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How to file a civil lawsuit without a lawyer

Updated November 22, 2016

Civil lawsuits can be filed for many reasons. Small claims civil lawsuits are frequently filed in order to evict a tenant or for money disputes. Other civil courts may handle a wide variety of civil lawsuits, including divorce complaints, personal injury lawsuits, employment-related lawsuits and money disputes in which a large amount of money is in controversy. While it is always best to consult with a licensed attorney, it is possible to file a civil lawsuit without hiring an attorney.

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  1. Determine what the basis of your lawsuit is going to be and how much money is involved if any. Determine who you are planning to sue and find an address for them where they can be served with legal paperwork.

  2. Determine what court to file your lawsuit in based on what type of lawsuit you are filing and the amount of money involved. In many jurisdictions, there are separate courts for family law cases, probate cases, child support cases and environmental cases. If your case falls into one of those categories then you may have to file in a special court. Small claims courts handle money disputes under a certain dollar amount and other cases such as evictions. Check the county court website where you live to determine which court will handle your lawsuit.

  3. Prepare a complaint. The complaint is the document that is filed to begin a civil lawsuit with the court. The complaint will need to have a title which includes the names of the parties (you and the defendant), the name of the court and a blank space for the cause number. The body of the complaint should give a brief explanation of your case and what you want the court to do.

  4. Add a certificate of service to the complaint certifying that you have sent a copy of the complaint to the defendant. Sign the complaint. Attach any supporting documents.

  5. Make several copies of the complaint and attachments. Call the court and find out what the filing fee is for your type of case. File the complaint with the court or clerk's office in person or by mail. If you file by mail, include a self-addressed stamped envelope in order to receive a file-stamped copy back in the mail.

  6. Tip

    Many jurisdictions have self-help websites or centres where you can find fill-in-the-blank forms and other information.


    Small claims courts are generally relatively informal and will sometimes accept small errors from pro se plaintiffs. Circuit or Superior courts, however, generally follow strict procedural rules and rules of evidence. Make sure you understand these rules before you attempt to represent yourself.

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Things You'll Need

  • Documentary evidence and records regarding your dispute

About the Author

Renee Booker has been writing professionally since 2009 and was a practicing attorney for almost 10 years. She has had work published on Gadling, AOL's travel site. Booker holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Ohio State University and a Juris Doctorate from Indiana University School of Law.

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