We’ve all watched legal dramas unfold on TV, whether it’s Law & Order or following the latest trial in the news. What we see often includes intense questioning by a lawyer, a witness who crumbles under said questioning, and of course, a smoking gun that shocks the jury and leads to a swift end to the trial. As a member of the audience, I too enjoy the drama and suspense. But as a business litigator, I can’t help but pick apart the obvious stereotypes. Here’s what you really need to know about business litigation:
- It takes time. A lot of it. Not only does it take time for the case to move through the system, but litigation also requires a lot of time. This concept is particularly obvious when it comes to the discovery process. This is when the parties gather facts and documents, interview witnesses, and work with their expert witnesses and can last a year or more. The process can be further extended by issues outside of your control (such as the pandemic which forced most courts around the country to close or significantly reduce operations). Also, realize that participating in the discovery process requires a significant investment of your Among other things, you’ll be asked to search your emails and files for important documents and be available for depositions and hearings. Be ready to devote your time and attention to your case.
- Obtaining a judgment in your favor does not mean you’ll get an immediate payout. At the end of the day, a judgment is a piece of paper. Now don’t get me wrong…a piece of paper from a court that entitles you to collect money from the other side is certainly valuable, but it’s not the same as a check made payable to you. If you obtain a judgment and the other side doesn’t willingly pay it, you’ll have to go through the collections process. This process can include post-judgment discovery, garnishing bank accounts or wages, and foreclosing on real property. Be ready to continue going through the process to collect on your judgment.
- And speaking of winners, there often is no real winner. Juries and judges alike will often “split the baby” and find in favor of one party on some issues and in favor of another party on other issues. If you truly had a slam dunk case, your case would likely settle prior to trial. Be realistic with your expectations.
Individuals and businesses are often faced with the difficult decision of whether to move forward with litigation. If you have a good case with strong facts and you just can’t come to a settlement with the other side, sometimes litigation makes sense. Before you do so, however, speak to a business litigator who will help you analyze your case and honestly evaluate whether you should pursue litigation.
Angelina Whitaker is a partner with Blue Sky Law in Smyrna, Georgia. She focuses her practice on problem solving business disputes that involve breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duties, fraud, partnership disputes, and landlord/tenant disputes for small and mid-size businesses in a variety of industries. You can reach her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.