Litigation for Non-Litigators

Not all attorneys do the same things. One of the most significant distinctions is between litigators — attorneys who handle disputes, particularly in court or arbitration — and non-litigators. 

Here are some tips for the non-litigator (or non-lawyer) to think about if you see a dispute brewing: 

  1. Is there anything you have to do before filing litigation or arbitration? For example, if there’s a contract governing the parties relationship, does your client have to give notice of the dispute? Is there a clause requiring the parties to try to mediate their dispute before proceeding to litigation or arbitration?
  2. What documents are likely to be relevant to the dispute and what document retention policies are in place? If employees or consultants are using outside devices or channels (they shouldn’t be), you need to make sure that no documents or information go missing. 
  3. Where would a case be brought? If there’s a contract, does it have anything to say about this? 
  4. What is your clients’ internal position and what’s their external position? DO NOT communicate the internal position to the opposition! This is one of the biggest problems I encounter. In discussions with the other side, while it’s important to say enough so that they know you’re serious and understand the basis for your argument, you don’t have to tell them everything. If you’re ever in doubt as to whether to say something, the best policy is always to keep mum and listen. 
  5. Who is speaking for the client and is the message consistent? It’s not helpful to have your lawyer saying one thing and the CEO saying something else.
  6. Generally speaking, what are your client’s potential claims or the potential claims against your client? 
  7. Is there anyone else involved or who needs to be notified? Is there a third party that might have played a role? Is an insurance company involved? 
  8. Don’t set deadlines or draw lines in the sand if you don’t mean it. 

Aligning on these issues can help a client (or, for non-lawyers, your business) save time and money by either avoiding litigation altogether or ensuring that arguments are properly prepared for litigation if it happens.