CAUTION: READ THIS DISCLAIMER BEFORE PROCEEDING
This Handbook is not intended to be a substitute for advice by an
experienced Appellate lawyer on how to handle an Appellate matter.
The Pro Se Appellate Handbook: Representing Yourself on Appeal© 2007, Florida Appellate Practice Section, is prepared by individual members of The Florida Bar Appellate Practice Section as a public service. This “Pro Se” or “Self-Represented Litigant” Handbook is not a comprehensive appellate guide, and it 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 and is not all-inclusive. The most current version can be found at: http://www.flabarappellate.org.
This is a very basic guide to assist someone unable 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, which apply to all types of appeals and extraordinary writs. Nor is it a substitute for retaining an appellate attorney skilled in the law and knowledgeable in appellate practice. 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 and any other Florida rules and statutes that may apply. 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 on appeals and petitions.
Caution: The Dangers of Self-Representation
“Self-Representation” or proceeding “pro se” means the party does not have a lawyer in a legal matter and is representing himself or herself, regardless of whether the 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 himself or herself) 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 the specific appellate court’s internal or “local” rules and procedures. A pro se party who has no formal legal training is just as responsible as an attorney for following all of the rules.
- The Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure set forth the pleadings and documents that must be filed in an appeal, along with the deadlines (number of days) in which to file the pleadings or documents, such as the notice of appeal and the appellate briefs.
- All parties must comply with filing deadlines. No party is allowed to file an appeal or brief late simply because that party is representing himself or 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.For example, if a pleading, motion or other document was not filed in the lower tribunal before the appeal, or if a piece of evidence or an exhibit was not introduced into evidence in the lower tribunal, it cannot be argued or considered for the first time on appeal. This is because the document or evidence was not part of the record in the lower tribunal. The record on appeal is limited to the record that was made 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 the pro se party to pay the opposing party’s attorney’s fees and costs if that party wins the appeal. In certain special cases, such as family law appeals, attorney’s fees may be awarded based on financial need without regard to who prevails.
- 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 Rules Regulating The Florida Bar and the Florida Supreme Court forbid the “unlicensed practice of law.” That means a non-lawyer (or even a lawyer from another state or law student) cannot give legal advice or speak on behalf of 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, whether in written papers or in court appearances or otherwise. 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 have acted 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 an appellate attorney. 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.
By using The Florida Bar Appellate Practice Section Pro Se Appellate Handbook, the user agrees to indemnify and hold harmless The Florida Bar Appellate Practice Section and anyone involved in the preparation of the Pro Se Appellate Handbook.