Are you a business owner facing a lawsuit in a court other than a small claims court? Today, we are going to talk about a question I often hear: “Should you try to represent yourself or your business in court?”
At Sierra Crest Business Law Group, we have talked with several business owners recently that have tried to represent themselves in court unsuccessfully. So let’s go through some considerations as you make such an important decision.
Why Someone Would Consider Representing Themselves In Court
Generally, it’s more common for people to represent themselves in divorce court. We have seen some of that trend is spilling over into the business courts. Some business owners believe that it will be more cost-effective, less expensive if they represent themselves. A lot of business owners are good with customers and have experience explaining their way out of things. This previous experience can lead them to believe that all they have to do is show up in court or write a letter to the judge or call the judge and explain their side of the story, which somehow will magically resolve everything.
First, while an individual can represent himself or herself in court, a business entity such as a corporation, limited liability company, or limited partnership cannot have representation from a non-attorney. Right out of the gate, if you show up representing your business entity, you’re not going to get heard in the courtroom, and your business entity will risk default. When a business is in default, a lot of bad things will start to happen.
If you are a sole proprietor or an individual facing a lawsuit, you might consider going ahead to court on your own. Here are some reasons that might be a bad idea.
The courtroom is a highly formal place. The ways of the court follow a lot of rules that experienced attorneys can navigate. You may have a lot of experience in your area of ability, but that expertise probably doesn’t crossover to the courts. The reality is that most business owners haven’t been to court enough to understand the nuances of proper conduct and procedure. To give your case the best chance of a favorable outcome, it makes sense to hire a professional who is already familiar with courtroom rules.
Another reason not to go it alone is that an experienced business attorney will be able to spot opportunities and get a quick resolution for your case, saving you time and money. An untrained eye may not see those same opportunities wasting both time and money. Just like a mechanic can spot and see issues that most people who don’t have the same ability will not see, a qualified attorney can see things that you may not because they have experience in court.
In terms of money, a lot of business owners feel like they can’t afford to hire an attorney to represent them in court or the dispute is small and so why would they hire that attorney. The reality is that even in a dispute involving a small amount if you are not able to represent yourself adequately, the small amount can grow fast, especially if you get into a default situation.
So it’s dangerous to look at the first amount of the dispute and assume that is the ceiling on how bad it can get for you in court.
Another thing is that as we talked about how the courts are a highly formal and structured place. As a self-representing person, you are more than likely going to make a misstep. When this happens, your business will be in default. To get yourself out, you’re probably going to have to hire an attorney nevertheless. In this situation, legal fees and costs can amount to three to five times the original amount. After the fact, you might feel that it would have been better to get an attorney in the first place because you will have to pay to correct all the damages done.
The last consideration is your business reputation. Some business owners
are very persuasive. They are used to talking to people and explaining themselves. They assume that a judge is just as eager to hear what they have to say. These types of owners think a quick conversation is going to solve everything. Unfortunately, the judge doesn’t want to get your letter in the mail or pick up the phone when you call. There’s an effective way to present your argument in front of the court, but you have to follow the correct process. When you are not following proper procedure, you are going to cause a lot of frustration for the judge, and that’s going to end up coming back to haunt you.
Another thing to think about in terms of your reputation is a professional appearance. You are an expert with a specific product or service you offer. When you get into court, you’re in a foreign arena. When you do things incorrectly, more than likely, a judgment based on the incorrect procedure will go against you, and it’s going to make you look like a flake and unprofessional.
When people look at the outcome of this lawsuit, it’s going to give a very flaky appearance which, can stay with your business reputation for a long time. We would urge you to give serious consideration to the pros and cons of protecting your business the right way. Most professionals pride themselves on doing things the right way, and the courtroom process is no different. You want to make a professional appearance in court with a business attorney.
If you have questions about anything that we’ve discussed here regarding self-representation, we would be happy to continue that conversation.