Typically, cases begin with opening statements by the person who is suing, the plaintiff. Then, the person who is being sued, the defendant, will speak. If the judge has clarifying questions, they may choose to ask them.
Judges can also decide to take additional investigative steps, so be prepared not to have a decision that day.
When thinking about your presentation of evidence, think about how frustrating it may be to feel flustered and disorganized while being asked questions by a relentless judge or by the other party.
Not every judge will make you feel happy to be in court, and the court is often a gut-wrenching process even for the best prepared. By being familiar with your evidence and drawing focus to what the evidence is and what it says, you can relax because the attention won’t be on you even as you’re speaking; the attention will be on your evidence.
Create an evidence packet and print three copies
In order to be prepared, you will need to be organized. Once you gather all your evidence, put the evidence into a word document. Label each piece of evidence, called an exhibit, with a number, and create a table of contents with page numbers so that people can easily follow along.
Unless it’s for presenting video evidence, you likely won’t be allowed to bring a phone or laptop. Even then, it’s up to the rules of the court and the judge that is hearing your case. Some judges may follow the rules around evidence more strictly than others in small claims court.
If you have any video evidence, be sure to call the court clerk and ask about how to present video evidence. By default, you should assume that anything else should be printed or physically brought to the court. You may even have to bring a DVD. It never hurts to be a little too prepared, and you don’t want to end up with your case being delayed.
Be sure you bring your witnesses if at all possible
While small claims courts will accept signed and written statements from your witnesses, it’s always better for them to appear in court with you.
Focus on the most important issues and the evidence
Be clear about what you and the person you’re suing (or being sued by) disagree on, and what the issues the judge has to decide on are. For instance, do you disagree on if there was a contract or do you disagree about whether someone has fulfilled their side of the bargain? Prove that.
Speak loudly and clearly
The last thing you want is to speak for several minutes only for the judge to be left confused about what you said because they didn’t hear you. Be sure to project your voice, but don’t yell.
Say exactly what you mean. Focus on how each piece of evidence relates to the key issues of the case. Don’t be sarcastic or assume that the judge will know what you mean if you leave something unsaid.