If you are anticipating a court hearing in which you are a party, you are most likely experiencing anxiety at the thought of having to go to court. However, that anxiety can be significantly reduced by following a few simple steps.
One of the most important steps you can take is to hire an attorney if you can afford one. An attorney can help you to navigate legal language and procedures and can ensure that you are fully and fairly represented in court. If you are unable to afford an attorney there are other options.
- Find a Pro Bono Attorney: Do so as soon as possible. Public defenders handle criminal cases while volunteer attorneys represent civil matters, including family law and tax, housing, and other legal issues.
- Prepare: If you must represent yourself, contact the court clerk’s office in the county where your case is filed to find legal resources that will direct you through the process. These resources include self-help legal clinics where you can learn the law and receive assistance with filing required pleadings or responses. You can obtain necessary forms and other information on the Maryland court’s website at mdcourts.gov/forms and the Maryland People’s Law Library website at peoples-law.org.
- File Your Paperwork on Time: Generally, there is a time limit to file court documents. Failure to do so could result in the case being dismissed or the court entering a default order against you.
- Service of Process: Complete, sign and serve the required documents to the opposing party. All pleadings must be mailed to the court and the opposing party with proof that this action was taken. Court documents are often served by a sheriff, an attorney, or an adult 18 years of age or older who is not a party to the case. A private process server or certified restricted mail delivery can also be used.
The new MVLS factsheet on Courtroom Procedures – What to Know Before You Go is a step-by-step guide to courtroom procedure and protocols to ensure that your time in the court is less stressful and that a successful outcome is more likely.
If you are a volunteer working with a MVLS client, you may consider providing your client with a copy of these guidelines. Many individuals struggle with the apprehension associated with going to court, especially if they have never been to court. These guidelines can assist your client in becoming more comfortable with the court and its processes, creating a more relaxed and engaged client with improved outcomes.