There are many options these days for finding help with court cases, including legal forms. With so many pro se litigants in the courts, companies and nonprofit organizations in every jurisdiction have drafted forms for the most common types of cases. These forms are most helpful for those with simple claims, especially uncontested matters like friendly divorces or probate. But they don’t always meet the needs of litigators.
Legal forms are most helpful to clerks and judges, not to the litigants. Lawyers don’t use them; neither should pro se litigants. The reason lawyers avoid legal forms is not because they understand the law and therefore don’t need forms. Rather, most lawyers know that no form can state a client’s case as well as the lawyer’s own argument. The same holds true for pro se litigants.
Forms by their very nature reduce issues to the barest essentials. They are designed to serve everyone who has a need for them, so they stick to the lowest common denominators. Ever see an episode of Judge Judy or The People’s Court? Once the judge understands what type of case is being argued, there are very specific things he or she wants to know. Did you take out a loan and not pay it back? Pay it back. Did your actions cause the other party damages? Pay for the damages. Legal forms are pretty much the same way: What information does a judge need to know to rule one way or the other? Check, check and check.
But that simple checklist of items doesn’t always serve our needs because contested litigation proceeds in stages, all the way from a complaint to an appeal, if necessary. Evidence is collected step by step, and initial pleadings often need to be amended as new facts are discovered and the issues involved becomes clearer. Some facts are not relevant and may need to be excluded from being considered. When things don’t go your way in court, you’ll want to capture the judge’s errors to appeal the case. It’s important to be able to argue each point in your claim or defense, as well as each position you take leading up to trial. The procedures leading up to trial are as important to the final outcome as the actual facts and law that will be heard at trial.
If you do need a legal form, FindForms.com has an excellent collection. But my advice (IANAL*) is to leave the legal forms for uncontested matters. When you know you’re in a fight, arm yourself with the tools and training you need to win.
*IANAL = I Am Not A Lawyer.