Never Litigate Over a Principle

By Heather | July 25, 2011

I often give clients this advice when they first come to see me to assist them with a dispute. It doesn’t matter what type of case it is – every client thinks of litigation as a way to be proved “right” in a court of law. The problem is that litigation is very different from what people see on TV or in the movies.

Picture it: you are really angry about having been wronged. Your wife left you. Your business partner made some bad decisions with your money. Your husband doesn’t pay child support on time. Someone hurt you in a car accident. In every case, people want to show the other side how wrong it was to do those things. The wrong has caused you pain – be it emotional, financial or physical – and you want the other side to admit that they were wrong. That rarely happens. In fact, most litigation lawyers, like me, feel very uncomfortable with the notion of our clients apologizing to anyone, because it is an implicit admission of guilt.

But, you are still so angry at being hurt. You want our legal system to show the person that the were wrong as a matter of principle. Those feelings are natural; I have felt them myself. However, trust me, several months and thousands of dollars later, you won’t feel so strongly about your case. You see, principles are about morals, and our legal system isn’t built to make people more moral. Instead, it is a system of boundaries, where injuries are redressed by money (in most cases). In other words, when somebody hurts you, the only thing that you can ultimately get out of a lawsuit is money. You are probably saying, “that is alright, sign me up!” But, that isn’t all you get.

You get to spend money on court fees and litigation costs, like deposition fees, expert witnesses, copies and process servers. Depending on the type of case, you get to pay a lawyer a lot of money to spend time thinking about you and your problem. You get to take time from work for depositions, hearings and meetings. Then, there are mediation costs and time to try to resolve your problem. And for this trouble, you get to have an answer to your problem, maybe two to three years after it happened. That is assuming that there is no appeal. Oh, and we should always remember that you must be able to collect the money that you are awarded, so you should hope that the party that you sue still has some after the lawsuit.

Pretty bleak, huh?  I paint this picture bleakly for my clients, because there is a hard downside to litigation. It is an emotional and financial drain on your life and your business. As such, it should not be entered into lightly and for the wrong reasons, because you want to make the return worth the investment. That is why I say, “Never Litigate Over a Principle.” If you do so, you will never win.

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