California does not require the presence of a lawyer in court proceedings. Therefore, the decision to represent yourself in court is a viable and often favorable option.
When Should I Represent Myself?
Some circumstances that are ideal for representing yourself include, but are not limited to, when:
- your case is straightforward and without opposition
- your opposition agrees with you on the matter at hand
- you fully understand your options
- you have time to prepare your case
How Do I Represent Myself?
If you have decided to represent yourself in a court case, check out these key points to help you get through the trial process:
Be Aware of Legal Deadlines
Once you file a lawsuit, either the local court rules or California statutes immediately establish a timeline of deadlines. You must be aware of these 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. Therefore, if you miss an important deadline, you may face severe consequences, including a case dismissal.
Educate Yourself About Court Procedures and Rules
Attorneys spend countless hours learning how to present evidence and make arguments in court. Similarly, understanding the court procedures will help you to properly present your case before the judge.
When representing yourself, you should go to your local courthouse and sit in on some other matters. This will help you familiarize yourself with the courtroom process. Additionally, this knowledge will help you prepare your own case. Plus, understanding typical court processes will put you at ease; now, you will know what to expect when you appear before the court in your own case.
All courts have different rules. Typically, you can find a copy of your local rules on the court’s website. These rules will include trial procedure deadlines, restrictions on legal document formatting, and other unique peculiarities specific to your court. Additionally, you may want to read “Represent Yourself in Court,” a Nolo Press self-help manual that offers general information about handling a civil case at trial.
Understand the Key Elements of Your Case
Every civil dispute has a number of legal elements a party must prove to win. For example, in a contract dispute, the prosecutor must prove: 1) the contract was valid and enforceable; 2) there was material breach of the terms of the contract; and 3) they suffered damages as a result of the breach. On the other hand, the defendant in this case must disprove at least one of these elements in order to win.
Make Sure Your Evidence is Admissible
Evidence is information presented to a judge to prove your case. However, not all evidence is admissible to present at court. In fact, the rules of evidence can be complicated.
When representing yourself, you must identify what type of evidence will support your claim and ensure it is admissible at trial. Unfortunately, if you rely on evidence the judge does not allow you to present in your case, you may end up losing.
Be Organized and Prepared for Trial
Most trials include your testimony, the other party’s testimony, and perhaps testimony of third-party witnesses. Both sides will have an opportunity to ask questions to anyone who testifies at the trial. Therefore, you should prepare a list of questions you may want to ask witnesses, as well as 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. For example, when speaking to the judge, you should address them as “your Honor”. Additionally, refrain from being demeaning to your opponent and show them respect at all times. For instance, don’t interrupt when your opponent or the judge is speaking. Each party will have its fair share of time to present their side of the story. Instead of interrupting, take notes as you listen so you can address and respond to each point when your time comes.
Be Assertive in Your Court Presentation
While you should be respectful at all times during trial, don’t let your opponent get the best of you. Even 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 to represent oneself in legal procedures. Therefore, they will typically step in to control an opposing attorney if they seem to be taking unfair advantage of a self-represented individual on the other side.
Get Help With Legal Document Preparation
Just because you’re not hiring an attorney doesn’t mean you’re on your own. A People’s Choice is here to help residents of California prepare and file legal documents for a plethora of court proceedings. Plus, we offer low-cost, non-attorney help. For more information about our services, contact us at (800)747-2780.