The Basics of Starting Your Case
Whether your case is in the general District Court caseload or one of the special proceedings such as small claims court or landlord-tenant court, understanding the law and the rules is critical. The “law” will tell you about your rights and obligations. The “rules” will tell you how the case will be handled in the courts. You need to be familiar with both in order to be successful with your case in court. If you have a sense of your chances of success, it will help you in negotiating as well.
Small claims court is informal. Meaning that many of the rules on how you must present testimony and evidence do not apply. Your rights and obligations under the law, however, remain the same. The more you understand, the better your chances of proving your case.
Don’t rely only on what others say. Read the law and rules yourself. You can find good information on websites like this but you still have to do additional research in order to strengthen your chances of winning. See our articles on Legal Research for more information.
Lawyers and judges use a number of special terms to describe certain concepts in the law. Many of the terms are in Latin.
- For example, the Latin word “corpus” means “body”
In addition, words that have a plain English meaning may also have a very special legal meaning.
- For example – The term party means “a social gathering” in common English and means “a person or group involved in a legal proceeding as litigants” as a legal term.
This means that legal terms can be confusing at first. But keep in mind:
- Some words you already know, such as “alibi”.
- And you usually do not need to know more than a few legal terms.
The Maryland Courts website has a glossary of legal terms and their definitions.
What is the law?
Many people think of there is one special set of books that are “the law.” Instead, the law is a combination of rules that have been created by different levels and branches of government as well as our combined history. You must consider the combined influence of all of these when looking at the facts in your case.
Where do I find “the law”?
Beginning your legal research is pretty straightforward. The Peoples Law Library website has explanations of many common areas of legal problems and disputes. In addition, there are several good guides that can help you understand the law that applies to your case. Start with this website in order to:
- Understand how to do basic legal research and to
- Review the special research guides by topic.
You can also visit your local law library where a librarian can help guide you to appropriate resources. Keep in mind that the librarian cannot provide legal advice on your situation.
Your local public library can also assist you with finding legal resources and locate legal help.
Many legal concepts are complicated, and the special training lawyers have allows them to:
- analyze your situation
- present options
- offer guidance on the best option
You may also want to consult an attorney for their objectivity and distance from the problem you are trying to solve. Often cases involve emotions that can cloud your judgment or keep you from thinking rationally. There are many options for legal advice and some are free or low cost. See our Get Help page for more information.