How To File a Civil Lawsuit Without a Lawyer. How do I file a civil lawsuit without a lawyer? Most people considering a lawsuit begin by contacting an attorney to discuss the case. An attorney can advise you on the possible outcomes of your case and the amount of time and costs involved.

How To File a Civil Lawsuit Without a Lawyer
How To File a Civil Lawsuit Without a Lawyer

How To File a Civil Lawsuit Without a Lawyer

In some cases, you may wish to file your lawsuit on your own in small claims court. The limit on the amount of money a person can request in small claims court varies from $5,000 to $10,000, depending on the county.

What Is a Lawsuit?

A lawsuit is a claim or dispute brought to a court of law to be resolved.

How To Sue Someone

To start a lawsuit without a lawyer, you may need to file a verified complaint along with the specified filing fee. It is the same first step that a lawyer may take in commencing a lawsuit. This step is immediately followed by:

  • Decide If You Should Sue

You need grounds to sue, which means there must be a legal cause of action. You cannot just sue someone for things you don’t like. They must have violated some rule or requirement in a way that harmed you, which, in a way, you can be compensated for. When there are no legal grounds to sue, there are also elements of your case you must prove.

If you don’t have solid evidence to prove every element of your case, then you’re unlikely to prevail in court and suing would typically be a waste of time and make little sense.

  • Gather Evidence

If you want to move forward with the lawsuit, you’ll want to begin working on gathering evidence to prove your case. This could mean different things in different situations. For example, if you are interested in suing a doctor for medical malpractice, you need your medical records and an expert willing to testify on your behalf about what the doctor treating you did wrong.

You can continue gathering information throughout the course of your case, but it’s best not to sue until you are confident you will have the evidence necessary to show the defendant should be held liable for your losses.

  • Find The Right Court

Many states have separate courts, each with its own limited jurisdiction. For example, probate courts deal with wills, trusts, and estate matters. Family courts deal with family law issues such as divorce and child custody. Beyond those special courts, the general civil court can only hear your claim if it has personal and subject matter jurisdiction – meaning it has the power to order the person you are suing to do something related to the subject of your lawsuit.

To have personal jurisdiction, the court generally must be located in the county where the person you’re suing lives or where a company does business.

  • Search For Forms or Instructions

Many states have forms of petitions available for common types of cases. These forms are pre-approved by the courts and include all the necessary information to state a claim. Typically, these forms include instructions for filling them out along with basic formatting instructions. For example, you are not allowed to change the formatting of the forms themselves, such as by retyping them yourself.

If you print the form and handwrite your answers, most courts expect you to print legibly using blue or black ink. You should find out if there are any other forms you need to include along with your complaint or petition. However, you will need a summons or a certificate of service. You may also need a cover sheet or other documents, such as a notice of hearing.

  • Fill Out Your Forms

Make sure all the information you’re giving the court is true and correct and that you have the full legal name of the person or business you are suing. You must sign and date your forms before the court clerk will hear your claim. Once you’ve signed your forms, make at least two copies. One for your records and one for the person you are suing. The court will keep the originals when you file them.

  • Complete The Court Paperwork

You will need to submit forms to the court when you want to file the lawsuit. The specific documents will vary based on the type of case, the court’s rules, and many other factors. You will generally also need to pay a filing fee to initiate the lawsuit. It can be difficult to determine what civil court forms you should file. The documents you need to submit could include a complaint form, a summons, and much more.

  • Serve The Defendant

The court clerk may not advise you on how to serve papers on the defendant. You may be legally required to follow specific procedures in this process, depending on the types of papers you are serving. In some cases, the court may direct you to a specific method of service, with which you must comply.

As the plaintiff, you may not be permitted to serve the defendant personally, but you may hire a professional process server to handle the matter, or you may ask another party who is involved in your action to serve the papers, provided they are over the age of 18 years old.

  • Keeping Your Address Updated

All litigants, including Pro Se litigants, are required to let the court and other parties to the lawsuit know if their contact information changes. This is to make sure that all case filings can be sent to the correct mail (or email) address. For this reason, you must inform the Pro Se intake Unit in writing of any change to your contact information.

  • Go To Trial

Many jurisdictions simply assign you a trial date when you file a small claim, so if you don’t show up on that date, you lose the case. Some jurisdictions add a first appearance date that you don’t need to show up for; only the person you are suing does. If this is the case in your state, the clerk will let you know.

When you appear, dress in clean, conservative clothing and treat all court staff, including the judge, with respect and courtesy. Check with the court before you go to make sure you’ve left any prohibited items, such as pocket knives or cell phones, at home. Bring any documents or witnesses you need, but keep everything organized so you won’t disrupt the court looking for something.

Frequently Asked Questions
Who Are The “Plaintiff” And “Defendant”?

A “plaintiff” is a person who files a lawsuit. A “defendant” is a person against whom a lawsuit is filed. One lawsuit can have multiple plaintiffs and multiple defendants.

How Long Do Civil Lawsuits Usually Last?

This depends on the type of case, the willingness of both parties to settle the dispute, and the complexity of the evidence and legal issues involved. Many cases filed in small claims court are resolved on the first court date.

Can I Represent My Company in Court?

Companies are legally required to hire an attorney to represent them. There is an exception for small claims court and appeals from small claims to District Court; in these cases, companies can be represented by a non-attorney agent such as an owner or employee.


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