentary)
The guidelines provide guidance to judges in conducting court proceeding involving parties without attorneys. The commentary provides detailed explanations for each section.


Selected court cases on the self-represented and the right to self-representation

Get limited assistance with a legal matter

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

Asking for help, Mass. 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.

Get assistance at a Court Service Center
Court Service Centers help people navigate the court system. Centers are available to all court users without attorneys for limited types of cases. All of the services in the Court Service Center are free, but there may be other fees associated with your case, such as filing fees. Please click on the link for hours of operation, locations and the types of cases with which the court service centers can assist.

Learn about legal research

Web sources

Ask a law librarian, Mass. Trial Court Law Libraries.
The Trial Court Law Libraries provide public access to legal information with books, databases and web resources. But sometimes you need a little help finding just the right source of information or learning how to use it, so we offer several ways for you to ask a question.

How to research a legal problem: a guide for non-lawyers, American Association of Law Libraries, 2022.
Guide includes getting started, where to go, what to look at, and when to stop (often the hardest part of legal research!).

Understanding court help: Legal information vs. legal advice, National Center for State Courts (NCSC).
"It's essential to distinguish between legal information and legal advice. While court staff and judges can provide legal information, such as explaining court procedures and your options, they cannot offer legal advice on what actions you should take for your case. Legal advice, which involves strategy for the best outcome, is typically provided by lawyers." For more videos by the NCSC, see A2J Videos.

Print source

Legal research : how to find & understand the law, Nolo, 2021. (eBook available here with library card).

How to represent yourself


Notice of Appearance form, Mass. Trial Court.
This form is used by a party who wishes to represent themselves in court. Once filled out, the form is then filed by the party in the court where the case is being heard.

Web sources

How to conduct yourself in court, Mass. Court System.
Written for the self-represented, "[t]his booklet contains ten helpful tips about how to conduct yourself in court."

Representing yourself in a civil case, Mass. Trial Court.
Provides an overview of the court process in a civil case, answers frequently asked questions, and directs you to available resources. 

Representing yourself in court, Nolo, 2023.
Provides links to articles on preparing to represent yourself in court, tips for success, gathering evidence, whether or not to ask for a jury trial, collecting judgments, and frequently asked questions on representing yourself. 

Self-representation: the perils of pro se, Findlaw, January 2nd, 2020.
This article discusses the perils of representing yourself in court as well as advice on how to represent yourself.

Print sources

How to win your case in small claims court without a lawyer by Charlie Mann, Atlantic Pub. Group, c2009.

Represent yourself in court : prepare & try a winning civil case by Paul Bergman, Nolo, c2022. (eBook available here with library card).

Representing yourself in the Appeals Court

Appeals Court frequent appellate process questions, Mass. 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.

Checklist for preparation of brief and appendix, Mass. Appeals Court.
Lists all necessary components needed in preparing a brief and appendix, and includes references to court rules.

Representing yourself in bankruptcy

Filing for bankruptcy without an attorney, U.S. Bankruptcy Court.  
"Individuals can file bankruptcy without an attorney, which is called filing pro se. However, seeking the advice of a qualified attorney is strongly recommended because bankruptcy has long-term financial and legal outcomes."

A guide for the self-represented debtor in a bankruptcy case, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Mass., April 2016.
This guide is designed for the person filing for bankruptcy without an attorney. Includes detailed descriptions of the process, the documents needed, forms to file, fees, and more.

Representing yourself in a debt collection matter

If a creditor takes you to court for unpaid bills, Mass. Legal Help, 2023.
Covers everything you need to know about representing yourself when being sued for debts, with detailed steps about the process.

Representing yourself at the Division of Administrative Law Appeals (DALA)

Representing yourself at DALA, Mass. Division of Administrative Law Appeals.
Learn how to represent yourself in a DALA hearing. DALA handles administrative appeals involving 20 state agencies.

Additional Resources

Representing yourself in your divorce

Divorce, Mass. Probate and Family Court.
If you have decided to end your marriage, you may choose to file for divorce pro se (without an attorney).

How do I ask the court to order my spouse to help pay for my lawyer?, Mass. Legal Help, 2024.
All the necessary forms and instructions for a pro se to motion the court for attorney fees so they can hire an attorney.

Representing yourself in an eviction case

Legal tactics booklets: Representing yourself in an eviction, Mass. Legal Help, 2023.
In Massachusetts, you do not have the right to a lawyer if you are facing eviction. Many people have to represent themselves. These 15 booklets can help you represent yourself if you are facing eviction in Massachusetts. They contain practical information about steps you need to take to protect your rights, including things you have to do before going to court. These booklets do not take the place of a lawyer.

Representing yourself in Federal District Court

Representing yourself in the District of Massachusetts, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts.
The pro-se information on the Court's website is specifically for individuals who are representing themselves in the District of Massachusetts without the assistance of an attorney.

Representing yourself in federal district court: A handbook for pro-se litigants, by the Federal Bar Association, Access to Justice Task Force, 2019. 
This handbook is designed to help people with filing civil lawsuits in federal court without legal representation.

Representing yourself in a traffic case

Web sources

What works and doesn’t work in traffic court, NOLO, 2023.
Tips for developing a traffic court strategy.

Print sources

Beat your ticket : go to court & win by David Brown, Nolo, c2013. (eBook available here with a library card)

How to beat your Clerk Magistrate's hearing by Russell Matson, Create Space, 2017.

Contact   for Massachusetts law about self-represented litigants

Last updated: May 8, 2024

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