In this week's Freedom Friday blog and email newsletter, I want to talk about an important topic that comes up with many of my clients, and that's “Why can't you represent your small business in court?” Many small business owners are DIY type people and don't want to pay for an attorney to represent them, and this is why services like LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer have become very popular. In fact, I am proud to announce that my law firm is now working with Rocket Lawyer for client development purposes. However, there are some legal services that go beyond what LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer can provide, and if your small business is needing those kinds of legal services, especially anything litigation related, you will need to hire a lawyer.
The truth is you cannot represent your small business in court, unless you also happen to be an attorney. This is because of a 1989 case, Massongill v. McDevitt, in which the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals held that while you can appear in court pro se for yourself, you can't appear for or on behalf of a corporation, unless you also happen to be an attorney.
I've seen how judges handle this situation and appeared on dockets when a corporate officer, even a corporate president, tries to represent a corporation or other business entity that is a party in the case, and the judge dismisses the case because the corporation or business entity is not represented by an attorney. I've also been at another docket when 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 that 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, what else can you do to protect your small business since you can't represent your small business in court? First of all, if your small business has been sued for breach of contract or some other matter, you need to hire an experienced business attorney to protect your interests. Oklahoma law requires that an “answer” be filed on behalf of a defendant or otherwise the plaintiff can be entitled to a default judgment against your small business.
Second, if your small business is looking to sue for breach of contract or some other reason, make sure you are documenting the transactions with invoices or a written contract. If invoices are involved on an open account, send them via certified mail, in addition to calling and/or emailing to ask about unpaid bills.
Third, and most importantly, you need to consider the costs and benefits of collecting on unpaid invoices. If you decide to hire an attorney, the cost of legal fees might outweigh what you're owed. Also, if you decide to sue to recover unpaid funds, and even if you get a judgment, there's no guarantee that you will get your money back.
If your small business is having issues with contracts, leases, business partners, collection issues, or experiencing other barriers to growth, 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/