Should I represent myself in Small Claims Court?

So you’re thinking about suing that customer that defaulted on its account. Or perhaps your company is being sued by a disgruntled former employee. The amount is under $10,000.00, and therefore it falls within the jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court. You wonder: should I represent myself at court?


Here is some food of thought when deciding whether you should just DIY at court:


Consider if you have the time to represent yourself. Many people think that they only have to attend at court for an hour or two. This is not true, and whoever told you this was misinformed. If you’re scheduled to appear at court, be prepared to be there from 9 am to 4:30 pm. If you are there for a trial, there is a possibility that the judge may put it to another day. Do you have the time to deal with all the paperwork involved? It may take you some time to complete court documents if you are unfamiliar with the process. Also, you will likely have to take time communicating with the other party throughout the process, especially if you both want to settle. Do you have time to deal with all this?


Also, ask yourself: how well do you understand the legal process? Because if you are not familiar with them, you could make mistakes, and those mistakes could cost you. For example, if you failed to file a defence with the court before the deadline, and a judgment is awarded against you. Or, if you bring a Motion without filing sufficient evidence, a judge might order you to attend court again with better evidence – costs would be awarded against you for wasting everyone’s time. In litigation, timing is everything. The multiple documents that have to be issued, served, and/or filed on time can be overwhelming. Even the language used in the court system – what we call legalese – can be difficult to understand.


Lastly, do you think you can handle arguing evidence and law before a judge? Not only can it be intimidating, but often, laypeople do not know what type of evidence is relevant to the matter and should be raised before the Court, or irrelevant and need not be raised. There is a misconception that the legal issues in the Small Claims Court is somehow different from those that appear in the higher courts, when in fact, the only difference between the courts is the lower monetary jurisdiction. The legal issues are the same, and often, the interpretation of the facts of a case can turn on the legal arguments raised by the parties.


While you might not be aware of the legal issues involved or the necessity of filing a particular court documents, lawyers and paralegals, on the other hand, are trained to understand and work in the legal system. That said, hiring legal representation will mean paying legal fees for their services, and this too is something you need to consider: of course our firm handles this on a flat fee basis, which makes it economical to have us represent you in Small Claims Court.


Jessie Chui