When you represent yourself in a civil case in North Dakota state court, you must do everything for yourself that a lawyer you hire would do for you.
Although the North Dakota Legal Self Help Center can give self-represented individuals information about civil court processes, the Center can’t give you any legal advice or act as your lawyer in any way.
There are risks to representing yourself. Before deciding to represent yourself, it’s a good idea to consult a lawyer to understand the options and consequences involved in your case.
IMPORTANT! Some types of cases require that a lawyer represent the party. In general, when a business is a party in a North Dakota state district court case, the business must be represented by a lawyer licensed to practice law in North Dakota. A non-lawyer can’t represent a business in a North Dakota state district court case.
How Do I Find a Lawyer?
- Word of mouth. Talk to your friends, relatives, other professionals, etc., about a lawyer they may have used and ask who they recommend.
- Print or online telephone directories. Look in the yellow pages for attorneys, lawyers, legal services, etc.
- Search online. Use your internet browser to search for lawyers online.
- Contact Legal Services of North Dakota by phone or on their website. Legal Services of North Dakota is a non-profit organization, providing free legal assistance to North Dakota residents in a variety of matters based on income. Legal Services of North Dakota can also determine whether you meet the income requirements for the Volunteer Lawyers program which offers low-cost legal assistance based on income.
- The phone number for under age 60 is (800) 634-5263.
- The phone number for age 60 and older is (866) 621-9886.
- Contact Dakota Plains Legal Services. Contact information for each of their eight offices is on their website. Dakota Plains Legal Services (DPLS) is a non-profit legal services organization that provides free legal assistance to low-income individuals, older Americans, and veterans. DPLS serves communities across South Dakota and North Dakota, including nine tribal court nations. DPLS free legal assistance includes help with tribal court matters.
- Call the State Bar Association of North Dakota Lawyer Referral Service. The State Bar Association of North Dakota provides a lawyer referral service to match paying clients in need of legal services with lawyers. A referral includes a lawyer's name, phone number and up to a 30-minute consultation with the lawyer in the area of law of your choice and town or county of your choice. The charge for a referral is $30.
- The phone number is (866) 450-9579.
- Go to the North Dakota Court System website for a list of all lawyers who are licensed to practice law in North Dakota. You can narrow your search by name or location.
- Criminal Matters. If you have a low income and have been charged with a criminal offense, you may qualify for a free lawyer to defend you against the charge. Apply at the Clerk of Court’s Office of the court where the case is being heard. Contact information for North Dakota State District Courts and municipal courts is available at ndcourts.gov/court-locations.
How Can a Lawyer Help Me?
Lawyers are trained legal professionals who graduated from law school and satisfied all of the requirements to be licensed to practice law in North Dakota.
A lawyer you hire CAN:
- Give you legal advice.
- Explain the law to you and how the law applies to your situation.
- Identify and explain how to prevent legal problems down the line that could have long-lasting consequences.
- Tell you if you have a good case.
- Evaluate your options and their consequences, and give you advice about the best course of action to take.
- Negotiate conflicts with others.
- Draft legal documents to file in court.
- Communicate with the other parties or their lawyer (if represented).
- Figure out the most helpful evidence to present in your case.
- Prepare you to give testimony in court.
- Represent you in court hearings and at trial.
When Should I Consider Hiring a Lawyer?
There are significant risks to representing yourself. You must follow all of the required procedures, and meet all of the requirements to prove your side of your case. Mistakes can be costly. For example, you may lose, you may be ordered to pay the other party’s costs, or your case may be thrown out.
Carefully evaluate your situation to decide whether it’s a good idea to represent yourself without a lawyer.
Consider hiring a lawyer when:
- You can’t commit the time necessary to effectively represent yourself.
- You’re not comfortable doing legal research.
- You’re not confident you can explain your legal position in writing.
- You’re not confident you can explain your legal position in front of a judge or jury.
- You need help interpreting the rules or laws and deciding how they apply to your case.
- You anger easily, especially in stressful situations.
- You have a type of case that’s so complicated it’s unlikely someone who isn’t a lawyer can handle the case on their own. For example:
- The other party has a lawyer.
- You could lose money or property in the lawsuit that would result in a significant hardship for you.
- You’re charged with a crime that could result in jail or prison time.
What is Limited Legal Representation?
Limited Legal Representation (sometimes called “unbundling”) is a way that a lawyer can help you with part of your case while you handle the rest of your case. You pay for the part of the case the lawyer handled.
- You may want a lawyer to give you an expert opinion about your options, or your legal rights and responsibilities.
- You may want a lawyer to prepare paperwork or review the paperwork you prepared, but you attend all of the hearings yourself.
- You represent yourself through the whole case, and periodically consult with a lawyer who can coach you on the law, procedures and strategy.
- You handle the paperwork and case preparation yourself and hire a lawyer just to make the court appearances for you.
Lawyers licensed to practice in North Dakota may provide Limited Legal Representation in civil cases. To find out if a lawyer offers Limited Legal Representation, contact the lawyer and ask.
You and the lawyer must agree in writing to Limited Legal Representation.
Understanding Legal Fees
Lawyers charge for their services in different ways. Following are some of the ways lawyers charge:
- Contingency Fee: A contingency fee is when the lawyer will represent you in the case, but you don’t pay a fee for the legal services up front. Usually, the lawyer only gets paid if you succeed in your case and the payment comes from the money awarded to you in the case.
- Contingency fees aren’t typically allowed in family law cases or in criminal cases.
- Flat Fee (also called a Fixed Fee): A flat fee is when the lawyer charges one fee for all of their work on the case. Verify whether the flat fee includes all costs and expenses.
- Hourly Fee: An hourly fee is when the lawyer charges per hour for the work done on your behalf. With hourly fees, the lawyer keeps track of the time they spend on your case and then bills you for the time based on their hourly fee.
- Retainer Fee: A retainer fee is like a “down payment”. The lawyer puts the retainer fee in your account before working on your case. The retainer fee is usually collected at the time the fee agreement is signed. The lawyer may ask you to be supplement the retainer as your case progresses.
- Out of Pocket Costs: The lawyer will charge you for the costs of your case as well as the fees. Examples of out of pocket costs are court filing fees and service fees. You’ll be responsible for paying these costs even if your case is not successful.
If you decide to hire a lawyer, make sure you’re clear about your fee arrangement with your lawyer. Ask your lawyer when you will receive a statement. For example, once a month or when the case is done.
If you don't understand any of this information, or if you have trouble filling out any of the forms located here, please see an attorney for help.
The information provided on and obtained from this site doesn't constitute the official record of the Court. This information is provided as a service to the general public. Any user of this information is hereby advised that it is being provided "as is". The information provided may be subject to errors or omissions. Visitors to this site agree that the Court isn't liable for errors or omissions of any of the information provided.
If you have a question relating to a case that is already filed please contact the clerk of court for the county.