California does not require the presence of a lawyer in court cases. This means that choosing to represent yourself is an option. Here is what you need to know about which types of cases are best when acting as your own lawyer and what you will need to prepare.
Some court cases that are ideal for representing yourself are:
• if your case is straightforward without opposition, or if you and your opposition agree.
• if you fully understand your options.
• if you have time to prepare your case.
If you have decided to represent yourself in your court case, here are some key points which will help you get through the trial process.
Be Aware of Legal Deadlines
Once a lawsuit is filed, a timeline of deadlines is automatically established either by local court rules or California statutes. You must be aware of those deadlines so that you can meet your duties as a litigant. Some deadlines pertain to the disclosure and sharing of evidence, seeking discovery from the other party and when your case ultimately goes to trial. Most judges offer little leeway to self-represented individuals so if you miss an important deadline in your case it could result in severe consequences, including having your case dismissed.
Educate Yourself About Court Procedures and Rules
It is helpful to go to your local courthouse and sit in on some other matters to familiarize yourself with how the courtroom process works. This will help you in preparing your own case and put you at ease because you will know what to expect and be more relaxed when you appear before the court in your own case.
Attorneys spend countless hours learning how to present evidence in cases and make arguments in court. Knowing the procedures and rules of the court will help you to properly present your case before the Judge. A copy of the local rules can usually be obtained online from the court’s website. The local rules will include trial procedure deadlines, restrictions on legal document formatting and other unique peculiarities required by your court. It may be helpful to read “Represent Yourself in Court,” a Nolo Press self-help manual which offers general information about how to handle a civil case to trial.
Familiarize Yourself with Key Elements of Your Case
Every civil dispute has a number of legal elements which a party needs to prove to have a judge decide in its favor. For example, in a contract dispute you must prove: 1) the contract was valid and enforceable, 2) there was material breach of the terms of the contract and 3) you suffered damages as a result of their breach of the contract. If you are defending yourself in a lawsuit, you will need to disprove at least one of these elements of the case being brought against you.
Make Sure Your Evidence is Admissible
Evidence is information which can be presented to a Judge to prove your case. Not all evidence is admissible and able to be presented at court. The rules of evidence can be complicated. It is important to identify what type of evidence will support your claim and to make sure that it is admissible at trial. If you are relying on evidence that is not allowed by the judge to be presented in your case, it may result in your losing your case.
Be Organized and Prepared for Trial
Most trials include your own testimony, testimony of the other party and perhaps testimony of third-party witnesses. Both parties will have opportunity to ask questions of anyone who testifies at the trial. It is important to have a list of questions you may want to ask a witness, as well as a list of important points you want to make when you present your case.
Honor the Court and Be Respectful
Showing proper respect to the court goes a long way. When speaking to the judge, you should address him/her as “your Honor.” Refrain from being demeaning to your opponent and show respect to them at all times. Don’t interrupt when your opponent or the Judge is speaking. Each party will have its fair share of time to present its side of the story. Make notes as you listen so that you can address and respond to each point raised when your time comes.
Be Assertive in Your Court Presentation
Don’t let your opponent get the best of you. If the other side is represented by a lawyer, you must be confident in your delivery and stand up for yourself. Judges understand how difficult it is for people to represent themselves in legal procedures and will typically step in to control an opposing attorney if they seem to be taking an unfair advantage of a self-represented individual on the other side.
Legal Document Preparation
Residents in Ventura County and throughout California can receive help with their legal documents at A People’s Choice. We offer low-cost help to people who need help with legal matters. For more information about our services, contact us at (800)747-2780.