Cost of Defending Oneself Against a Lawsuit

From Wikipedia:

My question is, what exactly is the cost of legal defense? If I were slapped with a SLAPP, and supposing I understood the claim to be wholly without merit, what will I need to pay in order to defend myself in court?

I guess it is wise to hire a lawyer. I suppose fees for lawyers vary, but how much would a cheap lawyer run me?

Do courts appoint free attorneys in civil suits?

Suppose I decided to go it alone, without a lawyer. Are there fees I am required to pay in order to go to court to defend myself? (It seems amazing to me if there are.)

There is of course the expense involved in the fact that my time is being wasted.


Like most legal questions, the answer is that it depends.

If you didn’t want to hire a lawyer, you could file a pro se motion to dismiss for free in many states (some states charge a small fee for this). If you wanted to submit an actual answer to the complaint (disputing the allegations instead of simply claiming that even if the allegations are true they don’t have a case), you have to pay a fee which varies widely depending on the court and type of suit.

A court will not provide a lawyer in a civil suit, but if you can’t afford an attorney, there is probably free or low-cost legal aid available in your area. The cost of an attorney will vary considerably depending on the type of action.

I recently helped* a friend defend himself against a civil suit, and to file an answer, plus two rounds of interrogatories cost about $350, plus whatever it cost him to take time off from work to attend three courtroom appearances.

This suit went away pretty easily - it was about as close to a slam-dunk dismissal as you could hope for. If he was paying an attorney, his costs would probably be closer to $1000, again, just to make a nuisance suit go away. It would not be inconceivable for a more adversarial plaintiff to stetch things out by asking for continuances and dribbling out responses and multiply the costs simply by needing more documents to be filed and more courtroom appearances with the attendant costs of gas to get there and parking.

  • I have an account with a fax and file service, and it was cheaper to use them that it would have been for him to drive down to the courthouse each time.

I’m currently being sued. It’s been tied up in the court for like 6 or 7 years now. Everyone told me “Get a lawyer! Get a lawyer! You’re stupid if you don’t get a lawyer, even if you can’t afford it, do it!!”
Whatever. It hasn’t cost me a penny so far. It cost me a couple hours of my time to learn how to do an “Answer” and actually type it up and file it and everything.

How has it not cost you a penny so far? Where do you live and what type of dispute are you having that there are no court fees associated with filing an answer? Is this family court?

Thanks for the information.

I am really suprised it costs money to defend yourself in a civil suit. Just to file responses etc. cost $350? This seems clearly wrong.

So there’s no way for a person to just show up in court on the appointed day, say “This is clearly a stupid lawsuit and here’s why,” (not worded that way of course!) and just get it dismissed, without having to pay anything?


Like I said, you can often file a motion to dismiss for free (it depends on the jurisdiction).

Good question: when you are a defendent in a criminal trial, you simply don’t show up for court. the judge will issue a default warrant (an authorization for the local police department to arrest you and deliver you to the court). Unfortunately, the cops rarely persue default warrant- my late uncle 9retired cop0 told me of boxfulls of these things in the police station-never followed up.
What paapens in a civil trial-do you automatically lose, if you don’t show up?

You can have a default judgment filed against you.

The reason cops don’t follow up on those warrants is because you can bet dollars to donuts most absconders will get picked up for something in the near future and the warrant will pop up. Then they will be held without bail untill the outcome of the trial. No need to waste police resources looking for folks.

Here in Virginia, filing a defensive pleading such as a demurrer or an Answer is free.

Interesting. I wonder if there is some correlation between a state’s politics and the fees associated with various filings.

So far.

how much will it cost you if you lose?

Whats your point? It’s cost him nothing so far. He would be foolish to continue alone if it ever gets to an actual trial but it seems to be working out for him so far. In a simple lawsuit it’s not like the lawyers are burning the midnight oil fighting for you. They are doing the same thing Bear is doing. Typing up an answer or a motion every few months.

Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Rule 11:

Most states have a similar rule of civil procedure.

In our case, after we prevailed when someone tried to steal the name of our store and trademark it, we were told that it is “not customary” to award lawyer’s fees in our jusridiction. IRT, defending against a civil suit is expensive, time consuming, and annoying: especially if you stand to lose a lot of money if you do not prevail. We spent 10s of thousands of dollars.

Just wanted to point out that one benefit of various types of insurance is that if someone sues you, your insurer will defend you - at least up to the amount of your coverage. So I guess you could say the cost of defending yourself would be the amount you paid in premiums.

In New York, in our court of general civil trial jurisdiction (known somewhat perversely as the Supreme Court), there is a $45.00 fee to file a motion or a cross-motion. In addition, the first party to file a motion or other action requiring the assignment of a judge must file a “Request for Judicial Intervention” and submit a $95.00 fee.

If one were to defend oneself pro se, and filed a motion to dismiss the complaint (rather than an answer) with the Request for Judicial Intervention, the $140.00 in fees would be awarded back to the defendant as costs assessable against the plaintiff if the defendant won.

Interesting indeed. In California, a plaintiff can file a complaint naming any number of defendants, and multiple plaintiffs can get together and file a joint complaint against multiple defendants.

One complaint = one filing fee of about $320 that can be split among various plaintiffs.

The first responsive pleading of EACH defendant is also about $320. Multiple defendants cannot join in a single responsive pleading and split the filing fee. If the defendants file a joint answer, the court requires $320 PER DEFENDANT.

To follow up, if 3 plaintiffs file a joint complaint against a partnership and two partners, we have 3 parties on each side.

Filing fees for plaintiffs’ joint complaint: $320

Filing fees for defendants’ joint first paper filing: $960
Defendants’ Demurrer: Add $40 motion fee
Defendants’ Motion to Strike: Add another $40 motion fee
Total defendants filing fees: $1,040