The pro se court strategy provides students with a
simplified look at judicial decision-making. It allows all students in
the class to role play a case with a small number of students and simple
rules of evidence. The court is a triad, consisting of: a judge, who
will hear arguments from 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. Many teachers use the pro se
court strategy to introduce students to the adversary system and to
give students a basic experience before they conduct a more formal moot
court or mock trial.
Invite an attorney or judge to act as a community resource person. Call
the local bar association, particularly the young lawyers’ association,
- Divide the class into three equal groups (judges, plaintiffs, and defendants.)
- Give students in each group time to prepare for the 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 closing arguments.
- The defendants should be given time to prepare their opening statements and closing arguments.
- Move students into new groups of three. Each group should have one
judge, one lawyer for the plaintiff and one lawyer for the defense.
Inform judges that when they have a plaintiff and a defendant, they may
- 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
- Plaintiff is questioned by the judge.
- Defendant is questioned by the judge.
- Closing arguments by the parties (first by the plaintiff and then by the defendant).
- Judge makes a decision and explains his or her reasons.
- Once the judges deliver their decisions, call the class together to debrief the activity as a large group. Ask students:
- What was the most challenging part of this exercise? The easiest? Which part did you like best?
- Was your side pleased with the result?
- What were the strongest arguments on your side? What were the other team’s strongest arguments?
- For judges: Was it difficult to make a decision? What factors did
you consider? What did you find most persuasive?
- To conduct a pro se court at the appellate level, replace
the plaintiff with a petitioner and the defendant with a respondent, and
remind the students to keep their arguments focused on the legal issues
in the case, not the facts.
Ask the community resource person to discuss the decision-making
process and decisions given. How would the community resource person’s
decisions and rationale compare to the decisions given by the student