Preparing for your consultation with a litigation attorney
As an experienced Litigation Attorney, I am often asked a question which seems simple but isn’t: “Do I have a case?” Unfortunately, the answer to this is always complex. It is dependent on what happened, how you will prove it, what you want if you win, and whether it’s economically worth it to pursue a lawsuit. People often pick up the phone and start calling attorneys before they have these basic questions answered in their heads. They shouldn’t. Having the answers to these questions will help you explain your side and help the litigation attorney evaluate whether you “have a case.”
1. What happened?
The first thing you need to get clear in your mind is what exactly happened. This is the part that actually is pretty simple. Were you assaulted? Did you pay someone to build a deck and they did a bad job? Were you in a car accident? Whatever it was that happened, try to remember the details and write them down. And don’t just think about the event itself, try and remember what led up to the problem and what occurred after. If you have a written account, you can provide that to any litigation attorney that you consult.
2. How will you prove it?
An experienced litigation attorney knows that the old cliché that there are two sides to every story is true. If you’re considering suing, you need to think about what the other party is going to say as well as your side of the story. Also think about how you’re going to prove your side. Will there be objective evidence or will it be your word against theirs?
I always ask potential clients what evidence there might be to support their claim. Perhaps there are text messages, emails, or cashed checks. Nowadays, it is increasingly common for there to be audio or video recordings. If the dispute is primarily over a contract, then it should be obvious that a copy of the signed contract is a necessity. These things are important because they are objective. If the documents are proven to be real (or “authenticated” in legal terms), then there is little dispute about what they say. And they let a judge or jury come to a conclusion on their own.
If there isn’t objective evidence, then the case is simply your word against theirs. Although this type of case is easy to bring into court–because there is very little evidence to present–it is harder to win.
3. What do you want if you win?
It’s surprising, but people often don’t have an answer when I ask them what they would want if they win their lawsuit. Usually they just say “money.” That’s a given, of course. But the real question is, why do you think you’re entitled to money? Sometimes the answer is obvious. Other times, it isn’t. For example, if you paid a contractor to build a deck for you and they took your money and ran then you’d want the full amount back. But if they built a deck that you weren’t satisfied with you might not want a full refund. You might want them to fix the parts you are unsatisfied with.
In some cases, the measure of damages can get murkier. Take an assault and battery case as an example. If someone hit you and you had to go the hospital then they might be responsible for reimbursing you for your medical bills. But are they also required to reimburse you for the pain and suffering that resulted from the assault? Maybe. The amount plaintiffs receive can vary greatly from case to case. Just like the question of whether you win at all, the question of how much you will recover will be based on what you can prove. How will you prove to the judge or jury that you suffered? These are all things that you should think about before consulting with a litigation attorney.
4. Is it worth your time and money to sue?
The final thing you need to think about is whether it is worth your time and money to sue. This is a purely economic question. Litigation costs money and the fees can quickly add up. I tell people quite frankly that if your argument is over a small amount of money, such as anything under $5000.00, then it is almost never worth it to hire an attorney. You should first try to settle the argument with the other party. If you can’t do that, then you can take them to small claims court. In Virginia, small claims court can handle any dispute where the amount of money in issue is less than $5000.00. A helpful pamphlet explaining small claims court procedures can be found here.
If your claim is for an amount greater than $5000.00 then it might be worth it to consider hiring a litigation attorney to handle your case. If you answer these questions for yourself before contacting an attorney, you’ll be well ahead of the game.