Everyone’s heard that the man who represents himself in court has a fool for a client, and for criminal charges that’s probably true, but if you’re seeking a small judgment, or a judgment in small claims court, representing yourself can save you time and money. These four facts will help you make your case:
However before I get into these facts and myths I just want to remind everyone that I am not giving any legal advice here and if you are seeking legal advice you should consult a lawyer as to what would be best for your situation.
With that out of the way let’s get started.
Fact 1: Attending a real court hearing will help you know what to expect.
The best way for you to get a feel for how you should behave in court will be to attend an actual hearing. Don’t trust television or movies to show you what a real court room is like.
Fact 2: The Court expects you will dress professionally.
You want the judge and/or jury to take you seriously, and one of the best ways to make a good first impression is by dressing professionally.
Fact 3: The Court expects you treat the opposing party respectfully.
Whether you’re the plaintiff or the defendant, keeping as emotionally detached as possible will help underscore that the facts are you your side. Only ever talk to the judge, and always address your opposing party as either “the plaintiff” or “the defendant,” and avoid looking at your opposing party.
Fact 4: The Court expects you to be prepared to make your case.
Bring three copies of any piece of evidence that you’re planning on introducing, and have it organized in advance. Bring a pen and a notepad for writing things down. Prepare an outline of what you want the court to do and why, and rehearse your initial statements to the court in advance of your hearing date.
Likewise, being aware of these four myths of representing yourself will help you avoid making simple mistakes:
Myth 1: You should always hire a lawyer.
If you’re seeking a judgment in small claims court, hiring a lawyer might not be only unnecessary, it might be forbidden. Many states don’t allow professional lawyers to present a small claims case, and a small claims judgment that only recovers a portion of your damages is better than recovering nothing at all.
Myth 2: Brushing up on legal terms will help your case.
Few lawyers speak in legalese: most judges find it annoying and most juries won’t understand obscure legal terminology. You can always rely on the judge to know the law better than you, and the judge knows that you’re not a professional lawyer, so make your case in plain English.
Myth 3: Talking to a lawyer will be too expensive
Even if you’re planning on representing yourself in court, it will be worth your time and money to talk to a lawyer in advance. You can probably consult with a lawyer or a legal aid for between $100 and $200 to determine if you actually have a case, and they’ll be able to tell you why you have a case, which will help you prepare for court. Look for someone specialized in your type of claim, for example, if you got into a motorcycle accident, look for a specialized motorcycle accident lawyer to consult with.
Myth 4: Judgments are all or nothing
A judge may award you your entire claim, but a partial judgment is far more common. When you begin your case, you should be prepared to compromise.
Remember, if you choose to represent yourself in court, make sure you’re representing yourself well. Have you ever consider representing yourself in court without a lawyer?