Can a member represent the LLC in civil court or must it hire an attorney?
In a California small claims action, a LLC may be represented by a member of the LLC. However, the formal answer must come from the LLC not the individual since the claim is against the business not the member personally.
The amount of the claim you mentioned means that your case is not being adjudicated in small claims court where the rule allowing self-representation exists. Therefore, in civil court the LLC must be represented by legal counsel.
The rationale for this requirement in part may because a LLC can only act through its agents which opens the door to anyone claiming to be representing the company. With a lawyer to hold responsible for any falsehoods, the courts may feel more security that false representations aren't taking place. In other words, if the representative is limited to lawyers, who are officers of the court and regulated by the State Bar, a lawsuit filed without proper authority to represent the corporation means the lawyer can be disciplined by the Court, the State Bar, or both. Also, this is the only way that the court can know that the company is being given proper legal advice. Otherwise, the company can say it was given bad advice by a non-lawyer and possibly the court will need to rehear past decisions.