You open the door and there is a private process server or sheriff standing at your door with a stack of papers and you get a knot in your stomach. Why? Because you know what it means. Some former employee (or current), past client, vendor, landlord, or someone else you are associated with has served you with a LAWSUIT—–the dreaded word that NO business owner wants to hear or deal with in addition to the millions of other things they have to do.
Now, even though my law firm is a transactional practice, which means I rarely go to Court, I was a litigator (and a very good one I might add) for 2 years out of lawsuit with about a 97% win rate litigating issues before they went to trial. Now that I have formed my practice so that 95% of my practice is practiced OUT of Court, I tell you I am happier—-as are my clients because they let us fulfill our motto of keeping them “IN business and OUT of Court”. But that doesn’t mean I cannot offer some practical tips for those of you that are facing a lawsuit. (I am only authorized to practice law in Georgia BUT these are non-legal tips.)
- 1. Observe. Note the date that you were served with your lawsuit and the manner in which you were served. You have a limited time in which to answer a lawsuit or you can be held in default, which means the Court will enter an order stating that because you didn’t answer, you have agreed to the allegations in the lawsuit. At that time, damages may be assessed against you or a hearing set to decide damages only since liability has already been established. But there is a process in each state in which you MUST be served without exceptions. Give those details to your attorney.
- Lawyer Up. Don’t have one? That’s a problem right? This is why I recommend having one already in mind you will use if you are not currently using them. Because you are on a time crunch, you don’t have time to give this as a project to anyone else or to wait until the next week. There are State Bar Associations that will refer you to lawyers, family and friends, and other lawyers. So don’t delay!
- Prepare.This includes gathering any and all correspondence including texts, emails, letters, pigeon carried messages…ALL correspondence to that your attorney can represent you in the BEST way possible with ALL information. You may be asked to put together a contact list of witnesses or people to talk to so be prepared to hand that over in a speedy manner. The relationship between an attorney and client should be one of transparency and open communication. That’s the only way to have successful legal representation to be honest and open.
- Cooperate and Communicate. You’d think this goes without saying but it doesn’t. Your attorney is on YOUR side and has a fiduciary duty to use their “best efforts” on YOUR behalf. So when they call or email and need information—-please communicate back with them as if this lawsuit is your FIRST priority as it should be. There should never be a message from your attorney that goes unreturned (or returned from a senior staff member). Remember, your attorney is on YOUR side.
- Acknowledge. This means ACKNOWLEDGE that your attorney is not a magician. There are several factors outside of the control of your attorney that can determine your suit from the judge to the county in which the suit was filed. Trust your attorney is doing their best and respect the process. Also ACKNOWLEDGE that litigation will require your time, lots of money and headaches. That’s one reason we like to keep our clients “IN business and OUT of Court” 🙂
Well there you have it! Any good attorney would meet with you and lay out the expectations of a lawsuit with you before representation. It can be a “fast and furious” ride to the courthouse and the attorney is there to make that ride as smooth as possible. I hope this helps with those of you that have an impending lawsuit or have already been served. Buckle up! Litigation is quite an experience.