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Why Do It Yourself (Pro Se)?

Money and principle spark do-it-yourself spirit.

  • It's not the principle of the thing! You care about the money – it's your vacation, mortgage payment, and so on, and you want it because it's due you. You're angry that still another person is trying to avoid paying you. You are now determined to do something decisive about the money that is due you.

  • Your fear that the other party will bring a lawyer and you will be defenseless is unfounded: (1) because lawyers are very expensive, and (2) because my experiences in over 100 cases are proof that the debtor seldom comes to court and none has ever brought a lawyer.

  • Even if they have legal representation, it does not imply a disadvantage because it's your proof that wins the case. Besides which, few and far between are the lawyers who would take the case if it were a small claim – it's not worth it for the lawyer

  • You want to retake control of your destiny. Attorneys typically charge $150 to $200 per hour. Here are some billing items you might see: prehearing case preparation; the time spent with you on the telephone (same rate as above!); research, travel time, and other expenses incurred (postage, copies, and so on); posthearing collection letters written to the defendant and legal forms prepared for the marshal or sheriff to reel in your court award. And never forget that the attorney's billing meter keeps running even while he's waiting for your name (among 60 to 90 other names) to be called in court or for your hearing to begin. Finally, you may sometimes find your hearing has to be postponed, adjourned, or completed at yet another court session. As you mentally watch the attorney's bill absorbing your court award, your enthusiasm for the process will evaporate.

  • If you and the debtor both bring lawyers, the judge has the discretion to refuse to hear the case in small claims court. I have witnessed a case that ended exactly that way: The parties were advised by the judge to have their case heard in the next higher court, which is civil court.

    The hearing itself is informal and does not require that you conform to a strict set of rules, such as those an attorney is expected to abide by in a higher court.

  • Your collection agency isn't aggressive or effective enough.

  • The collection attorney wants 35% to 50% of the collection.

  • You're willing to go to the court and do the work yourself – indeed you really wanted to be a lawyer in the first place.

  • You know exactly where the debtor works or banks and/or what property he owns. This is the best reason of the lot. The game's over; you won.

  • In New York you can now sue for up to $3,000 per claim and as many as two, three, and five people at a time depending on the county court you are suing in. In brief, it's worthwhile. (Nationwide, the amount you can sue for ranges from $2,000 in New Jersey to $5,000 in Colorado.)

  • You have a collection of accounts receivable amounting to thousands of dollars and you are angry.

  • Finally, you should file a small claim because you put your heart and soul into providing what the customer requested, or you helped someone with a loan when they really needed it. You really don't care about the money-it's the principle of the thing. Besides, now you have a step-by-step guide book with all the forms, so if you don't act, you will not be able to forgive yourself.


There are times when it may be necessary or advisable to consult an attorney. For example, if your case involves personal injury and medical expense. Also if your case involves damages resulting from a traffic accident. If the defendant is insured, he probably will be represented by an attorney provided by the insurance company, and you may also wish to have an attorney. Finally, if you have difficulty filling in the forms or have unanswered questions about preparing your case, you should see an attorney.


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