San Francisco Office

FAQ – Representing Yourself

FAQ Representing Yourself in Court or Settlement Proceedings


I want to represent myself, but my claim against my neighbor exceeds the amount that the Small Claims Court will hear.   What can I do?

You have options, and you must weigh them carefully.

OPTION A: Waive the Excess Amount

If your claim against your neighbor is for more than $10,000, you can still sue in Small Claims Court, but by doing so you waive the amount of your claim that exceeds $10,000. You can’t split your claim into two or three separate cases and your right to collect your full amount of your original claim is lost forever.

OPTION B: Represent Yourself In Pro Per

You can still represent yourself in the regular civil court for the full amount of your claim, but the Court will proceed on the assumption that you have educated yourself to know and follow the rules of evidence and the formal court procedures.

OPTION C: Use Limited-Scope Attorney Services

You may also choose to work with a limited-scope attorney.  This option allows you to pursue your case when the full-service attorney fees and court costs are prohibitive.    I offer limited-scope services because I believe that the cost of full-service litigation deprives too many claimants of their right to have the their day in court.

Here’s how it works. You and I work together.  First, we discuss all the aspects of your case. Then we work out a plan on how to proceed in court and settlement proceedings and we develop a strategy for dealing with your opposing party.

You can choose the legal services that suit you best.

  • You can just consult me and get legal information and advice about your case when you need it.
  • You can engage my services to represent you on certain issues in your case while you do the rest yourself.
  • You can have me prepare the forms and other court documents, and then file them yourself and represent yourself at the hearings.
  • You can have me coach you on how to represent yourself at the court hearings and help you prepare the evidence that you will present in court.
  • You can engage my services to help you with the more complicated parts of your case, such as discovery and legal research while you do the simpler tasks yourself.

I favor this approach because it is cost effective and helps you avoid the frustrations of the legal system as it is played out in the courts.


Why should I consider private mediation? Isn’t it just as expensive as having a judge determine the outcome of my case? Even if I think mediation is the right way to go, how can I get my opponent to agree to private mediation?

EDUCATE YOUR OPPONENT  If you are interested in negotiating with your opponent and avoiding the pitfalls and expense of court proceedings, you should think about whether your case is a good candidate for private mediation.  Here’s the Do-the-Numbers approach to what you tell your opponent:

I’m more than willing to go to court based on the merits of my case, but I have to be realistic about the costs and the time involved. In our case, I think that it’s better for both of us if we try to resolve our dispute without going to court.

For one thing, mediation is confidential and private. It’s cost effective and we get to manage the outcome of the case. Using this approach, we select a Neutral and try to settle at an early stage of our dispute without making our dispute public.   Mediation is not binding. We still have our day in court if we can’t settle, and you can have your lawyer assist you at any and all stages of the mediation. If you do the numbers, you’ll see the wisdom of early dispute resolution.

For another thing, a mediation proceeding is unavoidable. Even if you think that you have a slam dunk case or a complete defense, when we take our case to court, eventually, we’ll find ourselves in court mediation or judicial arbitration or a mandatory settlement conference before we have our day in court. These court-related settlement proceedings may be low-cost or even free, but often they are not. And, they come after we have invested serious time and effort and spent more on attorney fees and court costs than we anticipated. Settlement at a late stage is not cost efficient or satisfying.

EDUCATE YOURSELF  A good way to judge whether early-stage mediation is worth pursuing is to watch a mediation session and visit a court proceeding and then compare the two. In both situations, you have a Neutral listening to the opposing sides. In court, the Neutral is the judge or jury who hands down a verdict based on the evidence presented; in mediation, the Neutral is the mediator who supervises negotiations by facilitating the exchange of proposals or evaluating the opposing positions. In the courtroom, you have formalities and time constraints; in mediation, you have an informal setting and you can take time to explain your position.

I don’t want to negotiate with my opponent.   Why should I consider private arbitration? Isn’t it just as expensive as having a judge or jury determine the outcome?

COURT PROCEEDINGS In court, the judge or jury decides the merits of your case and renders a verdict based on testimony, arguments and evidence admitted according to the court rules. If you are dissatisfied with the outcome, you can appeal the verdict to a higher court. To get a good idea of the time and expense involved in court proceedings, you should visit the website of your court and examine the list of docket entries for a case similar to yours.   You’ll notice several entries indicating that the parties attended mediation or settlement conferences or non-binding arbitration before they got their day in court. These settlement proceedings are most frustrating when they are unsuccessful and come at a late stage after the parties have spent time and money on attorneys and court costs.

BINDING ARBITRATION If you and your opponent decide to submit your case to binding arbitration, there is no judge or jury. Instead, the parties select an arbitrator to render a verdict in the form of an award. The evidence, testimony and argument are submitted in informal proceedings and the costs such as those associated with discovering the opponent’s evidence are minimized. The arbitrator’s award is usually not appealable.

How do I use the services of an attorney to my best advantage in binding arbitration or mediation?

It’s usually best to proceed with an attorney at your side at all stages, especially if you feel that you lack the skills to deal with your opponent competently. To save money, however, I can serve on an as-needed basis to guide you through the proceedings and prepare you so that you can participate meaningfully and with confidence that your case is coherently organized and fully presented. This will take more time and effort on your part, but sometimes it’s the only way you can resolve your dispute to your satisfaction.

You may engage my services to act as your attorney in arbitration, mediation and settlement conferences. I also serve as a Neutral in private mediation and binding arbitration and in court cases submitted to arbitration, mediation or settlement evaluation.