Lawsuits In San Diego: When is Small Claims Court Appropriate? Do I Need an Attorney?

Small claims court can be a great option for individuals involved in disputes.  While parties may instinctively seek to "lawyer up," getting lawyers involved may not make financial sense.  I guess you could say this information goes against my business interests as a private attorney in San Diego...well, so be it.

Small claims court allows individuals to bring claims of up to $7500.00 ($5000.00 for corporations, partnerships, or any other business entity other than a sole proprietor).  If your claim, as an individual, is more than $7500.00, you do not qualify for small claims court and you must file in the civil division of the Superior Court of San Diego.  Two key benefits of small claims as opposed to the standard civil division are time and cost.  A trial date will be scheduled in a timely fashion (potentially within 2-3 months of filing and serving the lawsuit).  In San Diego's civil division, trial dates are sometimes set 18-24 months out from the date the lawsuit was filed!  In addition, the filing fees are much less in small claims, as well as all of the other litigation costs and attorneys fees involved in your typical lawsuit.

Attorneys are not allowed to appear in small claims court on behalf of clients.  Parties may seek advice from an attorney during the preparation of the case before a small claims trial.  This can be very helpful to your case.  However, during your trial, it will be you (the plaintiff), the defendant (if he/she shows up), and your witnesses (if any).  Attorneys are blocked at the door, so you do not have to worry about the defendant showing up with a hot-shot attorney on the day of the trial.

Seeking the advice of an attorney before proceeding in small claims is beneficial for two reasons: 1) he/she can offer guidance in preparing/organizing your arguments/evidence for the trial, and 2) after reviewing your case, an attorney may alert you to a higher value of the case based on the applicable law.  If so, it may end up being worthwhile to hire an attorney to advance your claims in San Diego's civil division.

For more information about the small claims process in San Diego, please visit San Diego County Superior Court's website on the topic.

To speak with an attorney regarding the civil litigation process in San Diego, please contact Richardson "Red" Griswold of Griswold Law at (858) 481-1300 or

For further reading on this topic, please read this article on small claims court.

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