A lawyer may also help you figure out if you'll collect any judgment. If the other party doesn't have a job or any assets, a small claims case may be a waste of time.
A lawyer can also help you organize your case, and give you tips on strategy and tactics.
If you can't afford a lawyer because of the small amount of money involved, check out free legal assistance from a local legal services office or a law school legal clinic.
You'll need to go to the small claims court to file a complaint, which will include the person's name and address; a short statement of the basis for your claim, including any relevant dates; and the exact amount of money owed to you.
The complaint has to be served on the other party, usually by certified mail or by a process server. Some small claims courts have their own process servers. The court will expect you to pay any service fees.
After the other party receives the complaint, he or she will file and serve you with a response to the complaint and any counterclaims against you. For instance, if you're suing a former landlord to get your security deposit back, he may counterclaim against you to collect money he paid for repairs.
In some small claims courts, the parties must go through mediation or arbitration before any court hearing.
Verify the date and time of your court hearing, and let the court know ahead of time if you need an interpreter or some other accommodation.
You can tip the scales of justice in your direction by getting organized:
Organize your thoughts. Make detailed notes on what happened, preferably
in chronological order.
If there are witnesses who won't cooperate, you can arrange for the small claims court to subpoena them. You can also have the court issue what's called a "subpoena duces tecum" for a witness to produce specific documents at court. In order to subpoena witnesses, the court must have their names and addresses well ahead of the hearing date.