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Ten Things to Think About: Lawsuits

Lawsuits are serious business, requiring plenty of time, energy, and money. Here are some things to consider if you are involved in litigation.

1. This is a waste of time. Not necessarily. You should take ANY lawsuit seriously. Even if you are being sued for starting the arms race, you have to address all the issues raised in the lawsuit as if they were real claims.

2. I don't have an attorney. Most people don't. If you get involved in a lawsuit, shop around for an attorney you feel comfortable with. You and your attorney are going to spend a fair amount of time together during the course of the lawsuit, and you need to find someone you can work with. Make sure that you have a written retainer agreement with your attorney, detailing what you will be charged and for what, and what your attorney will do for you.

3. I'll get in trouble if [fill in blank] comes out. That might be true, but it is also probably true that if you are involved in a lawsuit, it WILL come out. Be honest and forthcoming with your attorney. Even if it is embarrassing, it is better if your attorney knows. Giving your attorney insufficient information is like hiring a chauffeur and not telling him or her that your brakes don't work.

Give your attorney everything in your relevant files, again even if it is embarrassing or incriminating. If you have the document, the odds are that someone else does too.

4. I can't afford this. Most people can't really afford the expenses of a full-blown lawsuit. You should look at all legal actions as a balancing act between the expenses of going forward and the costs to you if you don't. The question is, really, whether you can afford to ignore it.

Consider, if you are sued, whether you might have insurance coverage under some insurance policy. Many policies require that you report incidents to the insurer, so it is important to look at policies as soon as you can.

5. Why are we fighting over this? You should realize that most lawsuits settle, and that the court system is designed to put pressure on you to settle the lawsuit. You continually need to reassess whether the lawsuit makes economic sense. If you are spending a large portion of the amount at issue in the lawsuit on legal fees, the lawsuit is probably not a good move. Remember that your time is worth something. So is your peace of mind.

6. My attorney doesn't understand I don't have time for this. Yes, he or she does. Adequate preparation for a lawsuit, though, takes time. Make yourself available to your attorney for discussions regarding the case, including working on discovery and preparation for depositions and trial. It is not a waste of your time if it helps you to win the lawsuit.

7. Court is scary, and too formal. A courtroom can be an intimidating place. That means you should follow your attorney's advice about courtroom decorum and behavior, and don't be afraid to ask him or her if something is appropriate. It's one of the things that you are paying your lawyer for.

8. This is insulting. Don't take this lawsuit personally. If you are being sued, it is probably for economic reasons, not because you are a bad person. If you are forced to sue someone, it is probably for economic reasons or because communication has broken down.

9. Well, at least my opponent will have to pay my fees. Probably not. Even if there is a statute saying you can be awarded fees, judges are very reluctant to award them unless the positions your opponent takes are frivolous. Never make the decision to bring a lawsuit based on the possibility that you might be awarded your attorney's fees. Even then, it may not happen. Don't pursue a lawsuit for revenge, either. Lawsuits are expensive, which means that revenge is expensive.

10. I could never pay this judgment. Even if true, that concern may be irrelevant. Don't be intimidated by the amount that your opponent is requesting as damages. Often, this figure is dictated by a civil procedure rule or statute, and bears no relation to the opponent's actual damages. Also, remember that no one asks for the reasonable damages that they feel they are owed; in a lawsuit, they are asking for their best-case scenario.

By the same token, don't become tied to the amount you have asked for in damages. It's your best-case scenario, too, and the odds are, if you go to trial or settle the lawsuit, you will receive less than you have asked for.

And one extra:

Will this ever end? Yes, but perhaps not as soon as you might hope. Don't forget that lawsuits can take a lot of time. In some large cities, it can take five years for a civil suit to go to trial. Even in low-population areas, it is typical for a civil suit to take a year from start to finish.

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