One question that we get asked more than any other is, “how do I even start to represent myself?
What I’d like to do, starting in this post, and continuing for a while, because of course it’s a huge topic, is to talk little bit about that.
We’ll break it up into pieces so you don’t fall asleep. But if you follow along, you should come away with a little more insight into what it really means to take that plunge and represent yourself in court.
The way to attack this question differs somewhat, depending on whether you are the one bringing the suit that is being considered (the plaintiff) or someone else is suing you and you must respond (you are the defendant.
Because they’re different, we’ll tackle them separately. Let’s first consider someone contemplating bringing a lawsuit.
Right out of the gate you have one huge choice, or option if you prefer that a person being sued does not have.
You have the choice of bringing the lawsuit or not!
That sounds almost too simple, but it’s a real question to be addressed. “Sure the bastards” is such a familiar refrain that it seems in America everybody is suing everybody over something or other.
But this is a point where you really should step back and take a deep breath. Here are some questions that you need to be asking yourself:
– What is it that I really want? Not as simple as it sounds. Do you want money? To prove a point? To hurt the other side? You can’t pursue you goals unless you know what they are.
– What is it that I a want a court to do for me? Give me a judgment? Make the other side do, or refrain from doing something? Just tell me I am right?
– In the same context, can the court even do what I am asking it to do?
– If I am after a money judgment, will, if I win, it even be collectible?
– How much will going to court cost me? True there are n attorney’s fees if you represent yourself, but there are always costs.
– Are you able and willing to make set aside and devote the time it will take to represent yourself in a lawsuit?
Let’s look at some of these questions.
What are you looking for in this lawsuit you are getting ready to bring? What can you realistically get?
For example, courts generally can provide two kinds of things. They can award judgments, expressed as a dollar amount that one party is required to pay to the other. Or they can provide equitable relief. That is they can do things like issue an injunction, or a restraining order.
What many people don’t understand though is that courts can rarely make someone do something. They usually cannot for example force someone to comply with a contract. They can award a judgment, for damages if there is a breach of a contract, but they cannot require someone to go out and perform a service, or be an employee.
So the first thing you have to determine in this context is whether or not a court can even give you what you want.
Another thing you have to do is make a realistic assessment of whether you will be able to get whatever the court awards you.
If for example a court awards a money judgment, there is no guarantee that payment will ever be made on that judgment.
The defendant may not have any assets from which to pay it.
The defendant may have moved his assets beyond the jurisdiction of the court.
The defendant may file a bankruptcy.
You are probably in the best position to realistically assess your opponent and determine what the likelihood of receiving payment on a judgment would be. But be realistic. Don’t spend the money in terms of costs, and your time and effort pursuing a case to judgment against an individual you who penniless.
You also, following this same line of reasoning, have to look at the costs you will incur. While you are not having to pay attorney’s fees, understand that there are a lot of other costs that will be encountered in any lawsuit.
Filing fees, fees for service of process, witness fees, costs to entities upon whom you serve subpoenas for compliance, deposition costs. They go on and on in modern litigation.
Be sure when you are contemplating bringing a lawsuit that you consider all of this various costs. They mount up quickly.
Finally, do not deceive yourself. A lawsuit is a lot of work, and if you’re representing yourself, you’re the one that will be doing it. You will have to file papers, go to hearings and conferences, attend and take depositions, respond to discovery.
Unless you are a fabulously wealthy trust fund kid, your time has value and that has to be factored into your equation. Is it worth it to you to spend probably several hours a week working on a lawsuit, when you could be doing something else instead?
It is vitally important that you address these issues well before trotting down to the courthouse to file your lawsuit.
In posts to follow, I’ll talk some more about other options to select once the decision to go to court has been made.