Can a Business Represent Itself if it is Sued in New Jersey?
Updated: Apr 13
If you operate a business long enough, there is a good chance that a customer or client will sue you. It is just part of the cost of doing business. If you are sued, you must retain an attorney as soon as possible. Having an attorney to represent your business is especially important if your company is in New Jersey, where pro se representation of a business is not permitted.
What Does Pro Se Mean?
When a party represents itself in a legal matter without an attorney, it is called "pro se" representation. Pro se is Latin for "for oneself" or "on one's own behalf." There are many reasons why someone would choose to represent their business without an attorney. Here are six reasons why.
1. They don't want to spend the money on an attorney;
2. They can't afford an attorney;
3. The damages are small;
4. A friend or family member told them that they should represent themselves;
5. They can't find an attorney to take their case; and
6. They believe they can handle their case just as effectively, if not more, than an attorney.
What Does New Jersey Law Say?
While many people may desire to represent their business in a lawsuit without a lawyer, New Jersey business entities, including LLCs and corporations, are not permitted to represent themselves pro se. Under New Jersey law, a business must be represented by a licensed New Jersey attorney in any litigation.
N.J. Court Rule 1:21-1(c) prohibits a business entity other than a sole proprietor from appearing or filing any paper "…in any action in any court of this State except through an attorney authorized to practice law in this State."
More specifically, N.J. Court Rule 1:21-1(c) prohibits a business entity other than a sole proprietor from appearing or filing any paper "…in any action in any court of this State except through an attorney authorized to practice law in this State." Therefore, New Jersey business entities must be represented in court by an attorney. See Globe Media Grp., LLC v. Cisneros, 403 N.J. Super. 574, 577 (App. Div. 2008); Olympic Indus. Park v. P.L., Inc., 208 N.J. Super. 577, 580-81 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 104 N.J. 453, 517 (1986). Rule 1:21(c) extends to all legal proceedings and, as such, requires corporations to be represented by counsel at mediations as well.
Two exceptions to this rule are (1) if the business is registered as a sole proprietorship and (2)in a small claims action (under $3,000). (N.J. Court Rule 6:11 provides that "any authorized officer or employee may prosecute and defend on behalf of a party which is a business entity, whether formally incorporated or not...”)
The bottom line is that if you are doing business in New Jersey, you need to prepare financially and emotionally to hire an attorney if your company is facing a lawsuit. Under New Jersey law, a business owner cannot represent the business without an attorney.
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