"Pro Per" , "Pro Se" or in Propria Persona are all derived from Latin. The magic word means that your are on your own handling your own matter.
The cost of hiring a lawyer may have forced many folks to find a way to prosecute or defend legal matters on their own. The rules are different depending on each type of case. Sometimes I do compare handling a legal matter similar to practising a profession such as medicine,accounting or architecture without formal training. In those fields if you self medicate or perform surgery it can be fatal. Similarly if you handle a serious legal matter on your own it can have serious personal and financial consequences. This guide is not intended to solicit legal services but to highlight some catastrophe I have witnessed in court rooms where litigants have handled matters on their own and lost simply due to procedural non-complaince or due to severe legal and tactical disadvantage.
A. CIVIL LITIGATION
In a Civil Case you have no right to an appointed counsel, even if you are indigent.
Civil litigants are deemed to have the same knowledge of a lawyer. "Ignorantia juris neminem excusat"- Ignorance of law is no excuse. Although Judges tend to be lenient and may give a second cahance,it can prove costly. For example, if the opponent's lawyer has propounded Request for Admission of certain facts to you, under California Code of Civil Procedure,Section 2033 a responding party has 30 days to respond to the Request extended by five calendar days if mailed. If the party obligated to respond fails due to lack of procedural knowledge, the propounding party can file a motion to seek the facts admitted and obtain a favorable result in the case.
Here lies just a single example a pro se litigant may face. If you are a pro se litigant in a Civil Case you need to formally familarize yourself with the Code of Civil Procedure and local rules.
B. CRIMINAL DEFENSE
Unlike a Civil case , cases involving misdemeanor or felony, indigents have a right to appointed counsel, usually designated as " public defender".
If you choose to defend a criminal case on your own, you need to be familiar with the basic concepts of Miranda, Search and Seizure, Fourtth and Fifth Amendment issues. Again, Pro Se is not a recommended course of action since a pro se Defenadnt's statements to the Court or the Prosecutor may be deemed admissions and a prosecutor armed with the law and resources will outrun a defendant in the court room.