Being involved in a lawsuit, whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant, can be a serious anxiety-inducing scenario for any business owner. When you find yourself on the receiving end of a court summons, it is a terrible feeling. You get slapped with some papers by a process server, who sometimes even says “your served,” like you see on television. You may feel publicly accused, possibly humiliated, usually angry, and you might even have the desire to loudly explain to anyone within earshot that the case is “nonsense,” or you might use stronger language.
Even after you receive the Complaint and the initial shock wears off, you need to decide your next move, and that often involves uncertainty and stress. The law only gives you a certain amount of time to respond to a Complaint (20 days in D.C. Superior Court Civil Cases), and now that you have been served, you have a ticking clock. You might not know who to call or what to do or where to look for someone who knows the answers to all of the questions swimming around your head, let alone your worries about the cost of defending this lawsuit.
For plaintiffs, the experience is different, but not necessarily better. Often, plaintiffs have been frustrated in their efforts to resolve a dispute, without involving lawyers. Perhaps the would-be defendant stopped communicating, would not reciprocate efforts at a reasoned resolution, or could not perform obligations that they were supposed to, and the options have run out.
The point is that civil litigation, on either side, can be a painful, time-consuming, and often expensive process for all of the parties involved. It must be treated as a last resort and approached with a commonsense view towards cost-effectiveness. Too often the cost of litigation is near or exceeds the amount in controversy. Inevitably, this makes resolution of the case prior to the Court deciding it, far less likely. For that reason, it is extremely important to have an honest discussion about your budget in our first meeting.
In order to achieve your goal, I need to know what outcome you consider to be a “win,” and what resources you are willing to dedicate to reach that result. A “win” is not always a jury verdict or judgment in your favor. In fact, quite frequently, that turns out to be a “loss.” If you have spent more money on the litigation than you have sued for, even if you get a judgment, what have you really won? You have a piece of paper awarding you an amount of money that may or may not be collectible. A situation in which the loser pays the winner’s attorney’s fees is a rare exception to the general rule that each party pays their own lawyer.
Given the risk of the Pyrrhic victory (where a technical win actually turns out to be practical a loss), it is imperative that we decide at the outset exactly what financial resources you are able to dedicate to the matter and discuss what, if any settlement possibilities that raises.
Sometimes there is no choice but to move forward, with a case. It is my job to give you all of the information I can about the consequences and what the possible outcomes will mean for you and your business. I work very hard to put you in a position to make sound decisions based on the facts of your case, applicable law and the practical impact that litigation may have on your business.