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Representing Yourself in Court

1. The following information on procedures is not intended to be a manual or comprehensive instruction guide. It is intended to be a short and simple informational statement about basic requirements and procedures.

2. You are not required to have a lawyer. You may represent yourself if you wish. Whether you retain an attorney or not is a decision only you can make. Neither the judge nor the clerk of court can or will give you legal advice. If you want legal advice you will need to consult with an attorney.

3. Court cases are serious matters that are decided in a formal setting. You should dress appropriately. You should also be on time. Food or drink is not allowed in the courtroom. Children should not be brought into a courtroom unless they are old enough to sit quietly and not disrupt the proceedings. Cell phones and pagers are not allowed to be used in courtrooms.

4. Please be patient. There may be a delay before your case is called, and there are a variety of reasons why delays happen. It is often necessary to schedule several hearings for the same time, to make the most efficient use of court time (and taxpayer money). Sometimes a hearing scheduled earlier in the day takes longer than expected. Sometimes the court must deal with urgent matters which take precedence over previously scheduled hearings.


  • Do I know all my options, and can I make an informed choice about which option to choose?
  • Am I willing to learn and understand the applicable law and rules of court to represent myself?
  • Am I willing to commit the time to properly prepare my case?
  • Can I follow written instructions and work independently in preparing my case?
If you answered “yes” to all these questions, you may be able to adequately represent yourself in court. If you answered “no” to any one of these questions or if you are unsure of your answer, it is strongly recommended that you consult with an attorney.


  • The only forms available at the Clerk of Court’s office are for Protection Orders or Small Claims cases. These may help you understand your options. Only in limited situations can court staff help you complete the forms.
  • Whenever a party or an attorney representing a party commences a civil action or files an answer or first responsive pleading in a civil action, the party or attorney representing the party is required to file a completed civil case filing statement containing identifying information available to that party or attorney regarding all parties, including the adverse party, with the clerk of court. The civil case filing form is available in the clerk’s office or on our website.
  • The South Dakota Codified Law Books are available at local libraries.
  • Resources are available online at the Unified Judicial System Website.
One of your rights is to consult with an attorney. If you can not afford an attorney, you will need to complete an Application for Court-Appointed Counsel, which will be presented to the Judge for his consideration. If an attorney is appointed, you will be required to reimburse the county for the costs. Not all case types may be eligible for a court-appointed attorney.


There are many things you can do to prepare for a hearing. These are some of the ways:

1. Read about the areas of law which apply to your facts.

2. Consider ways to solve your problem other than litigation. Mediation may be a better alternative than litigation.

3. If you have a court appearance coming up, try to observe other proceedings that might be similar to yours or in the same courtroom that yours is assigned. Things to observe: where people sit or stand, how evidence is presented, how much time is allowed each side, and what type of argument is permitted. Schedules of court cases are available from the Clerk of Court.

4. Mark all deadlines on your calendar. Make sure you file or serve all papers on time and that you show up when you are supposed to.

5. Be prepared with enough copies of your pleadings and evidence to give a complete set to the other side and to the court. Make sure your witnesses are ready to testify.

Act professionally. Court is not the place to make personal attacks against the other party. State your position clearly and concisely. Show respect for the court and the other people.

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