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

Note

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..."

Addressing the Needs of Self-Represented Litigants in our Courts, SJC Steering Committee on Self-Represented Litigants, November 21, 2008.
Recommendations of the committee established in response to the challenges posed by the growing numbers of civil litigants who appear in our courts without counsel. 

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..."

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.

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

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.

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.

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!).

How to represent yourself

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."

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, 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. 

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."

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 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.

Representing yourself in a debt collection matter

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

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

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

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: October 10, 2018

Feedback

Did you find what you were looking for on this webpage? * required
We use your feedback to help us improve this site but we are not able to respond directly. Please do not include personal or contact information. If you need a response, please locate the contact information elsewhere on this page or in the footer.
We use your feedback to help us improve this site but we are not able to respond directly. Please do not include personal or contact information. If you need a response, please locate the contact information elsewhere on this page or in the footer.

If you need to report child abuse, any other kind of abuse, or need urgent assistance, please click here.

Feedback