Our approach to the practice of law demands that we ply our skills as advocates on several different playing fields – negotiation of contracts, mediation of disputes and preparation of settlement documents with care to safeguard our client’s interests. Experience has taught us that oftentimes battles can be won before a conflict escalates to litigation if parties to a dispute engage in carefully reasoned, but forthright discussions of their claims. Thus, we believe we owe it to our clients to exhaust all avenues for resolving their case through skillful negotiation and diplomacy whenever it is possible to do so. John F. Kennedy’s famous quote is worthy counsel for those on the brink of a lawsuit: “We must never negotiate out of fear; but we must never fear to negotiate.”
Not all disputes lend themselves to negotiation at the front end. Occasionally, we encounter situations in which a client is facing some immediate and imminent threat of harm to himself, his family or property, and there is simply no time to engage the source of this threat in discourse. When such a case arises, or in situations in which negotiations have reached an impasse or otherwise become futile, we must act quickly, competently and effectively by filing suit to protect our client’s interests.
While we are professional litigators, we are always mindful that for most of our clients the prospect of going to court can be as stressful and intimidating as any life experience they have faced. That is why we believe it is our obligation to carefully prepare our clients for this challenge.
Here are seven things we emphasize to our clients about litigation:
- It is critical to the outcome of your case that you provide your attorney with all of the facts, the “good, bad and the ugly” regarding your situation. This means also gathering any documents, emails or other communications that are remotely relevant to your claims and preserving any evidence, even if you believe it casts a negative light on your position.
- Determine at the outset a realistic goal or what may be considered a “win”. Oftentimes, clients say to us: “it’s not about the money; it is purely a matter of principle.” Experience has taught us that clients who insist on this as their motivation for filing suit are among the most problematic and usually are never satisfied with the outcome. With few exceptions, the only “benefit” a court of law can bestow a successful litigant is a monetary award. While we certainly recognize that is often poor consolation for the loss or injury that prompted your lawsuit, if you expect vindication or an apology you are setting an unrealistic expectation and are in store for disappointment.
- Rely on the counsel and advice of your attorney regarding the timeframe and sequencing of your case. Lawsuits progress in intervals that are set according to a system of court rules and scheduling orders that may seem at times arbitrary or even dilatory to clients. But each sequence from the “pleading phase” to the “discovery phase” to the “dispositive motion phase” of your case is important and requires careful planning and execution.
- Give scheduled appointments with your lawyer priority when necessary for preparation for your deposition. Cases can be won or lost based on your deposition testimony. We regard this as one of the most important jobs we perform to prepare a client for this critical aspect of their case.
- Maintain open communication with your attorney throughout the course of your case. It is not uncommon for you to discover new information or learn additional facts that are relevant to your case. As a party to a lawsuit, you have a continuing obligation to “seasonably supplement” your earlier responses to any written questions “interrogatories” and to provide any new documentation whenever you discover it.
- Use discretion when sharing with others about your lawsuit. In this age of social media, there is no such thing as a right to privacy when it comes to sharing information about your case on social media. Be assured that opposing counsel will be scouring the Internet to learn anything about you or your case that is publicly accessible.
- Recognize that your conduct during the trial is a visual testimony to the judge and jury of your character and credibility. By the time your case gets to trial, you have lived with the facts of your case for several months. But to the judge and more especially the jury, they will only have a brief, and focused glimpse into your case. Your attitude and demeanor during trial send important messages to these “strangers” to your case. Jurors often influenced as much by they “see” about your behavior in or out of the courtroom than they are by what they “hear” when you testify.
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