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Representing Yourself in Court: Home

This guide offers definitions of common terms, rules of thumb, common procedures and best practice for representing yourself in court.

About this guide

A note on self-representation:

You have the right to represent yourself in any court proceeding. However, the case could have long-term consequences and you may wish to consult with an attorney to provide you advice and guidance through the process. This guide is intended only as a basic explanation of court terms and etiquette. The information provided is not legal advice and is not a substitute for advice from a licensed attorney. If you decide you would like an attorney to represent you, a list of resources to help meet your needs can be found at the bottom of this guide.

Common Definitions

Pro Se Litigant: Someone who is representing themselves in a court case.

Petitioner (or Plaintiff): The party who brings the suit in a court of law.

Respondent (or Defendant): The party against whom the suit is brought.

Pleading: Paperwork that is filed with the court in which a party to the case makes claims or presents defenses. Examples: Complaint. Answer. Answer and Counterclaim.

Petition: A form that requests certain action from the court.

Notice of Appearance: A form that tells the court who will be representing you in court.

Summons: A notice to the Defendant that a case has been filed against him or her, requiring that the person come to court.

Subpoena: An order commanding a person to provide evidence in some way, such as appearing in court to testify and/or provide documents to the court.

Helpful Websites

Ohio State Bar Association:

Ohio Supreme Court:


Hamilton County:

Hamilton County Clerk of Courts:

Hamilton County Domestic Relations Court:

Hamilton County Probate Court:

Hamilton County Juvenile Court:

Hamilton County Court of Appeals:


Clermont County:

Municipal Court Forms:

Common Pleas Court Forms:



Supreme Court of Kentucky:

Kenton County Clerk of Courts:


Finding an attorney

Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati:

(513) 241-9400

Lawyer Referral Service:

(513) 381-8213

Women Helping Women:

Pro Seniors Inc.:

(800) 488-6070

United Way of Greater Cincinnati:

Telephone: 2-1-1

Rules of Thumb for Any Court Proceeding

Good rules of thumb for any court proceeding:

  1. Be on time. Plan to be at least 15 minutes early in case there are last minute changes or papers that must be filed.
  2. Dress respectfully, as though you were going to an important job interview. Many courts will not allow you to appear in shorts or tank tops, for example. First impressions are important!
  3. Use respectful language. Address the judge or magistrate as “Your Honor” and all others as “Sir”, “Ma’am”, “Mister”, or “Ms”.
  4. Never yell, curse or interrupt.
  5. Enter and leave the court room quietly.
  6. Always stand when the judge enters or leave the court. Always stand when addressing the judge. Speak directly to the judge unless questioning a witness.
  7. Have all of your paperwork ready. Bring copies of all of your paperwork. Bring a pad and paper to take notes.
  8. Do not bring children unless specifically asked to do so by the judge.
  9. Turn off cell phones and pagers.
  10. No eating, drinking or chewing gum.
  11. Do not use drugs or alcohol before appearing in court.
  12. Speak slowly and clearly. Remember that all cases are being recorded by a court reporter or recording device.
  13. Many court proceedings are open to the public. Some people feel more comfortable in their own case if they observe other cases. You should feel free to sit it on other cases open to the public to get a feel for how the court works and what you can expect.

General Procedures

If you choose to represent yourself in a case, it is your responsibility to ensure that you meet all court requirements and deadlines for filing. You should research statutes, court rules and procedures pertaining to your case. You may present witnesses and evidence when it is appropriate in your case. Keep copies of all documents for your records.

The following is a general rundown of court procedures. For detailed information pertinent to your jurisdiction and venue you should consult the Rules of Civil Procedure for your state and Local Rules for the venue.

Any paperwork that is filed with the court must also be provided to the other party. It is your responsibility to make sure that the paperwork is provided to the other party, not the court’s. This is called service. There are generally three methods of service:

  1. Certified Mail – a method by which a letter is sent though the mail and the recipient must sign a receipt confirming delivery of the letter.
  2. Sheriff – someone from the Sheriff’s office will hand-deliver the documents to the other party for a fee. Speak with your local Sheriff’s office for fees and procedures.
  3. Publication – If you do not know the whereabouts of the other party, you must still make a reasonable attempt to notify them by publishing the summons in the local newspaper. Publishing in the newspaper is only available as a last resort for serving a Summons. Talk to your local court clerk for the procedure and paperwork.

To File a Case

You must file your paperwork with the clerk of courts. The clerk will require multiple copies of several of the forms, so call ahead to find out how many copies you will need.

The clerk, the law library and the staff at the court house cannot help you fill out the forms, nor can they tell you which forms you will need. Depending on the form, it is likely a fill-in-the-blank version will not be available. Common pleading forms and instructions can be found on the clerk of courts website or the website of the court of your jurisdiction (for instance, Domestic Court and Probate Court both have their own websites in Hamilton County). Other forms may be found in books at your local law library.

Most sample forms are only general, generic examples of possible formats and contents. Legal requirements for assignments, leases, contracts and many other business documents can and do vary greatly from state to state and county to county and can change often. To be valid – and not create more problems than they solve – forms must be properly drafted and modified to fit your specific location and circumstances.

When you file your paperwork with the clerk, there will be a filing fee that must be paid by the person filing the paperwork. You should call ahead to see what forms of payment they accept. You may request a fee waiver if you cannot afford the filing fee. Whether the amount will be reduced or waived altogether is up to the judge. You will need to follow the procedures of the court to request a fee waiver

Every time you file a motion with the court, you must serve it on the other parties and include a proposed order for the court to sign. Some courts may require you to include addressed, stamped envelopes for the judge to send signed orders to all parties involved in the case and their attorneys if they are being represented. Check your local court rules for procedures for this.

The judge and court staff must remain impartial. They cannot help you or the other party to argue a case. They cannot give advice or opinions on what you should do and they cannot talk to you outside of court. Any document that you wish to be read by the court must be submitted as evidence following the proper procedures.

Court staff are generally able to answer factual questions, questions that begin with “Who”, “What”, “When”, “Where”, and “How”.


Contact Us

The Law Library is open Courthouse hours, Monday-Friday, 8:00-4:00. 

For directions to the library, see

We cannot provide research by phone or email, except for governmental officials and subscribers.  Please come into the library for research guidance and self-help.

In person: Hamilton County Courthouse 1000 Main Street, 6th floor Cincinnati, Ohio 45202

By phone: 513.946.5300

On the web:

By fax: 513.946.5252

By email:

Need Legal Assistance?

Need legal help?

For legal assistance, consider the following organizations:

• Lawyer Referral Service, Cincinnati Bar Association A free referral and a reduced consultation fee for the first 30 minutes


• Lawyer Referral Service, Northern Kentucky Bar Association A free referral with hourly fees established by participating attorneys


• Legal Aid of Greater Cincinnati Legal representation, information, advice and referral for people in need of legal help 


• Pro Seniors Legal Hotline and Referral Service Help for persons over the age of 60 


• Disability Rights Ohio Advocates for the human, civil, and legal rights of people with disabilities in Ohio


• Ohio Attorney General, Services for Consumers Help resolving consumer issues, tips on scams and deceptive practices 



The Hamilton County Law Library would like to thank the Indiana Supreme Court for providing the groundwork for much of the information contained in this guide.