A brief guide to lawsuit attorneys
Either as a plaintiff or a defendant, at some point you may find yourself facing the possibility of an appearance in civil court. Lawsuit attorneys help both sides establish their case in the process leading up to trial. Many cases are resolved without a court appearance, with many possibilities for resolution presented along the way. Here are a few things to know if you are contemplating engaging the services of a lawsuit attorney.
How lawsuits work
In criminal trials, defendants face charges brought against them by a law enforcement or government agency and face the dual threats of monetary punishment and jail time. In civil court, only money is at stake.
There are many reasons a complaint might be solved in civil court. Some of the most common lawsuits include:
• Personal injury, in which the plaintiff has experienced some kind of physical harm and seeks damages from the responsible party or parties.
• Business lawsuits in which two parties are in disagreement over a contract, services provided or related matters.
• People who have been victims of domestic violence must first turn to a public prosecutor to see if criminal charges can be filed on their behalf. If the public prosecutor declines to help, a civil court lawsuit for damages can be filed.
Depending on your state’s rules, when you decide to file a lawsuit, you file a complaint with either the applicable court or the defendant. Lawsuit attorneys are helpful in figuring out what kind of complaint you have and whether it falls into a local, state or federal court’s jurisdiction. If you feel confident in your ability to file the paperwork yourself, many courts offer clerks who can help you avoid procedural errors.
After you have filed, the defendant has a chance to respond. If you are notified that you have been charged with a crime that may take you to court, a lawsuit attorney can help you decide which allegations, if any, to deny and what kind of defenses you may raise. Each state’s rules difer on how long you have to file different response motions motions. Lawsuit attorneys should be fully informed about all federal, state and local legislation that may apply to your particular case.
The pretrial process
Most civil suits never make it to court. Once the legal process has begun on both sides, lawsuit attorneys are required to regularly share evidence in a process known as “discovery.” The time leading up to trial is not just a period to prepare evidence for court. During this time, a lawsuit attorney may be able to negotiate a settlement both sides are willing to accept.
Going to court
If no mutually satisfactory agreement can be arrived at, both parties will find themselves in court. This does not necessarily mean it is too late to arrive at an agreement or that a jury will deliver a verdict. Lawsuit attorneys working for either side can try many tactics to get the case dismissed, such as arguing for a “summary judgment” stating the opponent cannot possibly present a credible defense. At any point, a complaint may be withdrawn and a mutual settlement arrived upon.
A verdict for either side does not necessarily mean the job of a lawsuit attorney is done. An unsatisfactory verdict can be appealed on the grounds of procedural error. Defendants may want their lawsuit attorney to argue that the settlement being awarded is too high. There are many ways the litigation process can drag on.
When to file a lawsuit
Litigation is not to be undertaken lightly. If you are a plaintiff, the burden of proof will rest upon you. Personal injury lawsuits are especially hard to win, since many states require the plaintiff not just to demonstrate that someone else is at fault for their injury but defend themselves from charges of having contributed to any accident or damage.
Before you think about hiring a lawsuit attorney, think about:
• How much evidence you have to support your case
• How much time and money you are willing and able to invest in the legal process
• What results or compensations you hope to receive
There are no guarantees in the legal process. No matter how clear your case may appear to you, litigation requires not just common sense proof but an ability to navigate the often-complex technicalities of the law.
If you are confident that you may have a good case, you have the option of filing for yourself. However, nearly all lawsuits are complicated and will require outside help to make sure you are following the letter of the law. Seek out referrals from friends and family for any lawsuit attorney specialists in your field. Look up their disciplinary records online before setting up any appointments for a consultation.
Questions to ask
Either as a plaintiff or defendant, if you can afford private legal counsel you want someone who will honestly represent your best interests. This goes for both client and lawyer: a lawsuit attorney who is not in full possession of all the facts and evidence from the outset cannot do their job properly. Be skeptical when presented with guarantees that seem too good to be true. You may not be qualified to best represent yourself in court, but only you can make a decision about who you trust to do so.
During your initial meeting with any lawyer, ask about:
• Their experience and specialization in your field
• If they can refer you to other lawsuit attorneys better qualified to handle your case
• Their assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of your case
If you are a plaintiff seeking damages, many lawsuit attorneys may be willing to work on a contingency basis. This means they will take a percentage of any settlement you receive. Find out what percentage your lawyer plans to take and what out-of-pocket expenses you may still have to cover leading up to trial.