In our firm’s civil litigation practice, we are often surprised by how unfamiliar many of our new clients are with the nature of litigation—which is to say, lawsuits. Civil lawsuits are all cases that do not involve government prosecutors’ charging of criminal behavior, and include such matters as breach of contract and other business issues, real estate claims, housing discrimination, personal injury(negligence), invasion of privacy, and trade secrets infringement. Convinced that the happiest client is the best-informed client, who will appreciate his (“he” and “his” include “she” and “her”) attorney’s goals and process, and thus aid the attorney in aggressively advocating the client’s interests, we offer this primer of the several phases of the typical business or negligence lawsuit filed in California superior courts. 

Business professionals sitting around a conference table

    Legal disputes are resolved in one of three ways. The simplest is mediation, whereby the disputants ask a neutral third party—often but not necessarily a judge or lawyer—to bring them together to agree on a resolution. At the other end of the spectrum is litigation, which is a lawsuit requiring the court to resolve the matter, by a trial if necessary. Then there is arbitration, which is essentially an informal trial, presided over by a retired judge or a lawyer selected by the parties. If you can resolve your problem by mediating, that’s the way to go. But assuming that mediation is not in the cards, or that the parties have tried it unsuccessfully, they will often have a chance to choose between trial and arbitration. This choice may arise when the parties are drafting their contract (see our previous article about the importance of having a written contract, Three Crucial Reasons You Need a Written Business Contract) and must decide how any dispute will be handled. Or the parties may decide to ignore the written provisions and negotiate the forum for resolution. In either case you should be prepared to discuss with your attorney and the opposing party which route to choose. And that requires some knowledge of the benefits of each.

Guy walks into the Bar, asks for a beer. “Sorry,” the Bar-keep replies, “no beer for you! But I’ll give you something better, and for free: a primer on how to go about choosing the right lawyer.” And here is what he told me:

Lawyers vary in quality more than perhaps any other professionals. Passing the Bar Exam means merely that the student knew enough law and could conduct the minimal amount of analysis necessary to begin to handle legal matters. A law license tells nothing about the person’s honesty, integrity, emotional stability, judgment, interpersonal skills, and other critical intangibles.

Image of lawyer conducting investigation

For the past couple of years, the Superior Courts in Los Angeles County, in which civil lawsuits are filed, have been in crisis due to a severe shortage of funds. The County has closed numerous branch courts and thinned the ranks of judges, requiring much consolidation and slowing of the courts’ work. We litigators and trial lawyers who ply our trade in these courts have experienced some significant changes in how the law business is done. Those changes have strained not only the hard-working judicial officers and their staffs; the lawyers, too, have a more onerous burden than before.

 

 

If there's one thing we can all agree on, it's that suing and being sued isn't cheap. The most gung-ho plaintiff can quickly become cowed by a couple of meaty attorney invoices; the most die-hard defendant, who "won't give an inch," may soon be offering feet and yards. Lawsuits are not for the faint-hearted. Even well-healed parties can feel poor in the maelstrom of legal battle. Yet, as Ecclesiastes suggests, there is a time to sue and a time to be sued. King Solomon might have added some of the methods that the combatants can minimize the bloodletting. Here are five ways to effectively reduce the cost of litigation: 

Image of magnifier on top of $100 dollar bills

In my law practice, I regularly come across clients of other attorneys, who discovered, too late, that their attorneys had run up legal fees, or incurred out-of-pocket costs, considerably in excess of what was warranted in the particular legal matter. The upshot is that many clients are paying way too much for representation. The following tips should help clients (including my own) avoid that costly and frustrating situation.

You’ve just won your business contract case at trial--only to discover that the losing party doesn’t have any money to pay you. You learn that he did have the funds when the case began, but that over the time it took to litigate and win the judgment, he spent it. Or went bankrupt. Or stashed it in the Cayman Islands. You could have avoided this disastrous scenario if you had availed yourself of a legal procedure called “prejudgment attachment” (we’ll refer to it as simply “attachment”).

Two business men sitting and shaking hands with a note pad on the desk

Attorney-client relationships come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. As a result, it is not easy to choose the best lawyer for you and your particular matter, especially since so many different qualities and traits go in to making a desirable advocate: for instance, intelligence, judgment, thoughtfulness, articulateness, experience, academic credentials, honesty, and integrity. If you can find that special someone to represent you, you will be way ahead of the game. Oftentimes, you won’t know much about the lawyer until it’s too late to compensate for having made a bad choice.

In a previous article [Three Crucial Reasons You Need A Business Written Contract] we discussed why it is wise to commit your contracts to writing: Written agreements are preferable to oral contracts because they clarify rights and obligations, are more thorough, and the parties are more likely to abide by them. In this issue we explore why your contracting experience is more likely to be successful if prepared by an experienced lawyer than if you try the do-it-yourself approach; we also suggest how to get the most out of your lawyer’s efforts.

The meat and potatoes of business litigation are disputes pertaining to breach of contract. While you might reasonably suppose that means fighting over the enforcement of a written agreement, very often the parties either did not put their agreement in writing, or what they thought was an iron clad written contract turns out not to be an enforceable contract at all. And while oral agreements generally are enforceable, if you want to promote successful business relationships and avoid wasted expense and annoyance, you will take to heart the Goldwynism, "An oral agreement is not worth the paper it's written on."