Why You Need a Lawyer to File a Lawsuit
A lawyer greatly increases your chance of winning your case or obtaining a favorable settlement. Fighting a case on your own means you have to prepare the complaint on your own, gather the mandatory initiating case documents and file them with the court, comply with mandatory deadlines which will end your case if you miss them, and numerous other procedures – both obvious and obscure. A lawyer deals with these procedures every day (or at least, every week) and can ensure that your case is decided on its merits rather than on a failure to follow a particular rule.
Where do you file?
The California court system is composed of independent regional districts. Therefore, the filing rules in San Diego are different than those in Los Angeles, than those in San Mateo, and than those in Sacramento. You may be asking, what does it matter: “If I live in San Diego, I will obviously file in San Diego.” However, that isn’t always the case. If you entered into a contract with a Los Angeles company, your contract might have selected Los Angles as the venue for disputes. If you have a dispute against a state agency, often you are required to file in Sacramento or San Francisco superior courts. Each of the regional courts has their own jurisdictional rules that could govern where you dispute ends up.
Furthermore, once you figure out where you need to file, you then have to figure out how to initiate your case. The basic requirement is you have to draft and file a complaint which details all of your allegations. The complaint must include sufficient factual allegations such that if they were all true, you would win. So, you need to know (1) what are your causes of action; (2) what do you need to prove in order to win; and (3) how to plead your case such that your complaint is valid. And, once you figure all that out, you still need to determine how many additional forms must be filed with your complaint and, more importantly, when you need to file.
Deadlines (Some of Them)
There are two kinds of deadlines: statutes of limitations and jurisdiction deadlines. Statutes of limitations are how long you have to file a lawsuit before you are prohibited because you waited too long. There are a lot of statutes of limitations (entire books are written about them). By way of example:
- Two years to file a personal injury lawsuit,
- Two years to file a breach of contract lawsuit, and
- Three years to file a property damage lawsuit.
Some deadlines are even shorter. For example, you have one month to challenge the implementation of a City of San Diego ordinance and six months to file a notice of claim against the City of San Diego for personal injury.
Jurisdictional deadlines refer to how long you have to respond to filings, discovery requests, meet and confer letters, and other jurisdictional deadlines. For example, you have 30-days (+ additional depending on how it is served on you) to file an answer after you are served a complaint.