How To File A Lawsuit Without An Attorney

How To File A Lawsuit Without An Attorney

 How to file a lawsuit

How To File A Lawsuit Without An Attorney

Everyone wants to avoid a lawsuit.  Unfortunately, that isn't always possible.  Whether you are being sued by an unscrupulous debt collector, or a business associate has reneged on a contract, sometimes we are forced to get involved in the civil court system by filing or responding to a lawsuit.

In these situations, having a competent attorney by your side is always a good idea.  But what happens when you can't afford to spend $10,000-$20,000 on an attorney?  With access to free legal services being woefully inadequate, many people have no choice but to represent themselves in court.  Fortunately, this is not nearly as difficult as you may think.

Once you understand the basic process and learn a few legal terms, you will see that the legal system is primarily based on simple common sense.  Anyone can learn how to file a lawsuit without an attorney!


5 Steps To Filing A Lawsuit

Five steps to filing a lawsuit


The 5 basic steps to any civil lawsuit in the United States include the following:

1.  Filing A Civil Complaint

A complaint is the initiating document that lays out a plaintiff's claims (called a 'petition' in Texas).  It informs the defendant and the court how the plaintiff has been wronged by the defendant and how the plaintiff should be compensated.  Note that a plaintiff must allege a claim that is recognized under state law (see below) and must properly allege the elements of each claim.

2.  Serving The Summons And Complaint

Once the complaint is written and filed at the courthouse, it needs to be served on the defendant with a copy of a summons (called a 'citation' in Texas).  A summons is the document that officially notifies the defendant of their duty to appear.  Rules regarding service must be followed precisely!

3.  Filing An Answer

Once served, the defendant needs to file an answer within the time indicated in the summons (usually around 30 days).  In their answer, the defendant will either admit or deny the specific allegations made against them in the complaint.  They will also lay out any valid affirmative defenses and counterclaims they may have against the plaintiff.

4.  Discovery

After a complaint and answer have been filed, both parties engage in discovery, wherein they are legally obligated to provide all relevant evidence to the other party.  This process begins by sending and responding to Requests For Production of Documents.  After that, depositions of potential witnesses (including both parties) may be conducted.

5.  Trial

After discovery is completed, the case will go to trial, where each party can plead their case to a judge or jury. They will examine witnesses and introduce evidence that supports each element of their claims or defenses.


Drafting the Complaint

Filing a civil complaint

As mentioned above, the complaint is the document in which you lay out the allegations against the defendant and allege how you have been harmed.  Keep in mind that you do not need to try and prove your allegations in the complaint.  You are only alleging what happened.  Of course, to ultimately prevail at trial, you will definitely need to offer evidence that supports the claims you initially make in your complaint.

However, simply alleging that you have been harmed is not quite enough.  You must allege a type of harm that your state specifically recognizes as a recoverable claim for relief. 

Some examples of common claims for relief are:

  • Breach of Contract
  • Negligence
  • Unpaid Wages
  • Wrongful Termination
  • Race/Sex Discrimination
  • Disability Discrimination
  • Battery
  • Trespass
  • Nuisance
  • Defamation (slander/libel)

Once the elements of a claim are known, they need to be written up in a complaint in the proper format.  If your complaint is not formatted correctly, it may be rejected by the court clerk!  Complaints in most U.S. states have the following format:

  1. Heading with basic information about the case.
  2. Statement of jurisdiction.
  3. ‘Facts Alleged’, wherein the plaintiff alleges all the facts that constitute the elements of their claims.
  4. ‘Claims for Relief’ where the plaintiff states how the allegations, if proven, will constitute a legally cognizable claim.
  5. ‘Prayer for Relief’, where the plaintiff asks the court to award a specific remedy, such as economic or non-economic damages.

Sending and Responding to Requests For Production

Lawsuit Discovery

After the complaint and answer have been filed, both sides will engage in ’Discovery’, where they are required to disclose information to each other.  These disclosures are usually made by each party sending the other a 'Request for Production of Documents’ wherein they ask for specific documents that are relevant to the case. 





Civil lawsuit trial

After the discovery period is over, a case will go to trial or arbitration, where each side will plead their case in front of a judge or jury.  The plaintiff will present their case first, introducing physical evidence (such as documents) and witness testimony.  The defendant will be able to object to any evidence they feel does not comply with state law and they will also be able to cross-examine the plaintiff's witnesses.

After the plaintiff rests their case, the defendant will put on their own case in the same manner.  Then, the judge or jury will decide who prevails on each claim for relief.



As you can see, that basics of filing a lawsuit are not complicated.  Of course, it is impossible to cover all the details of a lawsuit in one article, but all civil lawsuits in the United States will have the same format as described above.  If you can understand these concepts, you will be able to competently represent yourself in a civil lawsuit.

Lawsuitforms.org offers easy to use form packages for filing a civil complaint in Georgia, Illinois, North Carolina, and Oregon.  Each form package includes instructions, samples, and templates that will enable you to file a civil lawsuit on your own.  Click on the form packages below for more information.

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