Lawyers love to use Latin words and phrase that are meaningless and confusing to everyone…except of course, lawyers. The ancient language of Latin, originally spoken by the Italic Latins in Ancient Rome is not a language readily understood by most of my clients. Then why is our legal system filled with words like:

 

  • In Pro PerRes Ipsa Loquitur
  • In Terrorem
  • Ab Initio
  • Writ of Certiorari
  • Non Compos Mentis
  • Duces Tecum?

A central tenet of our legal system is to provide equal access to the judicial system. The right of a party to a legal action to represent his or her own cause has long been recognized in the United States, and even predates the ratification of the Constitution. Incredibly, the legal term chosen for a person that is appearing in Court on their own, without the assistance of an attorney, is a latin term…In Pro Per. Really?! If you want to represent yourself, you are said to appear In Pro Per or In Propria Persona or even better yet- you are referred to as a Pro Se litigant. Why use such a confusing term that most non-lawyers have no idea what it means?

After years of consultations, The Probate Pro has heard some very funny references to the term In Pro Per.

  • Last week, a client struggling to handle her role as a Personal Representative said to me “I am representing myself In Probate Per.
  • My favorite reference comes from a client defending herself in a bond surcharge case.  She said to me “I am im-pro-per (pronouncing it as improper)”  Maybe her guilty conscience for embezzling her mother’s conservator assets made her actions feel improper.

Proceeding In Pro Per in a probate case is not recommended. Handling a probate file involves a great deal of time and effort, and can cause a great deal of frustration. In most cases, you have only one opportunity to have the court hear your case. A failure to follow all the applicable procedures may result in dismissal of your case, or a poor result. The decision to proceed In Pro Per, without an attorney should only be made after very serious consideration.

A person acting on his or her own behalf is, under the law, held to the same standards and duties as an attorney admitted to the practice of law in the State of Michigan. An In Pro Per litigant is expected to know what the law requires and how to accomplish his or her purposes in accordance with the applicable statutes and court rules. Judges and hearing officials cannot provide legal advice.

There are some good resources for those proceeding In Pro Per.  The State Bar of Michigan has an online legal self-help center that provides resources to the public. Another great resource is the Handbook of Legal Terms which provides definitions to common legal terms (many of the Latin terms are explained).

The Probate Pro is happy to speak with In Pro Per litigants struggling to navigate through the system. Got a question…give us a ring.  We will happy to answer your questions without any Latin words!