An Advocate’s Advice: 7 Lessons Learned Over a Lifetime in the Law

Stairs After 45 years of handling several thousand disputes, there are some recurring lessons to be learned about achieving the best results. While every case is unique, the roadmap to a successful result includes a set of common waypoints. As you face a dispute, whether litigation, mediation, arbitration or even negotiation, these seven “trade secrets” will help ensure that you have the best chance of success:

1. Identify Your Goals. You wouldn’t start a road trip without knowing your destination. Similarly, make sure you know where you are driving your case. What do you want to achieve in the case? Write it down. Be specific. Share those goals with your lawyer at the outset of representation. Disputes are emotional, time consuming, and issues become murky as the case proceeds. Clearly identified goals can keep you, your lawyer, and your case on track.                                                                                                                                                                         
2. Demand Attention from Your Lawyer. Many Lawyers are like emergency room doctors; they practice triage. Very few attorneys have the luxury of representing a single client. Your attorney must divide their time between multiple cases, where the most serious issue of the moment takes all the attention. That means even though your lawyer wants to focus solely on your case, they may be getting pulled in many other directions at the same time. To you, your case is the most important, to your attorney, treating every case as their most important can be an insurmountable hurdle. To keep your case in priority and at the forefront of your attorney’s mind, schedule specific times to call or meet with your lawyer to review your case. Yes, these calls and meetings can cost money, but it creates both urgency and open discussion about the best way to achieve your goals.                                                                                                              
3. Establish Trust. You must trust your lawyer and your lawyer’s advice. If you don’t, find another lawyer. Strategic decisions will be left to your attorney, even if you don’t agree with every point of strategy, you must trust that your attorney is making their decisions in your best interest. The dispute resolution process is difficult and often stressful for both you and your attorney. During the process of resolving your claim you may get advice that you internally disagree with. If you do not trust your lawyer, conflicts will develop. These conflicts can derail a favorable resolution.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. If the first three points did not drive this point home, allow me to reiterate: like any relationship, communication is KEY! Cases are all about information, facts, data and opinions. The more factual data you can provide your lawyer, the better chance you have of achieving your goals. Let your attorney decide what is relevant. As your case progresses you will get fatigued, sometimes you just want to turn the issue over to someone else – you are sick of it. That is understandable, but it is critical that you continue to communicate with your lawyer. Usually, there are few other ways for your lawyer to get the information needed. We may be good at what we do but we do not read minds.                             

5. Wear the White Hat. Resist the temptation to “teach the other party a lesson” or to take revenge. In virtually every situation, in attempting to resolve disputes, a vindictive approach will lead you away from a favorable resolution. Take the high road. Do the right thing. Maybe it is a Karma thing, but almost always, doing the right thing creates a better result for you.                       

6. Create Pressure Points. A case is not typically resolved until it comes to a pressure point. A pressure point is created when both sides MUST pay attention to a case. Some examples are: hearings on motions; mediations; status conferences; and trials. If you want to get your case settled, encourage your lawyer to create a pressure point. Ask your attorney at the outset where they believe the pressure points in your case will be. Being apprised of these major junctions at the outset of your case will help to manage expectations on both sides of the attorney client relationship.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
7. Cases Are Resolved Based Upon A Risk Analysis. At the end of the day, your case will be resolved based upon a risk analysis. How likely is it that you will “hit a home run” in your case and you will recover all the damages, costs, and related relief that you are seeking? Are you willing to run the risks associated with a judgment in favor of your opponent? How much risk does the other side run? If you can keep your case in the context of a “business decision” versus the idea of “righting a wrong,” you will ultimately get a better result.                                               

Of course, if you can avoid disputes in the first place, you will be better off. If you do become entangled in a disagreement, try to resolve it by using the seven steps. If you cannot do it yourself, find a lawyer you trust, and let them help you get it resolved.