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November 14, 2007

HALT's Small Claims Court Best Practices

About the same time that Nolo got started in 1971, a couple of libertarians started a legal advocacy organization named Help Abolish Legal Tyranny, or HALT as it is now known. Thirty six years later, this organization continues its original mission of reigning in lawyers and expanding consumer access to the courts. This article about small claims court best practices is reprinted with permission from HALT. Other HALT articles will appear from time to time in this blog

HALT's Small Claims Court Best Practices

Designed to be used by ordinary people, small claims courts should be convenient, quick, accessible and affordable. The best of these courts are consumer friendly, use simplified procedures, require plain language (not legalese), and do not allow lawyers. HALT has identified a dozen best practices from around the country that can help small claims courts serve all of us better.


  • Increase small claims dollar limits, so that more minor disputes can be handled with simplified, inexpensive procedures.

  • Provide small claims mediation services to help people resolve their disputes without going to court at all.

  • Provide trained small claims advisors to guide people through the process.

  • Keep lawyers out of small claims court, so that it is a level playing field for all.

  • Keep collection agencies out of small claims, so these courts are not overwhelmed by institutional litigators but remain available to real people.

  • Limit the number of small claims cases one can file, so these courts are not monopolized and clogged by professional litigators.

  • Require actual service of legal papers to prevent default judgments when individuals don't even know they are being sued.

  • Provide simple legal forms and require plain English in the courtroom, so ordinary people can understand and use small claims procedures.

  • Establish weekend and evening Hours, so working people can use small claims courts.

  • Provide translation services for non-English speaking litigants, so all residents have access to small claims court.

  • Allow small claims judges to issue court orders in cases where money damages are not enough.

  • Establish streamlined small claims collection procedures that cut through the red tape and ensure prompt payment of judgments.


For more information about small claims best practices, pinpointing the benefits each practice has upon the system, and which states already serve their consumers better, visit www.halt.org. And for more information about going to small claims court, read Nolo's excellent Everybody's Guide to Small Claims Court, by Attorney Ralph Warner.