It’s Not Worth Fighting Over

In Litigation by Richard Bianco

I can’t even count the number of times that a potential client has come to me, with a juicy, winning litigation case, with one big problem… the amount of money in dispute is less than the legal fees will be. Frustrating, for both of us.

The problem is that litigation is an alternate financial reality. In litigation world, $15,000 is not a lot of money. In the real world, it is.

In some cases, incurring the cost of full representation in litigation is absolutely necessary. Here is a fast illustration:

You hired a home improvement contractor to build an extension onto your house, it is 3/4 finished when your architect tells you it was not built properly and needs to be torn down and rebuilt. The contractor claims it was to spec., and that the architect’s plans were incorrect. He demands payment and files a mechanics lien against your house for the balance of the contract. The cost of the demolition and rebuild might run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. In such a case, the tens of thousands in litigation expenses are justified.

However, in cases where the damages are lower, the high litigation cost simply does not make sense.

Consider a similar situation. This time it’s a window and door replacement project with a $36,000 contract price. After installation, but before the final draw is paid, you notice the windows don’t seem to fit right. They don’t open and close properly and one even fell out and landed in the backyard. The contractor demands payment, you refuse -next thing you know- he files a mechanics lien and a lawsuit.

Now, what do you do? You don’t want to pay the final $12,000 under the contract and get the lien removed. You don’t want to let this incompetent clown touch your house again to “fix the problem,” as he promised to, and the reputable contractor you consulted is going to charge you another $7,500 to fix the shoddy workmanship.

To get the lien removed, get the project completed by a good contractor and move on with your life, you are looking at an out-of-pocket cost of $19,500, $7,500 more than you originally bargained for.

Now you are in my office, with a very winnable, case, that will be impossible to litigate in a cost-effective manner.

So, what is the answer for good people caught in bad legal situations, where there is not “enough” money in controversy to justify hiring a lawyer for a full battery of litigation services?

Limited Scope Representation Can Bridge the Gap…

“Unbundled” or “limited scope” representation is a new offering of mine in litigation matters. In this type of representation a client engages me to perform certain tasks, within the litigation, but, I do not assume responsibility for the management or strategy of the entire case. The client represents herself, and hires me, on an as-needed basis, to provide certain limited services, such as research, drafting, edit/review of documents that the client wants to file. In some cases, where appropriate, I can even be engaged to appear at a hearing and present argument or take a deposition. At the outset of each case, I provide a schedule of my litigation service offerings, and the client can hire me, to perform any number of the individual tasks.

However, DIY litigation, even with professional backup, is not for everyone. Depending on your knowledge and level of experience, you may have a very difficult time managing a civil action. The laws and rules governing civil cases are complex and nuanced. It takes lawyers years of study and experience to be able to maneuver effectively in litigation. So, if you are walking into a courtroom for the first time, you are going to make a lot of mistakes.

In some lawsuits, where the amount in controversy does not justify the expense of full representation, and the client has the wherewithal to manage the procedural aspects of their case, limited scope services can be a valuable option. It can give the right client the dual benefits of lower costs, and the assistance and oversight of an experienced litigator, to help avoid mistakes, (and to properly deal with them when they inevitably come up).

If you think that you have a case which might be a good candidate for “limited scope” or unbundled litigation services, call or schedule an appointment online for a free case evaluation.