Ok you’ve put all the questions together in a big bowl, stirred vigorously and have decided that you need to proceed with a lawsuit. Congratulations. You’ve passed step one.
Now we can move on to other issues.
The next things you’ll have to decide are against who, and where to bring your lawsuit.
Remember how I told you to keep the questions for step one – deciding whether to bring a lawsuit – handy because you’ll need them again. Well here we go – you need them right now.
The first choice you have to make may at first glance seem silly. Who to sue?
Well duhh… The guy that shafted you. The guy who’s tree obliterated your garage. The guy that reneged on the contract. The guy that took your money and stiffed you.
But, as with everything in the law, it’s never that simple. There are almost always options. Sometimes not, but usually you have choices and therefore decisions to make.
If there is a business transaction involved, you will often find that there may be more than one individual involved, or there may be entities such as corporations or limited liability companies that you can invite to the party.
What would be the advantage? A couple of things.
First, that one of your main weapons in litigation is the cost advantage that you have by representing yourself.
Even with something as simple as a motion, the disparity is huge. If you do it completely on your own, it costs you at most a nominal filing fee. If you use Be Your Own Lawyer to help you prepare the motion and research the law for you, it will be at most a few hundred dollars.
On the other hand, if your opponent has to hire an attorney it will take between five and ten hours, which even at $200 per hour (well below the U.S. average attorney rate) will cost him between $1,000 and $2,000.
If you can take delight in knowing that everything you do is costing your opponent far more than it is costing you, because he is paying an attorney, the only thing better would be if he were having one way or another, to pay two attorneys.
Very often, if you can properly couch a lawsuit against and individual and a corporation, you can create a conflict of interest so that separate attorneys will be required for the person and the company.
At a very minimum by suing your opponent and his corporation you can insure that he is not able to share your advantage of representing himself. Remember, while individuals can represent themselves they cannot represent anyone else. In the eyes of the courts, a corporation, even if it is 100% owned by one person, is deemed to be “someone else”, requiring representation by an attorney.
You should be getting the picture now. If your opponent had been thinking of representing himself, putting him at the same cost level as you, you have just taken that away from him by including his corporation or limited liability company.
Second, if you can get two parties involved in the litigation that may not be 100% on the same team, it is often possible to “divide and conquer” so to speak. One party may provide valuable information or testimony in exchange for being dismissed and not having to continue to pay huge fees.
Third, the defendants that you sue may become a very significant factor in where you are able to being a lawsuit.
If both you and the person or persons that you are suing all live in the same location, this is seldom an issue. But where the parties are in different counties within a state, or even in different states, this becomes a significant factor.
Obviously it is most often to your advantage to have a lawsuit close to your own location. It is easier to schedule things as they come up, you do not incur travel expenses, and you do not waste time travelling to hearings and depositions.
The other side is not stupid in this regard. They too will try to make it as convenient for them and as inconvenient for you as possible.
In bringing the lawsuit you have some advantages in selecting the location, but there are limitations. Properly selecting parties may often help you overcome those.
For example, venue (where a lawsuit can be brought) statutes in many states require that suit be brought in the county where the defendant resides. If there are multiple defendants it can be brought in any county where any defendant resides.
So in commencing suit in such a state, if you reside in county A and the defendant resides in county B, a considerable distance away, you would be compelled to file in county B. On the other hand if you can find a person related to the case who you could include as a defendant who resided in your county, then you are free to bring the suit in county A – far more convenient for you.
And the last paragraph about who to sue brings us nicely into the next topic, where to go to court.
Sometimes you have no choice in this regard at all, and sometimes who have a lot of options.
At one end of the spectrum for example, if you are in a state that has a small claims court for any dispute less than $10,000, and your claim is for $5,000, and, both you and the defendant reside in the same place, there probably is no choice whatsoever.
On the other hand, if you are in a state where jurisdiction levels overlap, and you and at least some of the potential defendants live in different counties, or even different states, then the available choices increase substantially.
Now not only can you choose between different courts within the same county, but you can explore the advantages of different counties. You have the ability to choose the place that is most advantageous to you and as inconvenient and expensive as possible for your opponent.
Generally speaking, as long as you have the resources to properly represent yourself, you will want to choose the most sophisticated and complicated court available. The higher the jurisdictional limits and the broader the jurisdiction, generally the more complex in terms of rules and procedures.
Lower level courts, such as small claims courts have much more relaxed procedures and rules and it is much easier for someone to represent themselves. As long as you’ve got out help and support you can and should shun these small claims courts if at all possible.
The idea once again is to put your opponent in the position of having to either retain an attorney, increasing his costs substantially, or representing himself without any meaningful help or support and making serious errors along the way.
So as you can see, careful planning well before you file the first piece of paper in a lawsuit can be of critical importance. It can stack the cards in your favor.
But it takes is careful research to determine the options available to you.
You need to understand the jurisdictional issues – what is the court system like in your state? What are the dollar amounts applicable to each court level? Are the ranges fixed or do they overlap? What statutes or rules govern venue and what are the venue requirements?
Helping you with these things is just a small part of what Be Your Own Lawyer can offer you when you undertake to represent yourself in court.