Many people who find themselves being sued by a debt collector forgo hiring a lawyer and represent themselves in court. I understand for many people this is a necessity. As a lawyer I can’t work for free (my wife and kids would likely object :)), but most don’t have a lot of extra money laying around to throw at a lawyer.
So, they trudge on into the unknown maze that can be the Arizona judicial system, hoping to make an adequate defense and not screw things up.
Regardless of whether your debt collection lawsuit is just starting or whether your trial is imminent, the following are three (3) reasons you may want to reconsider representing yourself:
(1) The Court Will Assume that You Know the Court Rules
Often the only experience people have with the Arizona court system is Judge Judy or trials they have seen on TV. What you don’t see on TV is that courts are governed by a complex set of rules and deadlines.
If you don’t abide by the court’s rules your case can be over before it starts. Missing deadlines in court can have serious consequences.
And the kicker is the court is required by Arizona law to treat you the same as they do the attorney for the debt collector. The attorney for the debt collector is a repeat player in this game. They will know the rules and deadlines inside and out.
You, on the other hand, will likely not be able to scratch the surface of what it is you need to know to adequately represent yourself. You will be required to know and understand the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure (or Arizona Justice Court Rules of Civil Procedure), and the Arizona Rules of Evidence. Not only that, but in order to win your case you will have to have a solid understanding of the cases that have been decided on those rules and how they will apply to your case.
The short of it is, there is a lot of information you need to know to be able to adequately represent yourself. And this is another case of what you don’t know can and will hurt your case.
(2) The Time Commitment is Extensive
There is a reason being a lawyer is a full time job – it takes a lot of time. This is especially true if you aren’t already familiar with the rules and procedures that are involved in defending a civil lawsuit. There is the time it takes to draft the documents, to study the rules, to review the debt buyers’ documents, traveling to court to file documents, preparing for trial, traveling to and attending status conferences and the trial.
The point is, I meet with people all the time who are representing themselves in their debt collection lawsuit and they all tell me the same thing – it has taken over their lives. If you are going to represent yourself you need to be prepared the workload.
(3) Litigation is Stressful
Litigation is stressful. Defending a debt collection lawsuit is like being in college all over again – nothing but deadlines and term papers. The Rules of Civil Procedure that govern civil cases lay out all types of deadlines that must be complied with. If you miss a deadline there can be severe consequences, even having judgment entered against you.
Further, the documents (or briefs) that you submit to the court need to be substantive. You can’t merely state that you don’t owe the debt or that you should win, you have to put up a defense and support it with facts and case law.
There is a lot on the line when you are defending your case in court. A misstep along the way could end up costing you big time.
I know this article is somewhat self-serving. After all, if you aren’t representing yourself you will need to hire a lawyer. But my intention is to give a little bit of insight in to what you are getting yourself into when you try and representing yourself in court. It is no fun paying money to a lawyer, but in the end, it may be the best money you can spend.