What are the three stages of suing someone in civil court?

Updated: Apr 29

In this article we cover the three stages of successful suing someone in civil court (small claims court included!):

Stage 1 – Prepare for Court: You gather all your documents, prepare copies, and write up your case as you intend to present it verbally in court.

Stage 2Attend Court: You appear in the courtroom, with the defendant in the room, and present your case to the judge.

Stage 3Collect on Judgment: If you are successful in winning your case, you will collect what you are owed from the defendant.

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Stage 1 – Prepare for Court.

This is when you prepare mentally and physically for the actual hearing.

  • Prepare yourself to speak by making an outline of the points you intend to raise. Some people like to write out the entire speech in full. Some people make index cards with key points on each card.

  • It is not recommended that you read from or memorize a long script, because you will likely only have about two to three minutes to speak uninterrupted. The point of writing down what you plan to say is more to gather your thoughts, check that you are presenting a logical set of facts, and make sure you are not talking about anything irrelevant. (For more help, click here to learn more about how to talk to a judge and present your case.)

  • Gather your materials and make at least one full copy of any relevant documents, receipts, text message printouts, and witness statements. Collect everything. If possible, make two copies, so that in court you can provide a copy to the judge and to the defendant.

  • Prepare your papers ahead of your actual court date. Create a list of the materials that form the evidence. In the written version of your materials, make sure to number the pages. Then, on the list of exhibits, number each exhibit and include the pages they can be found on. You should give all your copies in order by exhibit and page number to the judge at the beginning of the hearing.

  • Prepare your witnesses, if you have any. Make sure they are still willing to appear at the courthouse on the day and at the time that your hearing is scheduled. If you are able to offer one, ask if they need a ride to the courthouse.

JusticeDirect will walk your through each step of the process!

Stage 2: Attend Court

Bring all your materials as described above to the courthouse.

Small claims hearings are less formal and simpler than other trials. But there are some facts to keep in mind:

  • You must represent yourself in California small claims court. No lawyers are allowed, so you will need to know exactly what to talk about when it is your turn to present your argument.

  • In small claims court, there are two parties: the plaintiff who is suing, and the defendant who is being sued.

JusticeDirect will prepare a trial presentation that you can use on the day of the hearing!

Stage 3: How to Collect on Your Judgment

Congratulations! You won your case. The Judge accepted your version of the events and issued a judgment in your favor. A judgment is the result of the case, and includes orders for the other party (for example, to repay you what you are owed, or to change their actions).

What happens now?

  • If you were awarded money, it’s time to collect.

  • If the judge said the defendant has to now do something or stop doing something, you can enforce the judgment.

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