Like going to the dentist, litigation is sometimes necessary but rarely fun. It is a drain on your time, interferes with your business, disrupts your life, and can exact a substantial monetary and emotional toll. If you are forced to go down the litigation road, choosing your travel guide is one of the most important decisions you will make. In many ways, your San Diego business litigation attorney will lead you on this journey. You need someone who is not only skilled but also compatible with you and right for your case.
Here are 8 tips for choosing a business litigation attorney:
Tip #1: What Are Your Qualifications?
Of primary importance is that your litigation lawyer have experience in the area of law your case involves. Take time to review each attorney’s qualifications. If your case may go to trial, find out whether the lawyer has significant trial experience. The majority of business lawsuits settle prior to trial, so recently licensed attorneys often will not have much experience in a courtroom.
Tip #2: Are You a Good Listener?
This is a question which will typically be answered by the attorney’s conduct. You need a lawyer with whom you are comfortable and who is willing to take the time to listen to your concerns. If an attorney seems too hurried to hear you out, is condescending, or seems uncomfortable answering your questions, your journey through the litigation process is likely to be more difficult than necessary. Listening is a critical aspect of being a superior litigator. Hiring a litigation attorney who is able and willing to help you understand your case and the judicial process will probably not make your journey fun, but it can save you a great deal of frustration and expense.
Tip #3: What are the Strengths and Weaknesses of My Case?
Every business owner faced with litigation deserves an honest assessment of their situation, even if it is difficult to hear—better to have an accurate evaluation of your case now, rather than being let down later. If a business litigation lawyer tells you that your matter is a “slam dunk,” pick up your things and leave. There are no slam dunks! Why? Because there is no certainty when a case goes before a judge, a jury, an arbitrator or any other third party. The judicial process, like the humans who run it, is imperfect and sometimes unpredictable.
Tip #4: How Much Will It Cost?
When you embark on litigation, it is important to decide whether it makes economic sense to fight to the end or settle as quickly as possible. If you have a $50,000 dispute, you don’t want to spend that much or more to resolve it. The San Diego business litigation lawyer you consider should be willing to provide estimates based on a best case scenario and worst case scenario evaluation. This will aid you in not only making a decision about which lawyer to hire, but it can also aid in developing an initial case strategy to either seek an early settlement, or to commit to taking the case to trial.
Tip #5: Who Will Handle My Matter?
Let’s say you’ve met with a lawyer, were impressed with her capabilities and retained her to represent you. Will it really be that lawyer who works on your case and represents you throughout the process? Or will your case be relegated to a less experienced associate or maybe even a paralegal? You can’t know for sure unless you ask. Legal research and other tasks may often be done less expensively by younger attorneys or paralegals. However, if you want a particular business litigation lawyer to handle everything, you should make that clear up front.
Tip #6: Where Is the Engagement Agreement?
Ask to review the lawyer’s engagement agreement. This document should set forth the fee structure, the scope of the engagement, any requirement for an up-front retainer, how out-of-pocket costs will be handled, and any other terms of the firm’s representation. Once signed, it is a binding contract, so make sure you ask the attorney to explain any language you don’t understand. If you are told you don’t need a written contract, look for a different lawyer to represent you.
Tip #7: What Charges Should I Expect to See on My Bill?
This may seem like an obvious question, but in many respects, it is not. Generally, if you are paying an hourly fee and phone your attorney, you are going to be billed for that call. If your business litigation attorney has a substantive discussion about your matter with someone else in his or her office, you will usually be billed for that conference. If an associate does research on your file, you will likely be billed for that work. If a paralegal reviews documents or organizes a file, you will probably be billed for his or her time. There is nothing particularly surprising about these examples, but what about charges for electronic research? How about faxes or photocopies? All of these billing issues should be addressed in the engagement letter. And if it includes something you do not like, discuss it with your attorney before you sign the contract.
Tip #8: What Is The Likely Outcome?
The answer to this question typically changes as the case proceeds through the judicial process since the facts of the case will develop through discovery and pleadings that are filed. However, it is still important to discuss the issue at the beginning of the process. Ultimately, there is no benefit to you or your relationship with your business litigation lawyer to have unrealistic expectations.
These tips are by no means exhaustive. Keep in mind that your San Diego business litigation attorney’s job is to make the process as painless as possible, to keep you informed, and to protect your interests above all others. You should never hesitate to ask your lawyer anything, no matter how big or small. To learn more about our business litigation lawyers, contact us today, and ask away!