Should You Represent Yourself in Small Claims Court?

If you fail to settle the dispute, you may finally have to sue. Luckily, if the dispute is beyond a relatively small amount of money (less than $10,000 in most states), you can represent yourself in small claims court cost-effectively. A few states call small claims courts by other names (such as a landlord-tenant court), but the goal is the same: to provide a quick, cheap dispute resolution. In a few states, eviction suits can be filed in small claims court.

The small claims court process is relatively simple and usually does not require the assistance of a lawyer. You pay a small fee, file a lawsuit with the court clerk, provide the documents to your opponent, appear in court on the appointed day, tell the judge your story, and present any witnesses along with other evidence. The evidence you bring with you is usually the most important part of your case—for example, photographs or a video of a damaged house and the convincing testimony of someone who helped you fix it are usually all you need to prevail and recover money above and beyond the tenant’s deposit.

Don't go to small claims court just because it's relatively simple and you're sure you have a good case. Small claims courts are a waste of time if you suspect you can't recover what you are owed from a tenant's salary, bank account or other financial resources. A judgment you can’t collect has no worth.