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Can someone else represent you in California small claims court?

Discover the world of civil cases, learn about your rights, and explore inspiring stories of resilience and justice in everyday life

Small claims court in California is designed to provide individuals with a simplified and accessible way to resolve disputes involving relatively small amounts of money. The average lawyer will charge you a retainer fee plus a handsome hourly rate to take on your case. In the end, your legal fees may actually exceed the actual amount of damages you suffered.


While the process in small claims court is typically less formal than traditional court proceedings, many individuals wonder whether they can have someone else represent them in small claims court. In California, the rules regarding representation in small claims court are clear: you cannot have a lawyer represent you.


Individuals are allowed to represent themselves in small claims court proceedings in California. This means that if you are a party to a small claims case, you have the right to appear in court and present your own case without the need for an attorney or other representative. Self-representation, or “in pro per,” is often preferred by individuals seeking to save on legal fees and navigate the process independently.


However, there are instances where you may want or need someone else to represent you in small claims court.


Here’s a closer look at the exceptional circumstances under which representation by another individual may be allowed


  • If you are under 18 or have been declared mentally incompetent by a court, you may be represented by a guardian ad litem.
  • If you are a minor, this person is usually a parent. If the court decides that you are unable to properly present your claim or defense for any reason, the court may allow another person to help you, but this other person cannot be an attorney.
  • If you are a business owner, you may be represented by a regular employee if the claim can be proved through sufficient evidence and the employee has knowledge of this evidence.
  • If you are in a partnership, one of the partners can represent you.


Can someone else represent you in California small claims court?


  • If you are a corporation, an employee, officer, or director can represent you only if they were not hired solely to represent the corporation in court.
  • If you are a military service member, another person may represent you so long as you submit declarations to support your claim or defense.


It’s important to note that regardless of who represents you in small claims court, you are still ultimately responsible for the case’s outcome. Therefore, it’s essential to choose a representative who is capable, knowledgeable about the case, and able to effectively advocate on your behalf. Additionally, consider seeking legal advice to ensure that you understand your rights and obligations under California law.

Self-representation is a blessing in disguise for some plaintiffs. When given the opportunity to present your own case, make sure to focus on the hard, cold facts and only use emotions strategically. You want to be as organized, calm, confident, and composed as possible in front of a judge or jury. Understanding the rules regarding representation can help you navigate the small claims court process effectively and pursue a favorable outcome in your case.

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How to take someone to small claims court in California

Discover the world of civil cases, learn about your rights, and explore inspiring stories of resilience and justice in everyday life

In California, small claims court provides a straightforward and accessible avenue for resolving disputes involving relatively modest amounts of money. Whether you’re seeking repayment for a loan, compensation for damaged property, a contractual dispute, or reimbursement for services rendered, small claims court offers a cost-effective means of seeking justice. Small claims are a more affordable and efficient process for those who face moderate legal issues. The filing fee for a small claims case is between $30 – $100, and if you can’t afford these fees, you can ask the court for a fee waiver (Form FW-001-INFO).


Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to navigate the process

Understand the jurisdictional limit

In California, the maximum amount you can sue for in small claims court is $12,500 for individuals. For corporations, the limit is $6,250. Cases exceeding these limits must be filed in a higher court. However, starting November 1, 2021, you can sue or be sued for COVID-19 rental debt in small claims. If you are suing a tenant for COVID-19 rental debt, you can sue for more than $12,500.

Determine the defendant’s location

Before filing a claim, ensure that the person or entity you’re suing resides or does business in the county where you plan to file the case. This ensures that the court has jurisdiction over the matter. If you no longer live in California, you need to make sure the person or entity you are suing either 1) lives in California 2) does business in California or 3) the incident itself occurred in California.

Attempt to resolve the dispute amicably

Consider sending a demand letter to the defendant outlining your claim and requesting payment or a resolution. Sometimes, a simple letter can prompt the other party to settle the matter without the need for legal action. However, if you’ve sent several demand letters and received no response, you may want to consider hiring a lawyer to write a stronger Attorney Demand Letter or proceed directly to small claims court.

Gather evidence

Collect any relevant documentation, such as contracts, receipts, invoices, photographs, or correspondence, that support your claim. Evidence is crucial in proving your case in court. He said she said stories will frustrate the judge, and at the end of the day, if you are the plaintiff, you bear the burden of proof in court. You must prepare sufficient evidence to support your claim. Consider using form declarations (MC-030) for your witnesses who are willing to write a statement of facts that are favorable to your claim. Arrange photographs and written documents in chronological order. If necessary, you could also subpoena documents from Defendants or third parties by filing an SC-107 form.


How to take someone to small claims court in California


Complete the required forms

Obtain the necessary forms from the small claims court clerk’s office or website. In California, this typically includes the Plaintiff’s Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court (Form SC-100). Fill out the form accurately, providing details about your claim and the amount you seek.

File the claim

Submit the completed forms to the small claims court clerk’s office in the county where the defendant resides or where the incident occurred. Be prepared to pay a filing fee, which varies depending on the amount of your claim. For starters, you will need to complete SC-100, which is a form that lays out the issue at hand and what you are claiming for damages against the defendant. The court now allows for e-filing; this online service utilizes third-party vendors to serve the defendants notice that they are being sued.

Serve the defendant

Once the claim is filed, the defendant must be served with a copy of the plaintiff’s claim, along with a summons to appear in court. This can be done by mail, through a process server, or by other methods permitted by California law. If you are struggling to locate the defendant, feel free to hire a private investigator to locate their place of work and residence. If that is outside your budget, you may use other online skip-tracing tools to locate the whereabouts of your defendant.

Prepare for the hearing

Both parties will receive a notice informing them of the date, time, and location of the small claims court hearing. Organize your evidence, witnesses (if any), and any other relevant materials to present your case effectively.

Attend the hearing

On the scheduled hearing date, appear in court at the designated time. Be punctual and dress appropriately. Present your case to the judge, explaining the facts, presenting evidence, and stating the relief you seek.

Mediation or settlement conference (if applicable)

Some small claims courts in California offer mediation or settlement conferences as an alternative dispute resolution method. This involves a neutral third party facilitating negotiations between the parties to reach a settlement agreement. Most insurance claims and product defect claims, have their clients sign the terms of services which essentially mandates that all legal disputes go through arbitrations or mediations.

Receive the judgment

After hearing both sides of the case, the judge will render a decision either immediately or within a specified timeframe. If the judgment is in your favor, you’ll receive a court order outlining the terms of the judgment. However, please keep in mind that the court is only responsible for issuing a ruling and not monitoring the judgment collection. In other words, if you are awarded damages, it is incumbent on you as the winning party to enforce the judgment onto the defendant.

Enforce the judgment (if necessary)

If the defendant fails to comply with the court’s judgment, you may need to take further steps to enforce it. This could involve garnishing wages, placing liens on property, or other legal remedies available under California law.

By following these steps and being prepared, you can effectively navigate the process of taking someone to small claims court in California. Remember to conduct thorough research, gather evidence, and present your case confidently to increase your chances of a favorable outcome. Small claims court empowers individuals to seek justice and resolve disputes in a timely and efficient manner.

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Navigating small claims court in California

Discover the world of civil cases, learn about your rights, and explore inspiring stories of resilience and justice in everyday life

Small claims court offers an efficient, abridged process for resolving disputes involving relatively modest amounts of money, specifically any amount up to $12,500. But for many, being in a courtroom, facing a judge, and speaking publicly about an issue that may hit close to home is hard. In fact, it’s scary, daunting, emotional, and nerve-racking. The good news is that there may be an opportunity for you to avoid this last resort.


Here are some essential steps to take before stepping into the courtroom

Know your case

Understand the details of your case inside and out. What are the facts? What evidence do you have to support your claim? What is the chronological timeline of your dispute? Take the time to gather all relevant documents, such as contracts, receipts, emails, photographs, and any other evidence that strengthens your position. Think of your small claim as less of a case and more of a story. If you were to explain to someone how everything unfolded, how would you tell that story clearly? The judge and the jury will appreciate the chronological order of events. If they understand what’s going on, they’re more likely to side in your favor.

Evaluate your claim

Before filing a lawsuit, assess the strength of your claim. Consider the likelihood of success, the amount of damages you’re seeking, and whether pursuing legal action is worth your time and effort. Sometimes, alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation or negotiation may be more effective. This is where budgeting comes into play. If money is no object and what you’re seeking for is justice, then this may not apply to you. However, for the average citizen looking to recuperate their loss in damages, it would be wise to factor in the legal fees in addition to your court fees and filing fees at the end of this process. Once you get a number, ask yourself if this is worth the trouble, the effort, and the time. If the damages aren’t nearly as comparable to the legal fees themselves, perhaps settling is better than taking the case to small claims court.

Research small claims procedures

Familiarize yourself with the rules and procedures of small claims court in California. Each county and each courthouse may have slightly different processes, so be sure to check the specific guidelines for your jurisdiction. Understanding the court’s procedures will help you navigate the process more confidently. If you physically live in CA or live close to the courthouse where you’re filing your case, you will benefit greatly from physically going to the courthouse and asking advice from either a clerk or an administrative assistant. While they are not authorized to give you any legal advice, they can at least direct you to the proper self-help resources needed to start your small claims case filing.

Attempt settlement

In many cases, it’s beneficial to attempt to resolve the dispute before going to court. Consider sending a demand letter outlining your grievance and proposing a settlement. Negotiating a resolution outside of court can save you time and money. While we recommend having an attorney draft a demand letter on your behalf, you have the option of drafting your own demand letter. If you choose this option, it is imperative that you construct the letter professionally in style, format, and diction. You want the person reading this letter to take you and the legal issue seriously. Offer the other party an opportunity to settle with you outside the courtroom.


Navigating small claims court in California


File your claim

If settlement attempts fail, you’ll need to file a claim with the appropriate small claims court. In California, you must file your claim in the county where the defendant resides or where the incident occurred. Make sure to fill out the necessary forms accurately and pay any required filing fees. If English is not your first language, consider hiring an attorney for limited representation. Instead of filling out the forms incorrectly and running the risk of having your paperwork denied by the judge, an attorney who is representing you in a limited scope can assist with this process.

Prepare your evidence

Compile and organize all evidence supporting your case. This may include contracts, invoices, correspondence, witness statements, and photographs. Bring multiple copies of each document to court—one for yourself, one for the defendant, and any additional copies for the judge. For witness statements, make sure to choose witnesses that are trustworthy, reliable, and descriptive. While it is uncommon to attack the character of a witness in small claims court, if your case lacks cold, hard, tangible facts, then the quality of your witness can determine whether you win the case. For contractual disputes that do not have a written contract to reference (i.e., verbal agreements), make sure to include the chain of conversation between the two parties to establish a “meeting of the minds.” What did you both agree to? Were both parties on the same page? Was there a mutual understanding of the terms of the agreement?

Practice your presentation

Plan what you’ll say in court and rehearse your presentation. Be concise and stick to the relevant facts of your case. Anticipate potential questions from the judge and prepare your responses in advance. The courtroom is a formal venue that values courtesy and manners. Disruptive behavior, emotional outbursts, and rude gestures are frowned upon in the courtroom. The judge has the authority to remove you from the courtroom if you do not adhere to the rules and conduct yourself in a hostile manner. Speak slowly and address the judge as “Your Honor” out of respect and formality.

Dress appropriately

Dress in a manner that conveys respect for the court. While small claims court is less formal than other court proceedings, it’s still important to present yourself in a professional manner. Avoid overly casual attire and opt for clean, conservative clothing.

Arrive early

On the day of your court appearance, arrive early to allow time for parking and security screenings. Arriving early also gives you an opportunity to observe proceedings before your case is called, which can help alleviate any nerves.


By following these steps and adequately preparing for your small claims court case in California, you can increase your chances of a favorable outcome. Remember, the goal is to present your case clearly and persuasively while adhering to the court’s procedures and protocols. With thorough preparation and a focused approach, you can navigate the small claims process with confidence.