SHOULD I HIRE AN ATTORNEY TO DEFEND A SMALL CLAIMS MATTER?
Should a defendant in a small claims matter hire an attorney to defend them? The answer is: maybe. People hire an attorney for a small claims matter when the damages sought are at the maximum amount ($7,000), or they are out of state and cannot attend the trial, or if they feel the claim is frivolous and they refuse to pay anything to the plaintiff.
In Massachusetts, a plaintiff can sue up to $7,000, although in certain cases the final judgment can exceed that amount. The process is simple. Fill out a 1-page complaint, pay a fee, and wait for the court to set a trial date. There is no discovery and usually no motions. The court sets the trial date within a few months, and at the trial, you have a hearing in front of the clerk. This is mostly the extent of a small claims matter.
The reason most defendants don’t want to hire an attorney is the cost. Why spend hundreds of dollars if the plaintiff seeks only a couple thousand? However, if the damages are at the maximum of $7,000 it may be beneficial to hire an attorney. Recently I defended an action where the plaintiffs sought the maximum for an alleged water leak. The defendant couldn’t appear due to his location. I obtained an affidavit from him and filed it the day of the trial. We received a favorable decision. Because of the minimal time for the overall small claims matter, the client only spent a fraction of what he would normally spend in a regular civil action. And even better, we won the case, and he did not have to pay anything to the plaintiffs.
An additional benefit of hiring an attorney is that they can explain the key legal points to the clerk (remember, judges do not hear small claims trials). Sometimes the claims are expired by the statute of limitations, or there is no evidence to support the claim, or the claim is frivolous. An attorney can point out these deficiencies to the clerk and to properly elicit testimony from the plaintiff.
Each small claims matter is different, and sometimes it is not worth hiring an attorney. However, it never hurts to explain your case to an attorney to determine that decision. I can easily review your case and give you a quick opinion whether you need an attorney and the cost to hire me. You can always contact me at any time for an initial consultation on your small claims matter.