Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 3 seconds

Whether you are the plaintiff or defendant – small claims court is both intimidating and nerve-wracking. You may feel anxious, intimidated, and helpless as you get ready to plead (or defend) your case. While each small claims case is different there are things that you can do to be better prepared for your day in court. Here is a check list of five details to pay attention to before and during your day at court.

  1. Seek legal advice

It’s important to seek legal advice prior to your court date whether you are suing someone for unpaid expenses or the one who is being sued. Seeking legal advice can help you make important decisions such as- do you have a case? If you do have a case – would mediation work instead of a trial? Legal council can help you answer these questions. But beware – legal advice can be expensive. Weigh the cost of legal council versus how much you are sueing the defendant for. Is it worth it?

  1. Know the facts

It’s hard to dispute with someone who knows the facts – dates, amount, conversations etc. For instance – “Michael Smith told me he would pay me back within a month of me loaning him $300 on January 21st. It is now May 15th and he has not tried to pay me back despite my numerous attempts.” Michael Smith could respond by saying, “While I did tell Jane Doe I would pay her back within a month – on February 13th she told me not to worry about it.”

  1. Have a paper trail

Who is right? Michael or Jane?  It is impossible for a judge to know whether Jane told Michael to forget about the debt or if Michael is lying based on their testimony. That’s why it’s important to have a paper trail or receipts. While it’s not always feasible – presenting evidence and receipts will make it easier for you to plead your case. Does Michael have a text from Jane stating that he did not have to pay her back? Does Jane have multiple unanswered texts from Michael asking for the money she is owed? These will help the judge decide who to side with

  1. Dress Professionally

A day in court is always a big deal whether you are trying to claim $50 or $5,000. It’s important that you show the judge you are serious about this claim. To do this dress as if you were going on a job interview. You should never wear jeans, hats, flip-flops or T-shirts to your court date.

  1. Speak confidently

Speaking in front of a judge is stressful but the key is to try not to let your emotions show. Don’t scream or yell at the defendant/plaintiff- the more confident you are about your facts – the better your chances of winning are. Before the court date – practice your speech in the mirror. Get rid of any “likes” or “I believes”. Instead of saying, “I believe on February 13th Jane told me to forget about it” – say, “On February 13th Jane told me not to worry about paying her back. Here is the text she sent to me.” Instead of saying, “I think I tried 3 or 4 times to get the money back from Michael via text” say – “I asked Michael three times to repay me the loan on February 28th, March 14th, and April 1st. Here is a screenshot of the texts with no replies.”

Whether you are the plaintiff or defendant these five tips will help you present your case confidently and give you the best chance of winning. Remember – speak confidently, know your facts, and always keep a paper trail!

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Danielle Loughnane

Danielle Loughnane earned her B.F.A. in Creative Writing from Emerson College and has currently been working in the data science field since 2015. She is the author of a comic book entitled, “The Superhighs” and wrote a blog from 2011-2015 about working in the restaurant industry called, "Sir I Think You've Had Too Much.” In her spare time she likes reading graphic novels and snuggling with her dogs.

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