Q: I want to sue someone for money, but it is less than $15,000. It just doesn't seem economically sensible to hire a lawyer who either is going to take a chunk in fees or a percentage (or even some combination of the two). There is no clause to recover attorney fees. Hence, is there a basic "how to" guide on suing that you can share with me?

- M.R., San Pedro

Answer: A basic "how to" guide can be found online at www.courts.ca.gov/9616.htm. It tells you the steps and explains them to some degree. There is information in the body of the website, and in the column to your left.

You also want to have forms for the papers you plan to file, serve and deal with thereafter. Basic Court forms can be found at www.courts.ca.gov/forms.htm/. One way to go through them is by name. Note: There are some companies that will help a layperson go forward with a lawsuit, and whose charges may be reasonable, which is another option for you to consider.

Q: Why do I need a lawyer? It's so expensive, and there's no guarantee it will go well!

- L.O., Redondo Beach

A: The expression, "He who represents himself has a fool for a client" is, in my humble opinion, very often true. This could apply to a layperson, or an attorney who chooses to represent him or herself. In any event, the "need" for a lawyer turns, at least in part, on what it is you are dealing with.


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If it's a will, you may be OK doing it yourself, in whole or at minimum in part. Small claims? You can't have an attorney represent you. Traffic court, or a wage claim before the Department of Labor? Those are among the matters a layperson may choose to do him or herself.

But, if you are asking me why do you need a lawyer for a civil litigation, or a criminal case, filed in a state or federal court, my answer is: Would you operate on yourself if you needed your tonsils out? Or, if you have work that has to be done to repair the plumbing at your house, can you properly do it, or should you call in a licensed plumber? Those are just two examples.

To me, the procedures, forms, deadlines, nuances, niceties, strategies, options, game plans, research, legal authorities and requirements of a civil or criminal case are often quite complex and can be very difficult to grasp. Thus, from my vantage point, you are best served to have a lawyer navigate through the morass of a court case. If the lawyer makes a serious error, and has malpractice insurance as required, you could have a fall-back (namely to sue the lawyer). This may not provide much, if any, comfort, but is another factor to take into consideration.

Ron Sokol is a Manhattan Beach attorney with more than 30 years of experience. His column appears on Wednesdays. Email questions and comments to him at RonSEsq@aol.com or write to him at Ask The Lawyer, Daily Breeze, 21250 Hawthorne Blvd., Suite 170, Torrance, CA 90503. This column is a summary of the law and not a substitute for legal consultation on any particular case.