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What to Expect in Small Claims Court

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Chicago Legal Latte

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Small claims court has many different rules and procedures than other courts. It has many more of the elements “as seen on tv,” as very little is documents or correspondence is exchanged between attorneys, or the plaintiff and defendant. Usually attorneys are retained on a flat fee basis, and work is not performed hourly. Discovery rarely happens because the court wants to keep everything moving. A defendant does not even need to file an answer or disclose witnesses in small claims court. If a defendant chooses not to file an answer, the court will assume all allegations are denied. You are allowed to file additional pleadings, such as a counterclaim, but must ask the court for leave to file it. Many surprises can happen the day of trial, since both sides are uncertain as to who will be called as a witness and what evidence will be presented. Both parties will see all documents each side will offer up for the first time at trial. All rules of evidence do apply in small claims court, but in order to enhance efficiency, the court and counsel are usually more relaxed on objections when a witness is testifying or when a document is being requested to be admitted into evidence. Although small claims court is in the same court as all other litigation, it truly has its own policies and procedures.

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