Pro Se Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Pro Se, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Pro Se?

It is appearing in the court as a lawyer or attorney to oneself or for himself/herself. It’s a Latin word meaning ” “for himself” or “appearing on its owns behalf”.

History and Meaning of Pro Se

The term "Pro Se" comes from Latin and means "for oneself." In the legal context, it refers to a person who represents themselves in court without the assistance of an attorney. Pro se litigants can be found in a variety of legal matters, from family law disputes to small claims court.

The right to appear pro se dates back to English common law, and it has been recognized by U.S. courts since the nation's founding. The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to an attorney in criminal cases, but it does not prevent individuals from choosing to represent themselves.

Examples of Pro Se

  1. In a divorce case, a pro se litigant may represent themselves in matters related to child custody, child support, and property division.
  2. In a personal injury case, a pro se litigant may argue their own case and ask for damages without an attorney.
  3. In a small claims court case, a pro se litigant may argue the legality of a contract or the return of a security deposit without an attorney.

Legal Terms Similar to Pro Se

  1. Pro per: This is another term for pro se and is commonly used in California courts.
  2. Self-represented litigant: This term refers to someone who is representing themselves in court, regardless of whether they are using the term pro se or pro per.
  3. In forma pauperis: This is a legal term that allows a person without the financial means to pay court fees to file a case without those fees. Pro se litigants can often file in forma pauperis.