My experience as pro se litigant qualifies me to address your questions about the practicality of pursuing justice in pro per, and resources for legal research (in that sequence).
how practical is it for one to seek justice pro se?
I strongly encourage pro se litigation, although it entails huge demands emotionally, intellectually, and in terms of effort.
Here are some recent cases in the U.S. Supreme Court where the petitioner is represented by multiple law offices, and yet his/its Petition for Writ of Certiorari was denied: 17-1176, 17-1111, 17-1246.
I am not reading their briefs, but I get the impression that in each of these cases the petitioner bore attorney fees for essentially nothing (mind that corporations can only proceed through counsel, but one counsel suffices).
What happened in each of those cases? (1) Is the judicial system broken even in the U.S. Supreme Court? or (2) did these law offices team up in taking their client's money despite knowing that his position was devoid of merit?
Logic prohibits to simultaneously answer both questions with a "no".
Another possibility is that (3) these joint law offices genuinely misapprehended how the law applies to the controversy they litigated. Regardless, a pro se litigant who makes his best effort is exempt of the costly risks (2) and (3).
Various review websites reflect many people's frustration for their lawyer's lack of diligence. By contrast, a pro se litigant has much greater control over the flow of his case, even if only because the pro se litigant does not need to shuffle a multitude of totally unrelated controversies.
Also I've heard some outrageous stories about lawyers' negligence. For instance, a friend of mine told me that his attorney skipped the deposition because the attorney went to a funeral. Then I said to him "I'm sure that she doesn't have to go to a funeral when it's time to send you the bill".
While some (or several) attorneys are honest, there's a simple reason why no lawyer will defend your position as sternly you would: An attorney won't risk his/her cushy or soft-spoken relation with the judges in that court, lest the attorney finds himself (herself) forced to move his practice to another county/district/jurisdiction. In that sense, your cause is compromised by the lawyer without you knowing it.
A lawyer can get vehement, though, when he himself gets strangled by the judge. In Morris v. Schnoor, the appellant attorney is quoted as saying that "When the judiciary acts as the b_tch for complainant, we get rulings like this" (the appellate opinion reproduces the actual b-word). Just don't expect much boldness when a lawyer litigates your case.
Note: I do not encourage saying obscenities to a judge, no matter how badly they deserve it. The First Amendment does not protect obscenity.
For a very small fraction of what an average lawyer bills his client, the pro se litigant can cover all other fees (complaint, motions, transcripts, appeal, etc.) in the trial, appellate, and supreme courts.
Moreover, the client might not even know what exactly he's being billed for. Here's an example: The attorneys representing my former employer filed a motion to extend the deadline for appellee's brief in the Michigan supreme court. These attorneys alleged that my Application brief requires them to conduct extra research. I have no clue how much they charged the defendant for that maneuver, but they representing him ended up filing a brief (November 6, 2017) which largely consists of a copy/paste of their filings in trial court. Interestingly, their appellee's brief reflects no "extra" research, and they failed to address many of the arguments I developed in my Application for Leave to Appeal.
What resources are available to a pro se litigant?
I agree that Lexis is free very useful for case law research, provided that you are enrolled in college or have access to their terminals.
The flexibility of its search form is one of Lexis nicest features. As an example, you can retrieve court opinions that have the word "malice" within #n words of "defamation". That feature helps filtering out court opinions which mention a term only tangentially. To illustrate my point, an opinion often summarizes that "A sued B for breach of contract, defamation, unjust enrichment, [etc]", yet defamation is not alluded anywhere else in the opinion. That renders that authority useless for your research on defamation case law.
However, don't limit your legal research to using Lexis. I made that mistake during trial phase and much of the appellate process. Lexis lacks or misses some important cases. By the time I noticed that deficiency, the briefing period in my appellate process had ended months earlier.
In my experience, the most important (but not only) case Lexis search engine kept missing was Mareck v. Johns Hopkins University, 60 Md.App. 217 (1984) (affirmed, 1985). Mareck has a striking similarity with one of my cases, and it supports many of my arguments for which I couldn't previously find legal precedents. Leagle.com lacks the functionality of Lexis, but is entirely free and does not require any sort of enrollment or membership.
Not sure whether this applies to every trial court, but the public is also allowed to read (and order copies of) cases in the court. That gives pro se litigants a valuable exposure which is missing from literature regarding litigation. Both of my defamation lawsuits (different defendants) satisfy the prima facie elements of the offenses, but the structure and composition of my first complaint looks very unorthodox. By contrast, my second complaint reflects the exposure I gained in three months by taking note of others' complaints and motions.
A resource of moderate value are the online law forums. There are well-meaning participants who clarified legal concepts for me. However, I say those forums are of moderate value because:
- some individuals embrace a role of sarcastic jurors (example: when somebody asks "can I sue for XYZ?", those guys like to answer "sure, you can sue, but you would lose", and it just gets worse);
- many replies don't go beyond "ask an attorney"; and
- those forums are usually managed by attorney$, so they di$like when a non-attorney provides effective advice that disproves the "need" for lawyers; that's actually what got me banned from two such forums.
Last but not least, two other resources are my own site/blog www.oneclubofjusticides.com and my Youtube channel One Club Of Justicides. In the site I post most of the court records from two of my cases (apropos of exposure, see above), whereas video format permits directing the viewer's attention to aspects that aren't covered in litigation books.
Nolo books and other educational materials simply ASSUME that attorneys and judges act with professionalism and integrity. Thus, these educational materials don't warn the pro se litigant about the gross misconduct that these so-called "officers of the court" engage with. To name few examples, books don't prepare you for situations where:
- the opposing counsel files a fraudulent motion and supplement in his attempt to obtain an award of $1,500 (in one of my videos I show how I disproved in court the crook's allegations);
- some judges repeatedly deceive and make false promises to a pro se litigant;
- defense counsel will try very hard that the transcript of the deposition (April 18, 2016) of her client be hard to read, and her method to attain that is by heckling you while you're trying to take the deposition of defendant;
- your cases might be presided by a felon who gets busted for illegal possession of narcotics;
- the judge's narcotics incident unearths evidence of judicial bias.
In my videos I intend to help the pro se community know sooner rather than later what irregularities to watch out for in their own judicial proceedings.
Is it worth the effort?
It definitely is. However, among other things, get prepared for the "gremial" trolling when you denounce uncomfortable truths about the judicial system (see a lawyer's remark of "misplaced paranoia" regarding my answer in this other post).
An attorney can deplete his client's savings pretty quickly, whereas I have retained my ability to bring my cases up to the U.S. Supreme Court (17-1560 and 17-1576). Likewise, hiring a negligent attorney would have kept me in the dark as to who (the lawyer or the judge) defrauded me.
Judicial corruption is very hard to overcome, yet no amount of judicial ineptitude -moral or otherwise- can change the fact that I (a pro se litigant) obtained clear evidence that the defendants acted unlawfully, and of how others (here, the University of Michigan) knowingly abetted both defendants' misconduct.
Nevertheless, not all cases are worth the litigation. The example you outline (fourth amendment rights and municipal police officer) sounds in a traffic stop or akin inconsequential events. By contrast, unlawful and unwarranted injuries to a person's reputation or dignity have important ramifications and definitely merit taking legal action.