The Signaling Effect of Pro Se Status
Posted: 9 May 2019
Date Written: September 1, 2017
When claimants press their claims without counsel, they fail at virtually every stage of civil litigation and overwhelmingly fail to obtain meaningful access to justice. This research program harnesses psychological science to experimentally test a novel hypothesis: mainly, a claimant’s pro se status itself sends a signal that biases decision making about the claimant and her claim. We conducted social psychological experiments with the public (N=157), law students (N=198), and employment discrimination lawyers (N=39), holding the quality and merit of a Title VII sex discrimination case constant. In so doing, we examined whether a claimant’s pro se status itself shapes stereotypes held about the claimant and biases decision making about settlement awards. These experiments reveal that pro se status influences stereotypes of claimants and settlement awards received. Moreover, the signaling effect of pro se status is exacerbated by socialization in the legal profession. Among law-trained individuals (i.e., law students and lawyers), a claimant’s pro se status generates negative stereotypes about the claimant and these negative stereotypes explain the adverse effect of pro se status on decision making about settlement awards.
Keywords: access to justice, unrepresented parties, law and psychology, legal socialization
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