While it's always a good idea to hire a lawyer to defend your interests if you're facing a civil trial, there are circumstances under which you might be forced to defend yourself. In particular, a small claims civil trial generally requires that both the plaintiff and defendant argue on their own behalves, and this is the most common situation in which you will have to defend yourself.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Tangible evidence supporting your claim or defense
- Attorney or legal aid counselor
Consult an attorney or a legal aid specialist for advice on strategies to use to defend yourself in the civil trial you are facing. Even if you cannot have legal representation present in court, you can still draw on these resources to put together the best possible case or defense you can.
Learn the letter of the law regarding civil court proceedings in the United States. You are entitled to due process rights as well as the right to appeal a decision, if you have grounds to believe that the trial was conducted unfairly or the judge was erroneous in her verdict.
Read the details of the lawsuit closely. To initiate legal proceedings, the plaintiff in the civil case will have to send you written notice of the lawsuit filing, which will spell out in precise detail exactly what is being demanded of you in terms of damages. If you cannot understand a certain aspect of the lawsuit, consult an attorney or legal aid counselor.
Prepare your defense by learning the exact legal code(s) on the books on a state and/or federal level (whichever applies) in regards to the accusations made by the civil trial. For example, if you're being sued for damages stemming from slander, learn the exact legal definition of slander and the exact legal statutes in place for penalizing it. This may help get you on track in organizing your defense strategy.
Gather evidence that demonstrates that you are not accountable, according to the letter of the law, for the civil damages being demanded of you. For example, if you're being accused of failing to meet the conditions outlined by a contract, find written or other physical evidence showing that you actually performed as you promised you would according to the contract.
Proceed to draw up an argument that refutes each of the individual claims made in the lawsuit, if you are being held accountable for multiple damages. In each case, try to anticipate how your opponent will attempt to show that you are, in fact, responsible and prepare a counterargument.
Stick to your plan on the day of the trial. Systematically reject, address and refute your opponent's claims to the best of your ability. In the end, the party who is correct in the eyes of the law will prevail.
Tips and warnings
- If the civil trial you're involved with permits you to hire a lawyer to represent you, hire one. The only circumstances under which you should represent yourself are if you are compelled to by law, or if you cannot afford to hire an attorney at all.