One of the harsh realities of business is that businesses sometimes get sued by a client or customer. Faulty products, negligent advice, or failure to fulfil the terms of a contract can all give rise to litigation.
And if your business is sued, chances are you are going to need a lawyer. And whilst this can be a lengthy, drawn-out process, there are ways you can better manage the legal fees and your stress levels.
Here are five tips on how you can best assist your lawyer defend a claim. You need to give clear instructions, make the necessary documents available and listen carefully to his or her advice. Most importantly you need to be brief, helpful, cooperative and communicative.
1. Be clear about what happened
Start by telling your lawyer all of the circumstances that resulted in your business being sued in the first place, as best you can remember them.
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It may also be necessary for your lawyer to meet with staff members who can shed light on the relevant circumstances which enable your lawyer to be on top of all of the facts earlier, and therefore be better placed to help you assess the strength of the other party’s claim against you.
2. Make available all documents
To get a clear picture of what has happened and whether your business faces any concerns regarding liability, your lawyer will need copies of all documents you have that relate to exactly what happened. The best policy is to give your lawyer more information, not less.
And you should also endeavour to copy whatever documents you make available to your lawyer. This will assist you and mean that you do not need to keep coming back to your lawyer’s office to look at the documents if he or she has any further questions about them.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Lawyers don’t bite, so if you have questions about what will happen now that your business is being sued, don’t be afraid to ask. These could include: What is involved in preparing a defence? What sort of time commitment you and your employees will be required to make? Will there be a court hearing that you or others in the business will need to attend to give evidence? Or will there be mediation? If so, how long will it run for? What is the procedure at mediation?
Your lawyer should be able to provide some answers to your questions and explain what your role in the process will be.
4. Be prepared and flexible
Unfortunately, litigation is costly. There are lawyers’ fees to pay – unless, for example, you have an insurance policy under which the insurance company may pay your legal bills – as well as the cost to the business of making your own staff and resources available to your lawyer when required. This may include making employees available to your lawyer to take their witness statements, or making yourself available to attend a mediation session.
Litigation is also time consuming, in that you or your employees may be required to attend a mediation with your lawyer, help your lawyer prepare a defence, or provide further instructions, so it pays to be prepared and flexible.
In addition, you may have to wait for the other side to make a move before you can respond.
5. Be helpful and cooperative
Litigation can be uncertain and stressful, so it makes sense to do whatever you can to minimise that stress and uncertainty. One thing you can do is be helpful and cooperative. Your lawyer is paid to do his or her best to assist you in the defence of the claim and is best placed to assess the merits of the claim and advise you accordingly, so listen carefully to that advice. After all, you paid for it!
Chris Jones is a solicitor at legal firm Colin Biggers & Paisley