Egon Singerman has seen business owners learn about the law the hard way. As an attorney specializing in small claims court cases, Singerman often represents businesses that feel they've been wronged — albeit ever so slightly.

Take the case of the independent surveyor, contacted by a young couple interested in having their property surveyed. A miscommunication between the husband and wife resulted in the surveyor coming out to do the job, instead of just offering an estimate first. The husband then refused to pay the bill.

Enter small claims court, the first and often last refuge for sole proprietors involved in customer disputes. While it's more commonly known as a tool for consumers to sue businesses over breach of contract, repair problems or damage to property, small claims court is actually a tremendous resource for small businesses. If you're owed money by a client, the court can work to your advantage.

"A lot of businesses look on small claims court as the enemy," notes attorney Bob Valerian. "But it's actually a service."

In fact, business owners can effectively file their cases and represent themselves without worrying about hiring an attorney. If you know how to use it, small claims can be a quick, easy and inexpensive way to settle a dispute.

In order to file a small claims suit there are a few rules to follow. First, the maximum amount that you can sue for in Southern Ohio is $3,000, and you may not separate claims in order to exceed this amount. In Northern Kentucky, the maximum is $1,500, and in Indiana, the maximum is $6,000.

Before filing a small claims suit, however, you can opt to settle your dispute through mediation. Mediation is a process where two parties settle a dispute through a neutral party, a mediator; there is no judgment of wh'™s right or wh'™s wrong.

Assuming mediation tanks, it's on to the court. To file a small claims suit, you must know the address of the party you are filing against. Although you cannot sue a minor, you may sue through their parent or legal guardian.

For small claims hearings, you must be able to prove your case by a preponderance of admissible, credible evidence.

To file a small claims suit on the Ohio side, the cost is $33 and an additional $7 for each additional defendant. For Northern Kentucky, prepare to fork over $33 and a service fee of $30. In Indiana, the cost is $70 and each additional defendant costs $10.

During a small claims hearing, a magistrate "” a lawyer appointed by the court "” will hear the case.

Greg Hartmann, Hamilton County Clerk of Courts, oversees all of the small claims cases filed in Hamilton County, approximately 5,100 a year on average. "A certain amount of these 5,000 plus hearings will be on by default, which means the defendant doesn't show up," Hartmann says. "And sometimes there may be a payout so the case doesn't go to court."

When is it worth filing a small claims suit? "Well, that's a hard question to answer because it really depends on how much time someone has and the issue of the suit," says Hartmann. "A lot of the times, people will file a lawsuit not necessarily for an amount of money but for the fact that they want some justice."

When you are suing someone you must sue in the defendant's county of residence. "This is a jurisdiction rule and it is the most prevalent or obvious place to sue someone because that is where they do their business," observes Hartmann.

Watch the calendar, says Hartmann. You have around a year to file a small claims suit, due to the statutes of limitations, "but the sooner the better because everything will be fresh in your memory and if you have a witness you need them to remember the incident."

Small claims hearings are lawsuits that you do not need an attorney for unless you're incorporated (if so, you must bring an attorney to represent you. The attorney that is representing the corporation must also have a license to work in the state that the hearing is taking place).

"If you own your own business or have sole proprietorship, you do not need an attorney, you can represent yourself," Hartmann notes. If you win your case and the court awards you damages, it's now up to you to collect your money. "The courts are not in the collection business. You must get your own money, once you get your judgment."

There are a number of methods to obtain assistance in collecting the money that is owed you. First, there is a Judgment Debtors Exam, a procedure whereby the debtor is summoned to appear in court to answer questions regarding their personal assets. The second is the Small Claims Questionnaire, a survey that is mailed to the debtor to answer questions regarding their personal assets.

"Find out if the individual who owes you money, after you obtain a judgment in small claims court, has a job. After that you can garnish their wages and see whether they own property," Hartmann suggests.