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Surviving Small Claims Court Want your fair share? A quick guide to getting your day in court ... and emerging a winner.

By Cliff Ennico

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

So you have deadbeat customers or clients who owe you money.You've made repeated demands for payment, threatened to chargeinterest on the overdue debt and personally appealed to yourdebtors' sense of honor and fair play. Nothing has worked. Theyhaven't paid a cent. Like they say on television, it's timeto . . . take them to court!

In most cases, it isn't worthwhile to bring a lawsuit instate or federal court to collect a small amount of money(considered less than $5,000 in many states). Your lawyer alonewill charge an upfront retainer of $5,000 to $10,000 to take on anew case (so-called contingency fees, based on a percentage of thejudgment you win, are usually not charged in commercial orbreach-of-contract cases). And then there are the court costs andthe time you lose attending depositions, hearings and so forth.However, every state has a system of small claims courts you canuse to collect judgments for small amounts of money ... if you havethe nerve.

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