By Abdul Muhammed Esq.
You should do your utmost to prevent having a situation in which you are sued or in which you have to sue someone. Court cases are time consuming and very expensive and if you can avoid those then you should.
The following tips can assist you to prevent litigation as much as is practicable to do so.
Court cases can aggravate your life and you want to try to avoid them – unless you are a trial lawyer.
Your court case (if you do have them) will be about you and will not be about your lawyer, however your trial lawyer will get paid (by you) for working on your court cases.
Trial lawyers tend to be expensive.
For this and other reasons, your interest is best served if you can avoid having to go to court.
Nine Tips to Avoid Court Cases.
1. Pay your lawyer to negotiate a settlement at the onset of disagreement with other parties
Effective trial lawyers will always try to settle a dispute before going to court. As a client you should understand that you are wise to pay your lawyer for the time and effort put into a settlement campaign.
If you are willing to pay a lawyer only within the context of her filing your case in court, then you must accept that you are more likely than not to have cases in court because the natural tendency of a lawyer will be to do those pieces of work that will result in the lawyer getting paid.
To be clear, if you have a dispute on your hands you should have a discussion with your lawyer and agree to a payment rate for your lawyer’s time to attempt to negotiate a settlement (which is different from the fee for a court case).
If the case is settled you will not need to pay for a court case. That will be good for you and that is good for your lawyer too. You avoid a war and your lawyer gets paid for her time which she has spent in helping you to avoid the needless war.
In settlement discussions it is always best to schedule four way meetings involving the two parties and the two sides.
Know that it may be cheaper and wiser for you to invest some time and money in having a four way meeting because if you do the four way meeting your chances of coming to a settlement is brighter.
If you arrange a four way settlement meeting your chances of succeding in defining the issues so as to be able to focus on the interests of the parties rather than on the positions of the parties are greater.
In settlement meeting please focus on your real interests and make sure to focus less on your positions.
If you focus more on your interests rather than your positions then you and your settlement lawyers are more likely to solve the problem. If you solve the problem you may not need to file a court case.
2. Read written agreements before you sign them
A more accurate statement here would be to advise you to take your time to reflect, review and seek counsel before you sign agreements.
Generally speaking, the legal advice that you get in relation to reading and understanding agreements before you sign them will be far far cheaper than the cost of instructing a trial lawyer to defend you in a court case that results from your failure to look before jumping.
Do not pretend to yourself that the agreement must be signed urgently or at once. Taking two days before signing the agreement will not be inappropriate delay at all. You are better off taking two days to read, reflect on and be advised by a lawyer before signing an agreement as the two days may save you years of litigation.
Pay a good lawyer to advise you and pay her for her time. If you imagine that your lawyer should review your agreement for free you will fail in that enterprise and you may eventually pay a higher price in court fees and costs (down the road) than you would have paid to be counselled on the back end by your lawyer.
3. Check out character references
An agreement is as good as the character of the persons you are in agreement with.
Before you get into business with someone check out her character references.
Ask for references.
Check out all references. Check them out in the locality in which they operate. Check them out on the internet. Check their references with people that have interacted with them in the past.
If you know the nature of the person that you want to enter into relations with that helps you to evaluate your own situation properly. You may decide after verification not to do business with some prospects. You may decide to do business with the prospects in a certain manner or only under certain conditions having regard to the character verification.
Make the time and effort to check out references. Pay your lawyer or other professional persons to check out and verify character references. If you fail to do so, you would wish you had when you have to sue that chronic debtor for the millions that he owes you. You will learn a bitter lesson that had you verified his character beforehand, you would have discovered the stuff about him that would have disqualified a chronic debtor from enjoying credit with you.
4. Be consistent
If you are inconsistent in dealing with people you are likely to be accused of dishonestly, nepotism and bad faith.
If your business partners or employees think of you in these terms then you are more likely than not to have disputes that are likely to get to court.
If you are an employer try to keep rules and regulations to a minimum. If your regulations are fewer they are manageable and more likely to be enforced across board.
If you have far too many policies in place, the chances are that you will not implement all the policies in a consistent fashion. If you do not implement all policies consistently how can you defend yourself in court against an employee that accuses you of discrimination and victimization when the employee takes you to court?
5. Think of the ending at the beginning
When you are involved in a transaction you should take a brief moment to think it through.
Ask yourself what might be the likely conclusion of that action. Examine the likely issues. Think it through to its end and prepare for the possibilities.
It is true that a lawyer cannot advise you to do an illegal act, but the best lawyers can advise you on how to do your things without breaking the law. If you can make a paying consultation with your lawyer to think it through.
Before you begin a thing ask yourself how would this end? If you do this often you will avoid unnecessary disagreements, disputes and problems because having considered the likelihoods you should be able to head off the consequences of disagreements and disputes that may land you in court.
6. Document your interactions and date your documents
If you make a habit of documenting your interactions by way of follow up email, SMS or letters you will be able to avoid disputes and court cases.
The habit of documenting actions will solve for you the problems associated with remembering things. So many conflicts erupt because one party has a different recollection of what happened or of what was agreed.
In fact you are likely to even file a case against someone because you forget or misremember what happened in your transaction.
Often you will be emotional because someone has forgotten a promise that she had made. Someone can genuinely forget, but when the you genuinely forget and other party believes that you are acting out of mischief both of you can have serious conflict.
So while parties may forget, parties may not remember accurately or may misstate facts that occurred in the past, written statements made contemporaraneously may be accurate. You will then find that in many cases these documents will aid your remembrance and dissolve the apparent disputes.
While you are doing the follow up documentations do remember to date your writings.
7. Be aware of disagreement and respond in an upfront manner
No court case turns out from the blues.
Before a case is filed in court there will be complaints or letters. The smoke before the fire, those letters are opportunities for you to repair and mitigate your disputes.
If you take complaints as the early warning signs (which they are) you will be able to mitigate your disputes in such a way that you will not need to go to court.
Consider the substance of complaint.
Then take another look.
Be upfront and fair and if you are truly enaged you can avoid a complaint from escalating to a full blown court case.
8. Pay special attention to money and asset sharing
Money, money, money.
When you have a relationship that involves money and assets it is best to have an upfront discussion or negotiation to have a clear agreement as to the sharing.
You should pay attention to how money and assets will be shared in the event that your transaction ends earlier than you both have planned. In the event of early termination (or even at the planned end of the business) how would the assets be shared?
Put those agreements about money and asset sharing in writing.
9. Seek counsel as early as possible
Get legal advice before you enter into significant arrangements or interactions.
Get competent legal advice at the first hint of disagreement.
If someone complains to you get mature counsel.
Do not wait until you have been sued.
Abdul Muhammed is Lead Principal at Abdul Muhammed LP, a form of Nigerian trial lawyers. He blogs at amlpblog.wordoress.com.