Can you file a lawsuit without a lawyer? Read on to find out.

“Do I really need a lawyer?”

After an accident, you might be wondering if you really need to hire a lawyer—or if you might save some money and file a lawsuit yourself. In smaller cases—minor traffic violations, small claims court—the cost of hiring legal counsel may outweigh the expected return, especially if your attorney charges by the hour. However, hiring a qualified Denver personal injury attorney is an important step in getting a fair outcome for larger cases.

Regardless of what type of case you need to file or whether you are suing (the “plaintiff”) or the one being sued (the “defendant”), you have the right to represent yourself in court. There is no law that requires you to hire an attorney, nor is there any right to have an attorney appointed for you.  

That said: it is easy to underestimate the complexity of a seemingly simple legal case. From insurance fine print and writing a demand letter, to following court procedures and filing within a specific frame of time, filing a case by yourself can be daunting.

DID YOU KNOW? According to the Insurance Research Council, injury victims who used a lawyer received 3.5 times more than those who settled on their own.

Before You Start: Evaluating Your Case

Before drafting a complaint to begin your case, you need to identify the legal theory that supports your lawsuit. You will need to have a good understanding of your state’s laws to do this successfully. If your case goes to court, you may need to know how court proceedings work. The Colorado Judicial Branch offers this advice:

You have a right to represent yourself (appear “pro se”) in any kind of legal case. You will be expected to know and follow the rules just as lawyers are. If you do not follow the rules that apply in your case, the court may not be allowed to give you what you want, even if it makes sense. You can also be fined, have to pay the other person’s attorney, or be found in contempt of court. [Emphasis added]

Before you decide to represent yourself, ask yourself whether it wouldn’t be a better use of your time and money to consult with or hire an attorney who knows the law and can give you advice about what to do, how to do it, and what your chances are of getting what you want. 

What you have seen on TV and in the movies is not real, even if it is called “real TV.” You must dress and behave appropriately. Many courthouses have signs posted about what you may and may not do. Read and follow the signs and any orders the court gives you. 

Once you are in the courtroom, you are on your own. By law, court staff may not offer legal advice on your case or the proceedings. You will need to refer to Colorado State law, for all proceedings, at all times.

If you would like to consult with an attorney, free of charge, call John Fuller at (720)-770-3832 for an evaluation of your case.

Step 1: How to File a Verified Complaint

Every lawsuit begins with a complaint—or, in some circumstances, a petition or a motion—along with a filing fee. Your complaint is the foundation for your lawsuit: it outlines what happened and who you believe to be at fault (the “defendant”). You must explain your claim, or “cause of action”, to the defendant. Your complaint should be well organized, accurate, and factual; avoid making assumptions or using emotional language to describe your damages.

The Colorado Judicial Branch has several complaint forms to use in drafting your complaint. The complaint form is available online, but you may also write your own complaint. You can handwrite or type your information, but your documents must be complete and legible. You are legally required to submit your complaint in English on 8-1/2” x 11” paper and include:

  1. The court’s name,
  2. The title “COMPLAINT” next to the caption,
  3. The jurisdiction,
  4. A list of claims, or allegations, in numbered paragraphs, that support your claim;
  5. The relief sought,
  6. An indication as to whether or not you want a trial by jury; and
  7. Signature with contact information.

It is best to have a “date-stamped” copy which shows when you filed the original. Make sure to make several copies, including one for your own reference. Additionally, it is a good idea to have a “date-stamped” copy to show when you filed the original.

You will need to compile all appropriate components to support your case in your complaint. For instance, in a personal injury case, you will need to prove that the defendant (the person you are suing) acted negligently and that this negligence caused your injury. In some cases, this is fairly obvious; in others, it may not be so clear. 

Finally, you need to be able to present evidence for past and future medical expenses, wage loss, pain and suffering, etc. In civil cases, many legal teams will hire economists, medical professionals, crash reconstructionists, and other experts to testify on their client’s behalf. You will be responsible for these costs.

Information you provide in your verified complaint can become the basis for your demand, or claim for recovery. It should outline, in unambiguous terms, the events you intend to prove. This is generally done through separate causes of action.

At the end of this outline, you will need to insert the “wherefore clause.” In this section, you will specify the damages you are seeking for the causes of action in your outline. Finally, you will want to verify that all the information provided is true under the penalty of perjury.

You may find it helpful to review the Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 8 (General Rules of Pleading), and the Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 10 (Form of Pleadings). All submitted documents must comply with Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 11 (Signing Pleadings, Motions, and Other Papers; Representations to the Court; Sanctions). 

NOTE: Any procedural deviation may result in your case being dismissed.

Step 2: How to File a Civil Summons

After filing your verified complaint, you will need to file a civil summons form. Here, you will specify the location and the district of the court through which you are filing your lawsuit. You will also be required to list all plaintiffs and defendants named in the case.  This is the same procedure your lawyer would follow.

The next step is to get the summons signed or issued by a lawyer, court clerk, or judge. Plaintiffs who represent themselves may ask the court clerk to issue their summons. The final step is to pay a filing fee, and make arrangements to have your civil summons and the verified complaint served on the defendant.

PRO TIP: Keep Your Address Updated!

All litigants MUST let the court and other parties to the lawsuit know if their contact information changes. Because courts follow a statute system, this prevents critical documentation from getting lost or misdelivered. If you move in the middle of a lawsuit, be sure to alert your court administrator to update your address in the court system

Step 3: How to Serve the Defendant

“Serving the defendant” simply means notifying the defendant of your intention to bring a suit against them. A court clerk may not advise you on how to serve your defendant. You may be required to follow state-specific procedures during this process; in some cases, the court may advise on a specific method of service; in these cases, you must comply. 

As the plaintiff in the lawsuit, you may not be legally permitted to serve the defendant yourself. However, you can hire a professional to handle the matter, called a “process server”, or ask an unaffiliated person to serve the papers to the defendant on your behalf. This person must be 18 or over. The Colorado state court website has detailed information about the service of process procedures.

You may not realize you need a lawyer until it’s too late.

If you’ve made it this far, STOP and take a moment to learn about the legal options available to you. Before you file a complaint, file a civil summons or serve your defendant, take some time to get familiar with your rights to legal action under the Denver statute. What you will need to prove may vary based on the type of case you’re filing; you will need to be exhaustive in showing your damages, and the defendant’s duty of care and negligence.

What is Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)?

Alternative Dispute Resolution, like mediation and arbitration, are frequently less expensive and time-consuming ways to resolve your dispute. It can be a good solution for contentious issues because it avoids the cost of having to go to court and allows you and the other party some flexibility in reaching an agreement. Talk to an attorney at Fuller Law to determine if ADR is appropriate for you.

Overwhelmed? Most people are, which is why they choose to hire legal representation to avoid making rookie mistakes. There are many elements to each of these critical factors, and in most cases you can only bring a lawsuit once. Don’t make the mistake of failing to consider a crucial legal factor and having your case dismissed! An experienced Denver personal injury attorney will be able to help you.

Call us today for a free consultation about your legal case: (720)-770-3832.

The Financial Advantage to Hiring a Lawyer

There are several major studies that show a correlation between higher settlements and having a personal injury attorney represent you. On average, hiring a personal injury lawyer offers a clear economic advantage to claimants seeking to receive the full value of their claims.

  • In 1994, the Insurance Research Council (IRC) published  “Auto Injuries: Claiming Behavior and Its Impact on Insurance Costs,” to examine the effects of representation on insurance settlement size. The paper found that 85% of all insurance settlements funds go to people who have retained representation.
  • In a seminal 1999 paper, the IRC published a study showing that accident victims who hired attorneys received 40% more in the insurance settlement than those who didn’t retain a lawyer. The study, “Paying for Auto Injuries: A Consumer Panel Survey of Auto Accident Victims,” has been updated, and the findings hold true today.
  • The IRC later published “Auto Injury Insurance Claims: Countrywide Patterns in Treatment, Cost and Compensation”, in 2014. With data drawn from over 35,000 personal injury claims and twelve insurance providers representing over half of the car insurance market in the U.S. The results showed that attorney involvement positively correlated with the amount paid by the insurance companies, specifically for the claimants’ medical expenses.
  • Finally, a study by the All-Industry Research Advisory Council (AIRAC), titled “Attorney Involvement in Auto Industry Claims,” found that accident victims who retained an attorney received $1.59 per dollar of economic loss, whereas unrepresented claimants received $1.26.  

Courtroom Etiquette 

Once you are in court, you will need to comport yourself appropriately. Follow these tips:

  • Silence your cell phone when entering the court.
  • Do not eat, drink, or chew gum in court.
  • Enter and exit the courtroom unobtrusively, and only when you are allowed to do so.
  • Stand when the judge or magistrate enters or exits the courtroom. 
  • Address your judge as “Your Honor,” and stand whenever doing so.
  • Treat everyone courteously and respectfully, including the opposing counsel and defendant. Use honorifics such as “Mr.” and “Mrs.” when addressing other parties.
  • Speak clearly, slowly, and deliberately. When deciding how to phrase a question or response, it is expected that you take your time. Only speak when it is your turn to do so.
  • Take notes during all courtroom proceedings to refer back to, should you have questions.
  • Always ask for clarification if you do not understand an answer to a question.
  • Dress as you would for an office job: professional attire, slacks, closed-toed shoes and appropriate grooming is expected.

Additional Tips:

Keep your composure. The court staff is required to be impartial, and can only help you as much as they are allowed. 

Stay organized. Paperwork is your only means of communicating with the court; direct contact with the judge or magistrate outside the court system is not allowed. Keep track of what you are asking for, and what is being asked of you, with every interaction.

Be concise. The court system must not just adhere to strict statutes, but also a strict schedule around courtroom proceedings. You will need to make your points in the time allotted to—or you may not get another chance.

Be prepared. You will not get a second chance to try your case, so take this process as seriously as you would hope an attorney would. Visit the courtroom and watch some proceedings to get a sense of location and setup. 

Make copies. You will need all your documents and evidence prepared and copied; typically this is work done by a paralegal. Be sure to know your case number, or have it readily on hand.

Collect evidence. You will need to subpoena your own witnesses, which means you will need to arrange a date and time, plan the questions you want to ask, and decide on the best course of action following the deposition.

Arrive early. Plan for traffic, lunch, parking, and other unexpected events. The court rarely makes exceptions for failing to arrive to court on time.


While you have a right to self-representation by Colorado law, doing so requires a deep understanding of the legal codes and rules of procedure, as well as an assumption of risk. A successful lawsuit depends on the handling of many different moving parts: liability, negligence, requests for production, court deadlines and so forth. Missing an important component of your case could result in a lower settlement outcome—and missing a deadline could result in your case being dismissed in full.

Fuller Law: Denver’s Personal Injury Attorneys

Fuller Law respects the rights of Coloradans to represent themselves if they wish. We highly recommend speaking with us first. We can help evaluate your claim, offer insights, and give you an honest opinion about whether or not self-representation makes sense in your case. 

If you choose to work with us, we work on a contingency-fee basis. You pay nothing unless we win your case. 

Call us at (720)-770-3832 for a free case review.