Litigating Without a Lawyer:
Chapter I: The Judge
Chapter II: The Enemy
Chapter III: The Facts
Chapter IV: The Trial
Chapter V: The Celebration
Chapter VI: The Money
Chapter VII: Definitions
Introduction: Litigating Without a Lawyer
You’re in a dispute and you can’t afford a lawyer. What do you do? Call your mother? Run and hide? No. You read my pearls of wisdom, plan a strategy, head to Court, and kick ass.
As in war and competitive sports, courtroom battles are decided by a number of factors that you can control, and some you cannot. Those that you cannot, aren’t worth much discussion. So, let’s get armed with some tools for you to defend or prosecute your claim, on your own.
Chapter I – The Judge
Without a jury, the Judge calls all of the shots. And, more importantly, decides your fate. It is duty of a Judge to listen carefully to all of the admissible evidence, and ultimately, to determine the outcome of the dispute. By law, a Judge is supposed to act with integrity and honor, with respect and an unbiased ear. He or she must treat each side fairly, and allow each party the same opportunity to make their case. By law, (if not always in reality), a Judge must remain impartial!
Clearly, the Judge wields all of the power in the Courtroom. Typically, they sit high above everyone else and wear a black capes, (whoops, I mean robes). They hold large wooden hammers to bang things when they get mad. All of these symbols are intended to let everyone know who’s in charge. But, despite their lofty seats and breezy capes, Judges are mere mortals who can’t fly. They can be cursed with bias or bigotry. Very often, they are impatient and arrogant.
LESSON ONE: Get to know your Judge before starting your case…if you want to win!
Chapter II begins on the next blog.
Aside from planning your case, which I will help you with shortly, you need to do some “Intel”. Find out everything you can about your Judge. Figure out her tendencies. Is she patient? Is she thoughtful? Is she fair to everyone? Will she let you present your case in full, or does she rudely cut people off before they finish their arguments. You are far more likely to win if you know and play to your Judge How does this really play out in real life? Well, although most Judges are basically fair and honest, with a desire to “do justice”, they are nonetheless human, (at least some). And, unfortunately, far too many hide bias and prejudice under their capes. Some react with emotion. Some are deadpan. Some obnoxious and egotistical, and some just sleeping on the job. Which best describes your Judge? You need to know.
If your Judge is impatient, you should plan to present the most concise and shortened version of your case. You will need to prioritize your issues and best arguments in order to put them on the table before the Judge either cuts you off or begins to roll her eyes. Because once the eyes start rolling, you can assume that you’ve worn her out or failed to convince. Be aware and play to your audience.
Similar to knowing your Judge, you must know your enemy if you want to maximize your chances of success. And, because almost every lawsuit is between former friends or business associates, (landlords, employers, former friends or family), you must focus on the enemy’s tendencies.
Is your enemy loud and bombastic? Are they charming and attractive? Are they organized by nature or do they fly by the seat of their pants with emotional abandon?
Think about this. If your intel on the Judge revealed a careful listener whose decisions are more favorable to methodical, organized and soft spoken arguments, plan to approach your case in that fashion.litigant, you, known your So, like any good strategist, you have to base your actions on your obstacles. Your game plan must fit the environment.
You are most likely to find yourself in a “Small Claims Court”, or a “District Court” or a “Circuit Court”. The differences are primarily in the monetary limits for the claims. Small Claims Courts can only enter money judgments in amounts up to $2,500; District Courts have limits of $25,000 and Circuit Courts only deal with claims in excess of $25,000. Circuit Courts do not have any financial limits.
There are other differences between the Courts. For example, a) landlord tenant eviction proceedings are usually handled in District Courts, b) attorneys are not allowed to represent litigants in Small Claim Courts; c) corporations and other businesses MUST have an attorney because the law doesn’t permit non-lawyers to represent other people, or businesses in Courtrooms.