Massachusetts law about self-represented litigants

A compilation of laws, cases, and web sources with information about and for self-represented litigants in Massachusetts.

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..."
  • M.G.L. c.221, § 48 Prosecution or defense of own suits


  • Adjartey v. Housing Court Central Division, 481 Mass. 830 (2019)
    "It can be beneficial for self-represented litigants to work informally with one another and with other nonattorneys to acquire and spread information about navigating the eviction process.  We acknowledge, of course, that it is unlawful for any nonattorney to engage in the unauthorized practice of law -- for instance, by signing and filing a complaint on behalf of an unrepresented litigant.  ...But there are plenty of ways for nonattorneys to assist litigants without venturing into the unauthorized practice of law.  ... In a complex, high-stakes process where the right to counsel is not guaranteed and professional assistance is not universally available, the assistance provided by nonattorneys may be the only way for many litigants to learn about and assert their rights."

  • 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..."
  • LAS Collection Management v. Pagan, 447 Mass. 847 (2006) The Supreme Judicial Court held that a property agent who is not an attorney may not represent a property owner in a lawsuit in the Housing Court. Distinguished by: Michael Hoostein v. Mental Health Association, Inc. 46 N.E.3d 115,  No. 14–P–1643. February 29, 2016. Unpublished opinion, Appeals Court, In contrast to the above case, the plaintiff failed to raise the issue of the defendant being represented by a non-attorney employee before the trial court and therefore, it could be deemed waived. See, e.g., NES Rentals v. Maine Drilling & Blasting, Inc., 465 Mass. 856, 861 n. 8 (2013), issue raised by appellant for first time on appeal is waived). Moreover, as noted by the MHA, participation by a non-attorney in the case does not render the proceedings void. See Henry L. Sawyer Co. v. Boyajian, 296 Mass. 215, 218 (1936).
  • 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. Superseded by statute 45 C.F.R. § 303.6
  • Varney Enterprises, Inc. v. WMF, Inc., 402 Mass. 79 (1988)
    Except in small claims matters, a corporation may not appear pro se in court in Massachusetts.
  • Wilbur v. Tunnell, 98 Mass. App. Ct. 19 (2020)
    Normally, the personal representative of an estate cannot represent the estate pro se. But, in this case, the representative could appear pro se, where she was the only beneficiary and was being sued by the only creditor.

Web sources

Get limited assistance with a legal matter

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.

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.

Get assistance at a Court Service Center
Court Service Centers help people navigate the court system. Centers are open whenever the courts are open, and are available to all court users without attorneys. 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.

Learn about legal research

Web sources

Ask a law librarian, 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, 2014.
Guide includes getting started, where to go, what to look at, and when to stop (often the hardest part of legal research!).

Print source

Legal research : how to find & understand the law, Nolo, 2018.

How to represent yourself

Web sources

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."

Representing yourself in a civil case, Massachusetts Trial Court
This information is intended to provide an overview of the court process in a civil case, to answer frequently asked questions, and to direct you to available resources. 

Representing yourself in court, NOLO, 2020, web resource, no library card needed.
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 FAQ's on representing yourself. 

Self-representation: the perils of pro se, Findlaw, January 2nd, 2020.
This articles 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, c2019.

Representing yourself in the Appeals Court

Appeals Court frequent appellate process 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.

Checklist for preparation of brief and appendix, Massachusetts Appeals Court
Lists all necessary components with references to court rules for each

Representing yourself in bankruptcy

A guide for the self-represented debtor in a bankruptcy case, US Bankruptcy Court, District of Mass., April, 2016
This 88-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.

Representing yourself in a debt collection matter

If a creditor takes you to court for unpaid bills, Massachusetts Legal Help, October 2019
Covers everything you need to know about being sued for debts, with all the steps in the process

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

Representing yourself at DALA, Division of Administrative Law Appeals 
Don't have an attorney? You can represent yourself at a DALA hearing. Learn how to represent 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 example). 

Additional Resources

Representing yourself in your divorce

If you have decided to end your marriage, you may choose to file for divorce. You can file for divorce in Massachusetts if you have lived in the state for one year, or if the reason the marriage ended happened in Massachusetts and you have lived in Massachusetts as a couple.

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

Representing yourself in an eviction case

If your landlord is taking you to court to try to evict you, you can represent yourself even if you cannot get a lawyer. Mass Legal Help.

Representing yourself in Federal District Court

United States District Court, District of Massachusetts

Pro Se Litigants - representing yourself. 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 a traffic case

Print sources

Beat your ticket : go to court & win by David Brown, Nolo, c2013.

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


Last updated: September 23, 2022