a business person is preparing for his court date

Preparing for Your Day in Court: Plaintiffs

After your case is filed, you should begin preparing for court. How to present your case in court.

Preparing for Your Day in Court: Plaintiffs

Court forms are available at California Courts – Forms. Select “Small Claims” from the pull down menu. Forms are also available at the Court Clerk’s office. Completed Sample Forms are available here. Starting September 2, 2021 all litigants in Small Claims Court can appear virtually or telephonically for FREE. Read the details from the court here

Once your case is filed, you should begin preparing for court. One of the most important things you can do is ensure you have named the Defendant correctly. This may require you to do some research. Our article on Finding a Person or Business can help. 

Once you have found the information you are looking for, our How to Name article can help you make sure you named the Defendant correctly. 

The Small Claims Hearing

Most small claims cases last only 15 to 20 minutes. For this reason, you want to organize your evidence ahead of time and make brief notes of what you want to say in court.

You must submit copies of your evidence to the court and to each party in your case at least 10 days prior to the hearing.

When submitting evidence, you must complete form LASC CIV 278 and use LASC CIV 279 mailing labels. You will have to provide proof that the other parties were sent copies of your evidence. You can get this from the Post Office at the time you mail these forms.

What type of evidence should I bring?

Here are some examples of evidence to bring to court:

  • Witnesses to testify on your behalf.
  • Receipts or cancelled checks that prove you are owed money.
  • Bills or repair estimates.
  • Photographs of property damage.
  • Written contracts, agreements or other documents that prove your case.

What if I don’t speak English?

If you do not speak English, the court will provide an interpreter at no cost to you. You may request an interpreter online here. In some cases, the court may not have an interpreter available. You may also be able to bring someone who can interpret for you.

What happens on the court date?

Before your case is heard, the Judge will ask you to speak with the Defendant and try to resolve the case. At that time, you and the Defendant will share evidence with each other. If you cannot come to an agreement, the Judge will hear your case.

What if I get a Temporary Judge?

A temporary Judge, called a Judge Pro Tem, is a lawyer who hears cases and makes decisions, just like a regular Judge. If you do not want a Temporary Judge to hear your case, you can ask the court for a permanent Judge. If a permanent Judge is not available, you may have to come back another day.

How do I behave in court?

Be respectful to the Judge, the Defendant and everyone else in the courtroom. In court, only one person speaks at a time. Do not interrupt others who are speaking.

Check our flyer for proper courtroom etiquette.

Remember that you are not in court to convince the Judge that the Defendant is a bad person; you are there to prove that you are owed money.

How do I present my case?

When the Judge allows you to speak, get right to the point and stick to the facts of your case. Give the Judge copies of your evidence. You can refer to your notes but do not read a prepared statement to the Judge. If the Judge asks you a question, answer it directly. Avoid long statements that do not directly answer the Judge’s questions.

When will the Judge make a decision?

The Judge can make a decision at the end of the hearing. However, in most cases, the Judge will decide later and notify you by mail.

What if I win?

The Judge will award you the money owed and your court costs. You must wait 30 days before trying to collect your money. This period of time allows the Defendant to file an appeal if they appeared at the hearing. If the Defendant(s) did not appear they can file a Motion to Vacate Judgment. The Defendant may request to pay you in installments. After 30 days, you can take action to begin collecting the money awarded to you.

What if I lose?

As the Plaintiff, you cannot appeal if you lose on your Plaintiff’s Claim. However, if the Defendant countersued and you lost on the Defendant’s Claim, you can appeal. If you believe the court has made a legal or clerical error, you can file a Request to Correct or Vacate Judgment.

What if I miss my court date?

If you miss your court date, the Judge may dismiss your case without prejudice. If so, you can start over and file your case again as long as you are within the statute of limitations.

If less than 30 days has passed since you received your Notice of Entry of Judgment, you can file an SC-135 Notice of Motion to Vacate Judgment and Declaration and ask the court to vacate the judgment.

Court forms are available at California Courts – Forms. Select “Small Claims” from the pull down menu. Forms are also available at the Court Clerk’s office.

County of Los Angeles Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. Last change: May 28, 2024

Skip to content