Can we represent ourselves in a lawsuit?

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in Human Resources

Q. A former employee just filed a lawsuit against my company. The potential dollar value of the claim is so small, I do not want to hire a lawyer. However, I do want to fight the claim. Can the company just represent itself in court without an attorney?

A. Generally, no. If a business appears in court without an attorney, whoever represents the employer is illegally engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.

Under Ohio law, a corporation or other business can maintain litigation or appear in court only through an attorney. It may not do so through an officer of the corporation or some other appointed agent or representative.

At least in Ohio, there is no such thing as a business appearing pro se (without a lawyer). The only exception exists in small-claims court, where a corporation can bring a claim based on a contract to which it is a party, as long as the representative does not “engage in cross-examination, argument, or other acts of advocacy.”

For example, without a lawyer, a company can file a claim in small-claims court to recover an unpaid account. If the individual disputes the amount due, however, no one who isn’t a lawyer can cross-examine the individual or argue to the magistrate. 

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