The Pro Se Appellate Handbook: Representing Yourself on Appeal is prepared by individual members of The Florida Bar Appellate Practice Section, as a public service. This Pro Se (also called a "Self Represented" Litigant) Handbook is not a comprehensive appellate guide and does not answer all questions or guarantee success. It is also not intended to advise individuals in the unlicensed practice of law. It should not be cited to as authority.
This Handbook is not to be used to provide legal advice to other people, nor would attorneys who are not experienced in appellate practice do well in relying on this Handbook. It is always a work in progress, it is not all-inclusive, and the most current version can be found at: http://www.flabarappellate.org.
This is a very basic guide to assist someone unable or unwilling to hire an attorney to advance or defend an appellate matter. It is not a substitute for reading and understanding all of the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure and the Florida Statutes that apply to all types of appeals and extraordinary writs. Nor is it a substitute to retaining an appellate attorney skilled in and knowledgeable of appellate law. A PARTY TO AN APPELLATE CASE SHOULD HIRE AN ATTORNEY EDUCATED AND EXPERIENCED IN APPELLATE PRACTICE.
A pro se party must read and understand the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure. A pro se party may also do well to consult Florida Appellate Practice, published by The Florida Bar, and Florida Appellate Practice, by Philip Padovano, as well as other Florida appellate manuals for additional information for appeals and petitions.
CAUTION: THE DANGERS OF SELF-REPRESENTATION
"Self Representation" or proceeding "pro se" means the party does not have a lawyer to them in a legal matter and is representing him/herself. It does not matter whether self-representation is by choice or because the party cannot hire a lawyer. A pro se party should be aware of the following:
- The appellate court is not going to give a pro se party (a party representing themself) any special treatment or relax the rules simply because that party is pro se and is not a lawyer.
- All parties and attorneys must follow the Rules of Judicial Administration and the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure, as well as any of the appellate court's "internal operating procedures" or "IOPs" that are specific to that court. It makes no difference if a party is pro se during the appeal and has no formal legal training.
- The Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure set forth the pleadings and documents that must be filed, along with the number of days to file a pleading or document, such as a motion or brief.
- All parties must comply with filing deadlines. No party is allowed to file a motion or brief late simply because that party is representing him/herself and does not have any formal legal training. No party is allowed to ask for extensions of time and/or continuances of a court proceeding simply because that party is pro se.
- The appellate court's review of a case is limited to the record on appeal made in the lower tribunal. If, for example, a party forgot to introduce a particular piece of evidence as an exhibit in the lower tribunal to make it part of the record on appeal, the appellate court cannot consider any argument regarding that evidence, raised for the first time on appeal. This is because the evidence was not part of the record in the lower tribunal. Similarly, the appellate court usually cannot consider any argument that was not made in the lower tribunal.
- The appellate court must follow the laws, rules, regulations, and court decisions that are controlling and factually on point. The appellate court cannot make any special exceptions for pro se parties.
- If a lawyer represents the opposing party, the appellate court may order one side to pay the opposing party's attorney's fees and costs if the other party wins the appeal, or in certain cases such as family law appeals, order an award of fees.
- If a lawyer represents the opposing party, a pro se party may have a hard time winning their case. A lawyer's legal training and knowledge may result in the opposing party winning the case through skillful use of procedural or technical requirements, or through skillful use of case law and legal argument.
- The rule regulating the Florida Bar and the Florida Supreme Court forbid the "unlicensed practice of law." That means a non-lawyer (even a lawyer from another state or law student) cannot give legal advice or speak for anyone in court proceedings without a license to practice law in the State of Florida. In other words a non-lawyer without a license to practice law in the State of Florida, cannot give legal advice to anyone or attempt to act as another person's lawyer — either in written papers or in court appearances. Both The Florida Bar and the Florida Supreme Court take the unlicensed practice of law very seriously. The Florida Bar investigates and prosecutes, and the Florida Supreme Court punishes (including a fine up to $2,500 or jail time up to five (5) months), any person found to act as a lawyer on behalf of another person without having a license to practice law in the State of Florida.
Before proceeding, a pro se party should contact their local bar association and/or The Florida Bar and ask whether they have or know of any "pro bono" programs that may help a pro se party obtain legal representation in an appeal without having to pay any appellate attorney's fee. If there is no "pro bono" program in place in the area, hiring an appellate attorney may save the otherwise pro se party money in the long run.