In July 2001, Aventis Pharmaceuticals, Inc. fired Susan Hudock, an award-winning sales representative suffering from shingles. Angered and frustrated, Ms. Hudock retained an attorney and filed suit against her former employer, alleging that the company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to make "reasonable accommodations" that would enable her to perform certain job-related functions. After incurring over $18,000 in legal fees over two years and with no end in sight, Ms. Hudock decided to take a drastic step: she fired her attorney and proceeded with her case pro se.
Despite being warned by her former attorney that she would "never survive summary judgment," Ms. Hudock did just that, largely through the aid of legal resources she found on the Internet. When her trial finally began in June 2005, Ms. Hudock rose from the sole chair at the plaintiffs table and began her opening statement by telling the jury, "I have to tell you, I'm terrified." Nevertheless, she forged ahead with her case, struggling with evidentiary procedures, witness examination, and general trial strategy; her well-represented adversary had no such difficulties. Although the jury ultimately found for Aventis, Ms. Hudock remains undeterred. She plans to represent herself again on appeal.
Ms. Hudock's experience has become increasingly common in recent years, with both state and federal courts seeing a marked increase in pro se civil litigation. In the federal district courts, non-prisoner pro se litigants filed over twenty thousand cases in a recent one-year period; the federal appellate courts saw a twenty percent increase in pro se appeals between 1993 and 2004. Though the trend shows no signs of abating, not all members of the legal community have welcomed it. Both scholarly and practical debates have centered on the appropriate balance between an individual's right to represent himself and the need for judicial efficiency.
Van Wormer and Nina Ingwer,
Help at Your Fingertips: A Twenty-First Century Response to the Pro Se Phenomenon,
60 Vanderbilt Law Review
Available at: https://scholarship.law.vanderbilt.edu/vlr/vol60/iss3/6