Navigating -- or Getting Through -- the Pennsylvania Courts

At some point in your life, you might be required to go to court. Being involved in a legal case can be intimidating and confusing. It can be difficult to figure out the rules and procedures and exactly what you need to do, especially if you do not have a lawyer to assist you. It is therefore very important to feel prepared and to understand how the process works.
Every court has its own rules. There are courts that are easier for non-lawyers to navigate, such as small claims courts. But even these courts can be overwhelming. The court system can seem way too complicated, especially if you are proceeding without an attorney and represent yourself in court (as a self-represented litigant, also called "pro se").
Going to court is not like what we see on TV. There is rarely suspense or high drama. There are a lot of rules, paperwork and time spent waiting. That is why it is so important to understand what is expected of you.
The goal of this Guide is to provide you with general information about the court system and the basic procedures followed in most court cases. The Guide also offers resources that can help answer your questions about specific issues you may encounter as your case proceeds.
PMC hopes this Guide will make it easier for people to make their way through -- or navigate -- the court system. We hope you find it useful.
Disclaimer: PMC does not provide legal advice or represent clients in court or other legal proceedings. This guide is created solely to help individuals navigate the courts. It does not serve as a substitute for legal advice and should not be interpreted as such.
Table of Contents

  1. Tell Me More About the Pennsylvania Court System
  2. Get to Know the Clerk’s Office
  3. What’s the Difference Between State and Federal Courts
  4. What is Your Case About?
  5. Getting Started: First Steps in a Civil Lawsuit
  6. Litigation Has Started, Now What?
  7. Next Step: Gathering Evidence
  8. What Are Possible Outcomes of My Lawsuit?
  9. Going to Court for a Conference or Hearing
  10. What Can I Expect after the Hearing or Trial?
  11. Definitions
  12. Resources

PMC thanks the William Penn Foundation, the Independence Foundation, and the Philadelphia Bar Foundation for their generous financial support for the development of this Guide.