Basics Of Court Forms And Filings
Learn how to find and fill out legal forms, how to create your own legal documents, and how to file documents with the court.
In this section, you will find information about
Forms are printed documents with spaces where you can insert information. Forms have been created (by courts, self-help centers, legal aid organizations, and the like) to help people in their court cases. Forms typically will not explain the governing law to you, and they may not provide or cover all of the information necessary for the court to reach a decision. You should use legal forms as a tool in conjunction with the other written documents you prepare, information you gather, and research you do about the law governing your case.
Described below are a number of online resources where you might be able to find legal forms. Keep in mind, though, that not every form can be found online. If you cannot find a form suitable to your needs on the Internet, you may have to create a form using a sample, an outline, or instructions from a variety of resources. Your local law library will be a terrific resource and the place to start your research. Click to visit our Law Libraries page to learn more.
- Civil Law Self-Help Center. The Self-Help Center forms have been approved for use in all courts in Clark County. However, use of the Self-Help Center forms is not mandatory, and a justice court may have alternative versions of a form available to the public. Click to visit our Forms section to learn more.
- Family Law Self-Help Center. The Family Law Self-Help Center has form packets on family law topics such as divorce, custody, child support, name changes, and many others. These form packets can be downloaded from the Family Law Self-Help Center's website free of charge. Click to visit our Family Law Self-Help page to learn more.
- Court websites. The court in which your case is pending might have court-created forms available on its website for particular types of cases. Click to visit our Court and Case Lookup section to learn more.
- Online forms websites. There are a number of websites where you can download legal forms, sometimes for a cost and sometimes for free. Be careful when using these sites! The forms you find may not be appropriate for your case or your jurisdiction. Most cities also have legal forms stores where you can purchase many generic legal forms.
- You might also find the legal form you need on one of the following websites:
Tips For Filling Out Legal Forms
- Make sure you have the most current version of the form. If you are not sure you have the current version, ask the Self-Help Center staff or court clerk.
- Make sure you read the entire form and any direction that came with it BEFORE you start filling out the form. This will give you a better understanding of what the form is intended to accomplish and what information you will need to provide.
- Be sure your completed forms are clear and easy to read. Use only blue or black ink or type them. Many forms are available online, and you can fill them out online too if you have a computer.
- Always use your legal name, current address, daytime telephone number, and a valid e-mail address. If you want your home address to stay private, you can use another address where you receive mail. If your address changes, file a change of address form with the court. Until you change the address you provided, the judge and court will assume you have received whatever legal papers were sent to you.
- Most forms have a "caption" on the first page that you always need to fill out. The caption usually contains your name, address, phone number, and e-mail. The caption also lists the name of the plaintiff, the name of the defendant, the case number, and the department number.
TIP! The case caption almost never changes during the course of a case. Typically, whoever is listed as the plaintiff at the start of the case will stay the plaintiff until the end. The same is true for the defendant, the case number, and the department number.
- If you do not have a lawyer, write "in proper person" or "self-represented" anywhere the form asks for the name of your attorney or says "Attorney for."
- Fill out the forms completely and accurately. If something does not apply to you, write "N/A" (meaning "not applicable"). Similarly, if the answer to a question is "none," write "none." If you do not know the answer to a question, write "unknown." But try not to leave blanks in your forms.
- Sign your forms in each place that requires your signature. Use blue or black ink only. Notice that on many court forms you are signing "under penalty of perjury." That means when you sign the form you are declaring that what is on the form is true and correct. Take this seriously! There are both civil and criminal penalties for perjury.
- Complete one section of the form at a time. If you have questions about a particular section or question, leave it blank until you can get your question answered.
- If you need help filling out your forms, you may be able to get your questions answered at the Self-Help Center or by a private attorney (click Lawyers and Legal Help to learn more), a volunteer attorney at one of the Ask-A-Lawyer programs if your question relates to one of the Ask-A-Lawyer topics (click Free Ask-A-Lawyer Programsto learn more), or an attorneys at one of the free legal classes if your question relates to one of the class topics (click Free Classesto learn more). You can also go to your local law library and ask a librarian for books and resources to help you complete your forms (click to visit Law Libraries to learn more).
- Make copies of your completed forms, and keep those clean copies in a safe place for your records. Organizing your copies by date of the document will help you find documents quickly. Take your entire document file with you every time you go to the courthouse.
- Make sure all copies have print on only one side of the paper. The court only accepts single-sided copies. Making double-sided copies can result in future copying mistakes.
Creating Your Own Legal Documents
Fill-in-the-blank legal forms are typically created to address common situations that courts and judges see over and over. But your case – and most every case, in fact – is undoubtedly unique in some ways. So there may not be a ready made form that addresses the needs of your case. If you cannot find the pre-printed, fill-in-the-blank form you need, you will have to create the legal document yourself.
Creating a legal document from scratch can be a bit intimidating. So you will probably want to find a good example to work from! Look for an example that is as close as possible to the legal document you need – in other words:
- Look for a sample that is the same general type of pleading or motion that you are creating. For example, if you are trying to write a complaint to sue someone, look for a sample complaint (not a sample motion or opposition). Different types of legal documents are used to accomplish different things in different situations. They are not one size fits all!
- Look for a sample that is written from your side of the case. If you are the plaintiff in the case, look for a sample document written from a plaintiff's perspective. A document that is written from the other side's perspective may actually be asking the court for something that hurts your case rather than helps.
- Look for a sample where the facts involved are as close to the facts of your case as possible. For example, if you are writing a complaint to sue someone because they failed to pay back a $15,000 loan, try to find a sample complaint where someone failed to pay money under a promissory note, or maybe failed to perform under a contract, or failed to keep an oral promise, or was unjustly enriched, something like that. But do not use a sample complaint where someone was hit by a car, for example, because it probably will not apply!
- Find a sample document where the party is trying to accomplish the same thing as you. In some cases, one type of legal document can be used to accomplish many different things. In an eviction case, for example, a "motion" (which is, generally, just a procedural device used to bring some limited issue before the court for decision) might be used to pause the case, or dismiss the case, or intervene in the case, or any number of other things.
- Use the samples you find ONLY as guides to help you create your own documents. Do not simply copy word for word because some things may not apply to your case and could even hurt you. If you do not understand a word or phrase, do not include it unless you find out what it means.
When preparing your documents, make sure their format complies with the rules of the court in which your case is pending. Most courts have rules governing how documents are supposed to look and what information they must contain. For example:
- If you have a case in the Eighth Judicial District Court, Local Rule 7.20 governs the general form of papers to be filed, exhibits, documents, and legal citation. There are other local rules that may also apply to your documents. Click to visit our District Court Rules page to learn more. You can obtain additional information on the district court's website. Click to visit our District Court page for links.
- If you have a case in the Las Vegas Justice Court, Local Rule 10 governs the general form of pleadings and papers. There are other local rules that may also apply to your documents. Click to visit our Justice Court Rules page to learn more.
To download blank pleading paper (paper with numbers down the left-hand margin, a case caption on the first page, a signature block, and the like) in Microsoft Word that you can save to your computer and use to prepare your own documents, click on the link below:
Filing Documents With The Court
"Filing" typically means visiting a court clerk at a filing window; paying a filing fee by cash, check, or credit card; and submitting the document to be filed (usually the original and two copies). For each document filed, the court clerk inspects the document to ensure it complies with the court's rules on how legal documents should be formatted and verifies that the case number and caption are for a valid case. (If the document is the first filing in a case, the court clerk assigns a new case number and opens a new file for the case.) Next, the court clerk stamps all copies with a large stamp that indicates the name of the court and the date the document was filed, then keeps one copy for the court's files and returns the remaining copies to the filer for the filer's records and for mailing, personal delivery, or some other form of delivery (as required by the governing rules) on the opposing party in the case. The clerk then adds the document to the docket for the case as well as any related deadlines or events.
Some courts now have electronic filing systems, which allow lawyers and sometimes self-represented parties to simply upload Portable Document Format ("pdf") electronic documents to a secure website maintained by the court or a private commercial service.
- Filing in the District Court. The civil clerk counter is located on the third floor of the Regional Justice Center, 200 Lewis Avenue, in Downtown Las Vegas. Office hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday excluding holidays.
- Filing in the Justice Courts. For specific information about how to file in the justice court in which your case is pending, visit that court's website or call the clerk of that court directly. Click to visit our Justice Courts page for links and contact information.
TIP! Different justice courts may have different filing requirements, so be sure to familiarize yourself with your court's procedures. The Las Vegas Justice Court, for instance, requires all documents to be filed electronically, so anyone filing in that court needs an e-mail address to set up an electronic filing account. Click to visit the Las Vegas Justice Court's website to learn more about its File and Serve program and E-Filing Frequently Asked Questions.