Shakespeare said, "First kill all the lawyers." Maybe this seems a tad aggressive, but then again, for most people the last thing you look forward to is someone showing up at your door with a subpoena. Whether a lawsuit is business related or personal, the thought of engaging an attorney for protracted litigation can strike fear into a person's heart.
Not only is there emotion and argument to contend with, but the sheer agony of watching those exorbitant hundreds-of-bucks-per-hour fees racking up with no end in sight is enough to terrorize anyone. Even most attorneys, particularly litigators, will advise people to avoid litigation at all costs.
I have been involved in two lawsuits in my lifetime. The first was dismissed during discovery and cost me $29,000 in non-recoverable fees just to demonstrate what I (and everyone else) knew from the start. In the second, I represented myself and challenged the other party's attorney, a guy who was simply burning up his client's retainer without doing due diligence. Upon realizing there was no money and no case, he finally stopped.
In both cases, over-zealous lawyers drove the process at the expense of the clients on both sides of the table. The problem is that many attorneys believe they are right and righteous even when they are not. Others simply thrive on making their living off the misery of others.
As one who recoils from the mere mention of lawsuits, I have learned a few things from my bouts with lawyers that may help others faced with a legal battle. Hopefully these tips will help keep money out of the pockets of the ones who don't have their clients' best interest at heart.
1. Don't Be Bullied
Attorneys are trained to be aggressive. Law school is a brutal and competitive atmosphere where only the strong survive. Don't let their aggressive tactics and blustering ramp up your emotions to the point where you lose sight of truth and fairness. Lawyers are people too; you can stand up to them and take the high road. Law is not rocket science. You can do the basic research and work without spending thousands of dollars in many cases. Take an intelligent, active role in your defense even if you have counsel representing you. (This saves you money, by the way.) Once you learn the law you can attack on your own behalf. I wrote many emails showing these attorneys where they were wrong and negligent to the point of malpractice.
2. Tell the Truth
If you are truly in the wrong then settlement is probably your best approach, but if you are legitimately right then stand up for yourself and provide the facts as they occurred. In both my cases, I stood by the truth and the law without any manipulation or legal shenanigans. That allowed me to maintain consistency and moral superiority, which gave me the confidence I needed to beat both attorneys. My motivation was truth and their motivation was greed. Truth is a better foundation for a sustainable battle.
3. Maintain Your Sense of Humor
This is how you take a traumatic experience like litigation and turn it into an Awesome Experience. Rather than letting my emotions get the best of me, I turned to humor. In my many emails to the second attorney spelling out the law and facts, I used a tone filled with irony and humor. I even sent lawyer jokes. I found ways to catch him off guard and throw him off his game. Although it irritated his client, I focused my barbs and jabs at the attorney. Ultimately I showed him that I was fully prepared to demonstrate the ridiculousness of his actions and that in litigation I would be likeable and paint him as the nasty, evil villain. The emails I sent had some of my funniest writing to date. Writing them helped me keep my cool and express my anger in a productive way. If you don't take your opponent or yourself too seriously you have a better chance of keeping a clear head and seeing the opportunities for success.
4. Prepare Yourself!
The best way to beat lawyers is to not engage with them in the first place. Here are a few questions to ask yourself or your staff that will help keep the attorneys away, or at least prepare you for the day the subpoena shows up.
1. How can you gain a basic understanding of the law related to your job and business?
2. How can you easily document facts that relate to potential legal issues at your company?
3. What are your first five steps should you receive a business or personal subpoena?
4. Where are you vulnerable in your dealings by not being truthful?
I am happy to say that there are more and more attorneys building successful practices on litigation prevention and civil resolution. Hopefully this is a trend and the remaining self-serving, greedy attorneys will be left to move on to join their colleagues in the other profession where they seem to thrive...politics.