Recently I was with a client before a state agency. It was what the state agency called an “informal fact finding conference”. It was not set up, (at least I believed) for any negotiation or the advocacy of any particular position but just to find out what my client still had to do in order to be approved in the next stage of receiving a certain license. The representatives from the State knew I was an attorney representing my client. I wanted to make sure that my client knew what the State representatives were saying in reference to certain regulations and I wanted to make sure that the State representatives knew how my client was complying. In other words, “getting everyone on the same page”. Done right, government oversight can be a collaborative process with mutual cooperation to protect the public interest. Well, the head of this particular department proceeded to give us a lecture on the stringent nature of the requirements and all the bad actors who had come before … and during the middle of his harangue stated “and you can file as many law suits as you want to…”.
You can file as many lawsuits as you want to? Really, Sir, did you say that for my benefit? This is not the first time I have run across this attitude. While I may think I am at a meeting to look for points of agreement and ways to cooperate, because I am an attorney so many think I am looking for conflict. I even get jokes about how I get what I want because I am an attorney. Like I can wave my hand and some poor unsuspecting non-lawyer finds himself in court being cross examined while he sweats and trembles. If people only knew what goes into a lawsuit.
Years ago I was General Counsel for a firm which became the subject of a shareholder’s dispute for control. There was a lot at stake. I am not exaggerating when I say that each side spent about one million dollars on legal fees. Very large law firms were on each side. There were interrogatories, depositions, and hearings all before the trial even began. Ultimately, the matter was concluded after a marathon mediation session which continued for 23 hours non-stop.
Most lawyers know the work and stress involved in a lawsuit and the great emotional and financial toll associated with it. I gave up litigation years ago. It is one of the worst ways I know of to settle disputes. I do admire colleagues who try cases in Court as a substantial part of their practice. It is a science and an art requiring long hard hours, dedication to detail, passion and great presentation skills. Even though I stated it is one of the worst ways to settle disputes, I do admire those who go to Court for a living including judges. Here’s a news flash– after becoming familiar with the facts of a case in a very brief period of time, most judges render the right decisions. We only hear about injustices, not the vast majority of cases where the decision was handed down correctly in a thoughtful manner.
Perhaps we would be less confused if like the English we had different terms. From what I have gathered in my immense research on the British justice system (having watched Masterpiece Theater), they have solicitors and barristers. The barristers are the ones who wear the robes and the curly white wigs. They argue in court. The solicitors are the ones who can dress like normal people and draft wills, contracts and advise clients on legal matters. Maybe over there I would not be harangued with “you can file as many lawsuits if you want to…” unless I was wearing a wig. Query: as we know they are not real, must the wigs always be white? Can we liven it up with green, purple or florescent red?
Now, make no mistake. I think about Court. Not about suing someone but how can what I write prevent Court from happening. Is the contract clear? If it is litigated will it, as the expression goes “stand up in Court”. Is this Trust document clear so no future family member would ever have to ask a judge for “aid and direction” in its construction? Having been in and around Court in a previous incarnation of my professional life, I know how these matters are examined. I will tell you that when I went to Court it was not of my choosing. I have worked in law firms and I was sent there. This is why I work for myself. I do what I want and impart my own values into my work — and I am not about suing people. The small business owners and the every day people we see all around us, are the heart and soul of this nation. Helping them in what ever way I can is my mission. What I think about and write, is inspired by the wonderful people I meet and work for.