What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Sue.

So, you have a legal problem.  You and your attorney have worked for months trying to get it resolved, but the other party is unwilling to meet your demands.  After dozens of letters and phone calls, the two sides have not been able to bridge the chasm.  You have a meeting with your attorney who says that the only available option now is either to give up the pursuit, or to sue in court.  What do you do?

Obviously, you don’t want to quit.  The other side is just plain wrong, and you deserve to have your demands met.  But, before you say those magic words, “Let’s sue them,” there are several things that you must keep in mind.  Here is a list of the 3 main things you can expect when you are expecting to sue someone.

Expectation #1:  Lawsuits take a long time.

One of the misconceptions that clients have is that a lawsuit is the quickest way to resolve a case.  Not true.  Lawsuits can take years and years before reaching a resolution and, even then, it can take years to collect a judgment or take an appeal.  If you are thinking about filing a lawsuit, be prepared to be in it for a very long time. 

There are exceptions to this rule.  For example, certain types of lawsuits, like unlawful detainers (evictions) are summary proceedings designed to be completed very quickly.  However, even in these cases, a lawsuit can take longer than expected. 

Also, there are certain classes of people who are entitled to “trial preference”.  This means that the party could request that their trial be set before others because of old age or illness. 

There are other exceptions that may apply in any case.  But for the most part, a civil lawsuit can take a very long time.  If you are thinking about suing, be prepared for a long commitment.

Expectation #2:  Lawsuits take a lot of work.

And not just for the attorneys.  A person who sues or is being sued can expect to put in some serious hours over the life of the case.  There are meetings and phone calls with their attorney, answering written questions from the other parties, being deposed, inspecting property, reviewing documents, and on and on.  When the case goes to trial, a client can expect to spend 5 – 14 days in court, every day, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.  This is not including meetings with your attorney to discuss how the trial is going. 

So, before you agree to go forward with your lawsuit, be sure that you are prepared to put in the work to win your case. 

Expectation #3:  Lawsuits can be expensive. 

Everyone knows that lawsuits cost money.  But few really understand how much money it can cost to successfully sue someone.  From court filing fees to depositions, expert witnesses to court reporters, just about everything in a lawsuit costs money.  And, depending on the nature of your agreement, your lawyer could be the most expensive item on the bill. 

If you are planning on suing someone in court, you should expect that it will cost anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 for the case to go to trial.  And this is aside from your own attorney’s fees!

Understandably many clients what to have as little costs as possible.  But some costs you simply cannot avoid, like court fees.  Other costs, like expert witnesses, might appear to be optional but are really a necessity for a person to win their case.  For example, in a medical malpractice case, an expert physician is necessary to prove a plaintiff’s case and, not surprisingly, they cost a lot of money to appear at trial.  The same goes for many other types of cases, like construction cases, lawsuits against professionals, and lawsuits involving the value of property to name a few.  If a plaintiff does not have an expert witness, sometimes that plaintiff will lose their case.  And if the plaintiff loses their case, that means that all that time, money and effort has been wasted.

The bottom line: A lawsuit is like an investment: If you put your money in wisely and early on, you have a greater chance of getting a larger return.  If you put your money too late, or not at all, you chance of winning goes down. 

So, are you ready to file a lawsuit?

And is it worth it? These are questions that only can be decided by you, the client, in consultation with your attorney.  You are the one who knows your limitations, both financially and mentally.  You are the one who will have to make the serious commitment necessary to win a lawsuit.  No one else can make these decisions for you.

The above topics are the three main points that I stress with my clients when it comes time to decide whether to proceed with filing a lawsuit.  It is important for my clients not only to understand the risk and benefits of a lawsuit, but also their expectations from me as the attorney and my expectations from them as my client.  A lawsuit is a team effort, and all members of the team must do their part to have the best chance of winning.  And in a lawsuit, it is all about winning.