In this week's Freedom Friday blog and email newsletter, I want to talk about a topic that comes up with many of my clients, and that's “Why can't I represent my small business in court?” Many small business owners don't want to pay for an attorney to represent them and are looking for a cheaper alternative. Some of them might even think its okay for them to represent their small business in court.
Unfortunately, you cannot represent your small business in Court (unless you're an attorney), at least in Oklahoma. This is because of a 1989 case, Massongill v. McDevitt, in which the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals stated, “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 an attorney, you can't represent your small business in court. I've seen how judges handle this situation and appeared on dockets where a corporate officer, sometimes even a company president, comes to represent a corporation who is a party in the case, and the court dismisses the case because the corporation is not represented by an attorney. Further, I've been at another docket where the judge threatened an LLC with a default judgment because the LLC was not represented by an attorney. In that case, the court entered a scheduling order, but insisted the LLC obtain an attorney before 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 small business in court, what else can you do to protect your small business, especially if you think a client owes your business 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 emailing 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 cost 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 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 that they don't understand, and then get in trouble for not honoring that contract simply because they didn't understand it. If you're presented a contract by a vendor or another party, and you don't understand the contract, take the time to hire an attorney who can review the contract help you understand the contract and your obligations.
If you are interested in starting a small business anywhere in Oklahoma, or you are interested in taking your small business to the next level, 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/