Skip to Main Content

Representing Yourself in Court

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

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.

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.


Disclaimer: Hamilton County Law Library staff, as a service to its patrons, provides reference services and information, including these research guides. To protect the public interest, Ohio law requires that legal advice and services be rendered only by qualified attorneys who are subject to the guidelines of the courts. Library staff members do not interpret the law, provide legal advice, or explain court procedures. The information provided is not a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney.  None of our services shall be construed as giving legal advice.