In this week's Freedom Friday blog and email newsletter, I want to talk about a topic that I recently discussed with some of my clients. Several of my clients have had issues collecting money that is due to them on open accounts. This one client was directly negotiating with their customer and was then contacted by their customer's attorney. That's one thing, but I've also reminded this client that if they wish to file a lawsuit to recover the money that their customer owes them, they need to hire a lawyer to do so.
The answer is no, you cannot represent your busines in Court without an attorney, at least not in Oklahoma. This is because of a 1989 case, Massongill vs. McDevitt, in which the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals held that “although a party to an action may appear pro se, he is not entitled to appear for or on behalf of a corporation, regardless of his interest in it or any authorization he may have from the corporation.” This means that unless you're also an attorney, you can't represent your small business in court. I have personally observed how judges handle this situation and appeared on dockets where a corporate officer, sometimes even the president of the company, comes to represent a corporation who is the plaintiff in the case, and the court dismisses the case because the corporation is not represented by an attorney. Further, I've been on another docket where the judge threatened a default judgment against an LLC defendant who was not represented by an attorney. The court did enter a scheduling order, but insisted the defendant obtain counsel by pre-trial. The key here is that unless you're an attorney, you cannot represent your small business in court.
So, if you can't represent your business in Court, what else can you do to protect your business, especially if you believe a client owes money? First, make sure you're properly invoicing your clients. Although you might usually invoice your clients via regular mail, send the invoice via certified mail, return receipt requested, in addition to calling and/or e-mailing your client to ask about the unpaid bill.
Second, consider the costs and benefits of collecting on an unpaid invoice. If you decide to hire a lawyer, the costs of legal fees might outweigh what you're owed. Also, even if you do hire a lawyer and sue to recover unpaid funds, there is no guarantee that you will ever get the money back. You may get a judgment, but then you will need to collect on that judgment, and you may not get your money back.
Lastly, if a written contract was involved in the transaction, make sure you understand the contract. Many small business owners sign contracts which they do not understand, and then get themselves into trouble not honoring the contract because they simply did not understand it. If you are presented a contract by a vendor, or another party, and you do not understand the contract, that is a good time to hire an attorney to review the contract and help you understand your obligations.
If you are interested in starting a small business anywhere in Oklahoma, or if you have a small business and looking to grow, please contact me at [email protected] to schedule a FREE strategy session.
For more information about Liberty Legal Solutions, LLC, please visit our website at http://www.libertylegalok.com/