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Representing Yourself - Overview

Information on this web page is general in nature. Descriptions of laws and court procedures are abbreviated. This information is not intended as legal advice. If you do not understand this information or if you need legal advice you should see an attorney.

Representarse en el tribunal sin abogado
The Iowa Judicial Branch is pleased to provide a Spanish translation of this page.  The translation has been prepared by a certified interpreter and we believe it to be accurate.  However, in the event of any discrepancy, please follow the English version of the information on this page.

Electronic Filing

You must use the Iowa eFile system to file electronically unless you get permission from the court to file in paper. For instructions on using the Iowa eFile system, see the eFile system instructions and User Guide

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Conduct and Procedures that are Important to Know before Going to Court

Do not miss your court date.  If you have a serious reason why you cannot go to court on the assigned day or at the assigned time, call the clerk of court’s office in your county.  If you fail to appear on a scheduled court date for a civil action, the judge may enter a default judgment against you and find in favor of the other party. Also, the judge may find you in contempt of court.  If you fail to appear on a scheduled court date and you are facing criminal charges, you may face additional criminal penalties, including jail, fines, and license suspension.

Be on time.  If you can, visit the courthouse before the date of your hearing to see how people act, dress, when they arrive, and where to go.  Arrive early to the courthouse on your court date: plan for traffic, parking, and nervousness.  Watch for signs and notices telling you where to go.  In many court rooms, you should tell court staff that you have arrived.  If you are not in court when your case is called, and the other party is present, you might have a default judgment entered against you.  If neither party is present when the case is called, your case may be postponed until the end of the day or for another day or week.

Know and follow court rules.  You should review the applicable Iowa Court Rules. Judges will not make exceptions for self-represented litigants.

Be courteous and respectful.  Be courteous and respectful to everyone:  the judge, jury (if there is a jury), the other party, and attorneys (if they are represented).  Wait for your turn to speak.  Do not interrupt the judge or the other party. The judge wants to hear from each party and all parties will be allowed to present their side of the case.  You will be given the chance to respond to what the other party says, or you may politely ask to respond to the last comments. Do not interrupt others in court: the judge will stop you and instruct you to wait your turn.  Please turn your cell phone off or on silent.  

Dress appropriately. The courtroom is a place of tradition, civility, and good manners.  You should wear nice clothing: a dress, suit, sport coat or blazer and pants as if you are going to church or a funeral. Do not wear a hat or cap while you are in the courtroom or judge's chambers. 

Be prepared. You may want to contact an attorney before deciding to represent yourself.  You should understand the impact and consequences of the court action.  Before your court date, determine what things you need to prove or defend your case.   Bring any documents, photographs, receipts, witnesses, etc. that will help prove your claim or defend a claim against you. 

Even "small" cases can be legally complicated. If you do not understand something about your case, you should contact an attorney. Judges and court staff, including clerks of court, cannot give legal advice. 

Speak loudly and clearly.  Many people are nervous when they are in court and tend to speak softly.  Judges, court reporters, and the other parties need to clearly hear what you say.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can judges and court staff assist with my case?   

Court staff may explain basic procedures and answer questions about deadlines and fees. However, Iowa law and ethical rules prohibit judges and court staff from giving legal advice.  This means that judges and staff cannot advise people on whether to bring claims to the court, what remedies they should seek, and the proper course of action.  

Can I talk to the judge about my case without the other parties present?

No. Judicial ethics strictly prohibit judges from "ex parte" communication—which means talking with one attorney or party without the other attorney or party present.  

If you want to give the judge information about your case or you want the judge to take some action on your case, you must file your request with the court.

How do I find a lawyer? 

Ask your friends, family, and colleagues for a referral or use the Iowa State Bar Association's Iowa Find-A-Lawyer referral service online. Court personnel are not permitted to make referrals to specific attorneys or law firms.

How do I request an ADA accommodation? 

Please contact your local ADA coordinator to request an ADA accommodation.  You can find your ADA coordinator by using the county directory or this list of coordinators

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