The Business Litigation Attorney: Standing Up To Your Clients

In a recent interview with LegalCounselor.net, I spoke about figuring out what your client really wants–despite what he or she tells you.  In business litigation the attorney is often instructed to litigate regardless of cost, to fight to the end.  However, the client’s visceral reaction to being sued and to being in litigation is not really the best outcome for the client.  Business litigation attorneys need to figure out what the best outcome is and be forthright in explaining that to the client.  Here is an excerpt from that interview:

When it comes to handling “suit-happy” clients, what important lessons have you learned?

I think you need to be able to stop a client and tell them what they need to hear, even if that is not what they want to hear. A lot of times a client will come in and say they want to fight until the end and they don’t care how much it costs. But in reality they do care how much it costs. An important part of figuring out how the case should go is figuring out what your client wants, and asking them upfront what would be a good outcome. Often your client will have the other party living in their head and they can’t get them out of their head. What I need to do as an attorney is advise them on the best outcome that they are going to be able to get regardless of what the other person gets. In other words, I tell them “don’t worry what the other side is getting, as long as you’re getting what you want and what is the best outcome for you.” And sometimes that can be difficult. A lot of times people want to inflict pain. But I always tell my clients, courts do not award pain and they do not award pride. Usually they only award money. So if it’s going to cost you more to go through this lawsuit than what you are going to get in settlement, it does not make financial sense, even if you do want to beat up on the other side. From what I’ve learned, getting the client to focus on what is the best outcome for them—that is probably the most important thing.

Can you give us an example?

I have a case right now where my client came in wanting to litigate his case. So we went through the cost-benefit analysis of what it would take to fight this case: how much it would cost for me to go to trial, how much it would cost to hire experts in the case. Plus there was the really high probability that the opposing party would get a judgment against my client, at least for certain amount. When we were able to add everything up, it looked like we would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars more going through the process then if we could just settle the case. We are not there yet—we are still talking about settlement. But not too long ago, my client came to me and said he was glad I stood up to him when he was being a bully and wanted to litigate. He was glad I explained the economics of the case to him.

Read the whole interview here.