A pro se (or do‑it‑yourself) court allows participants to role play a case with a small number of participants and simple rules of evidence. The court is a triad, consisting of: a judge, who will hear the two sides and make the final decision; a plaintiff, who is the person bringing the action before the judge; and the defendant, who is accused of wrong‑doing.
The pro se court method provides participants with a simplified look at judicial decision-making. Pro se courts provide an opportunity for all participants in a class to be involved in the activity by role-playing parties or judges.
- Invite an attorney or judge to act as a community resource person. Call the local bar association, particularly the young lawyers’ association, for volunteers.
- Divide the class into three equal groups (judges, plaintiffs, and defendants) to prepare for the pro se court hearing.
- Judges should be instructed in “court procedure” and given time to prepare questions for the plaintiffs and defendants.
- The plaintiffs should be given time to prepare their opening statements and arguments.
- The defendants should be given time to prepare their opening statements and closing arguments.
- Have the judges move to seats around the room. Provide them with a “judge” button or name plaque.
- Have a plaintiff join each judge.
- Have a defendant join each judge.
- Inform judges that when they have a plaintiff and a defendant, they may begin “court.”
- Conduct the pro se court, using the following procedures:
- Opening statements by the parties (first by the plaintiff and then by the defendant.) An appropriate time limit should be imposed on these statements.
- Plaintiff is questioned by judge.
- Defendant is questioned by judge.
- Closing arguments by the parties (first by the plaintiff and then by the defendant).
- Judge makes decision and explains reasons.
- Once the judges deliver their decisions, ask the resource person to discuss the decision-making process and decisions given. How would the resource person’s decisions and rationale compare to the decisions given by the participant judges?
Many teachers use the pro se court strategy to introduce participants to the adversary system. For most classes, it is helpful to have this experience before doing a mock trial.