How often do you get to hear a lawyer try and talk you OUT of hiring him? Not very often, so LISTEN UP! Some of you may be familiar with the small claims court system here in Texas. If not, its very much like the People’s Court on T.V. But with more cowboy hats and Texas accents.
The small claims court system is a fantastic way for regular folks (non-lawyer types) to settle their differences in court without having to pay an attorney to represent them. My first and (if I do say so myself) best advice to anyone thinking about suing in small claims court is to first try and settle your differences with the adverse party. Don’t let your emotions get the better of you. While using the small claims court system is simple and inexpensive, it still takes up time, costs money (not much though), and takes up valuable judicial resources.
If you cannot settle your differences amicably, however, you should explore the opportunity to sue in small claims court before you start trying to hire a lawyer. You do not need a lawyer to appear in small claims court. The rules of evidence generally do not apply. You are able to introduce written evidence and witness testimony, subject to the approval of the judge. My best advice to you if you go this route is to make sure that you are as prepared as possible when you appear.
Okay, now for the “fine print”. There are some limitations on the small claims court system. First of all, you cannot sue in small claims court unless the amount in dispute is less than or equal to $5,000.00. Also, keep in mind that either party may appeal from a small claims court judgment.
If and when you are ready to file in small claims court, the first step is to find the proper court for your case. Generally speaking, you would file your lawsuit in the small claims court precinct where the defendant resides, where the business operates, or where the transaction made the basis of the dispute took place. Once you have determined the proper court in which to sue, you should go to that court’s “civil” department and ask for a small claims court packet. While the clerks are not able to give you legal advice, they are usually very friendly and helpful in giving general information about the process. Remember, when you file, you will need to pay a small filing fee and will also have to pay a “service fee” to have the lawsuit served on the defendant. Again, the clerks will likely be able to help you with this procedure.
So… Now that I’ve managed to talk you into not hiring me, I think I’ll crawl under my desk and take a little nap. Good luck in court!