The thought of filing a lawsuit may seem empowering because you feel you have been wronged and want your day in court, but the reality of litigation is rarely understood. Before stepping into the litigation arena, we suggest there are at least five questions you should ask yourself and your lawyer:
- What are the benefits of the proposed lawsuit? So your lawyer has recommended filing a lawsuit to resolve your issue. It is important to understand why he/she feels the lawsuit is necessary and how it will benefit you in the short-run and in the long-run. It is imperative that you have the ability to make an informed decision.
- Are there alternatives to litigation? What are the other options? We have written about this before, how important it is to understand and weigh alternatives to litigation. Ask about the risks and benefits of alternatives compared to litigation.
- Should I get a second opinion? Ask your lawyer if you should get a second opinion. His/her answer may reveal much about how you will be treated and your case handled. It can be insightful to discuss the recommended lawsuit and the alternatives with another lawyer.
- What will the lawsuit cost? Ask your lawyer how much he/she expects the lawsuit will cost. What are the components and how much will each cost? Will there be the need for depositions or for expert witnesses? The cost of lawsuits are generally broken down into six basic categories:
- The lawyer’s fee (sometimes including multiple lawyers and secretarial overtime)
- Research and copy fees
- Court costs
- Expert witness fees
- Consultant fees (including expert consultants and document vendors)
- Deposition fees
5. How long will the lawsuit take? The life of a lawsuit depends on a number of factors such as speed of court/judge’s docket and tenacity of your and/or the opposing attorney. Ask whether the lawsuit is susceptible to a dismissal action (filed by the opponent at the outset of the case), or to a summary judgment action (filed by the opponent after discovery is completed). Ask how long discovery will take (discovery is the fact-finding phase of the case) and whether your lawyer expects simple discovery, scorched earth discovery or something in between. And how long does your attorney think a trial would take?
There are never too many questions to ask before embarking on litigation, and NO question is stupid. Ask every question you can think of until you believe you understand what you would be getting into. Read up on your type of case in your jurisdiction. Read up on the judge. Ask your lawyer for tips on what information you can access on your own to better understand what you would be getting into. And above all, take notes when talking with your attorney. Legalese can be difficult to grasp the first time, especially if the matter is an emotional one.
Litigation is time-consuming, emotionally draining, and expensive, and it often takes on a life of its own. Be forward thinking and ask lots of questions before you embark.
You’ve got options. The Center for Legal Practice Reform can help you navigate the attorney/client relationship and level the playing field. Call LPR today for a free consultation – (301) 351-7970.