Sometimes the hardest part of a lawyer’s job is explaining to a client that suing someone has nothing to do with right and wrong. A client will come into my office feeling wronged because he or she didn’t get the benefit of a bargain. Perhaps the other side of a business deal acted unfairly or failed to perform. So my client wants revenge.
I think this is one of the unfortunate results of people watching too much television. From all those episodes of The Practice and Ally McBeal people get the idea that the legal system is somehow going provide them with vindication – that truth and justice will be upheld.
That isn’t the way it usually works. Or as I tell my clients – cool your jets, tatellah, and have a seat. Into every life a little rain must fall. And no, not everyone plays fair and justice is not always done.
So before we go off half-cocked and initiate a lawsuit, you need to realistically assess what happened and consider what your objectives are. Otherwise, the only thing you are sure to accomplish is making a huge commitment to put my grade-school daughter through medical school. In other words, bringing a lawsuit is like any other major business decision – it’s the subject of a cost-benefit analysis.
You should start by considering if the business relationship is worth salvaging? If so, there may be far more cost-effective means to proceed instead of rushing to file suit. Can this slight be solved with negotiation? Mediation? Arbitration?
Only after ruling out these less costly alternatives should your attention turn to the option of going to court. The next question: why do you want to sue? Is this a lawsuit about principle or a suit to get money?
If you want to sue to get money, then we can proceed with a more formal cost-benefit analysis. When entering litigation, you need to have a realistic view of your upside and downside case. (Never forget – the most common response to getting sued is to bring counter-claims!) You need to assess the probability of success. And you need to understand the cost parameters. It’s all too common that the cost of bringing a lawsuit end up exceeding the eventual recovery. So if this is really a suit to get money, then we have to evaluate if litigation makes financial sense.
If you want to sue on principle, we can still proceed – but be prepared to open up your checkbook. Principles don’t come cheap, particularly not in our legal system which operates much more through equivocation and compromise. You may dream for your day in court so you can hear the Judge say that you’re right. But it’s much more likely the Judge is going to urge you and your adversary to go out in the corridor to work out a settlement on your own.
So the long and short of it is that if you are thinking about bringing a lawsuit, take some time to understand just what a morass litigation can be. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of spending time in a real courtroom, you are hereby forewarned that the pace is considerably more sluggish than what you’re used to on TV. In place of a 2-minute commercial break we’re talking about adjournments that last weeks and months and discovery that can drag on for years. I suggest you look at our litigation primer in order to get a much better idea what a plaintiff must endure before getting a chance at courtroom vindication.
If you are still ready to sue then by all means give us a call. My 8-year-old daughter is quite serious about medical school.