What if I am sued?

Sometimes lawsuits come out of the blue. A process server comes to your door and delivers papers. If it is a large claims lawsuit, you have either 20 or 45 days (depending on the type of case) to formally respond.

If you are being sued, you will need to hire a lawyer on an hourly basis. Litigation attorneys typically charge between $175 and $300 per hour. The defense of a lawsuit can be costly. If the case goes to trial, and most trials last at least two to three days, your legal fees could be between $7,500 and $30,000, depending on how much time your lawyer spends preparing your case.

When you are sued, your goal should be to resolve the case as quickly as possible, for the least amount of money. The prudent decision may require you to pay the plaintiffs more money than you think they deserve, in order to avoid incurring substantial attorney’s fees. Your goal is to get out of the situation as inexpensively and as quickly as possible, regardless of whom you have to pay.

Your lawyer should attempt to get as much information as possible, in a limited amount of time. In order to properly defend you, your lawyer needs to know what evidence the other side has and what your potential risk is. Once he/she has done this, they can then give you advice regarding settlement.

You and your lawyer should anticipate going to trial. This means locating witnesses, hiring experts, viewing the property that is the subject of the lawsuit, along with taking sufficient pictures.

Mediation is a good forum for resolving cases, as most cases can be settled. A good mediator can also give you an idea of what may happen if the case goes to trial. This allows you to assess your risk and make an informed business decision.

Fee Agreements

Lawyers have a number of potential fee arrangements with clients. The two most common are the contingency fee and the hourly fee. With a contingency fee, the lawyer only gets paid if and when the case is settled and funds are received. If the case is on an hourly basis, the client receives a monthly bill and must pay legal fees based upon the time involved.

In either case, the client is liable for costs incurred by the lawyer. These include filing fees, money paid to court reporters, and the costs of obtaining expert witnesses. Even if a client loses a case on a contingency fee basis, the client is responsible for these costs. Many lawyers bill out these costs to the client as they are incurred.

If a client is being sued, the only practical fee arrangement is hiring a lawyer on an hourly basis. Rarely can a party that is being sued recover money spent on legal fees from the suing party. When a lawyer is defending a client, his/her job should be to try and resolve the case as quickly as possible in order to keep the client’s bill as low as possible.

Choosing a Lawyer

Litigation/trial work is very much the same regardless of the case. In all lawsuits, there is the presentation of evidence along with the direct and cross-examination of witnesses. Preparing for trail in a personal injury case is not much different than preparing for trial in a real estate case.

The one advantage of hiring a trial lawyer who has experience in a particular area is that technical knowledge of the subject matter is a big help in preparing for trial. Knowledge of building construction, building practices, codes and industry standards are invaluable in preparing for trial. Having experience in this area also puts a lawyer in contact with key expert witnesses who may end up testifying on one side of the case or the other. Lawyers who restrict their practice to litigation and/or real estate are more familiar with the latest cases and legal arguments that arise in this area.

If your case involves litigation, you should hire a lawyer whose practice is limited to litigation. If you like the personality of the lawyer and feel comfortable with him or her and believe them to be competent, consider hiring the lawyer. Many lawyers don’t handle cases on contingency fee basis, so this is important also. Lawyers whose practice is limited to trial work and or litigation, can often do things more expeditiously with less time and effort because they have repeated the same procedures dozens of times before. The client should ask the following questions to a lawyer he or she is considering hiring:

1.) How many years have you practiced law?

2.) How many jury trials have you personally tried?

3.) How many jury trials have you had in the area that my case involves?

4.) What type of fee arrangements do you offer?

5.) What do you estimate my total cost to be in pursuing this case?

6.) What do you believe my chances of success are?

7.) What can I expect to happen during the course of litigation?

Make sure the lawyer responds with answers about himself or herself and not about the firm. Based upon these answers you should have a good idea about whether to hire this particular lawyer.