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Procedure, the Sword and Shield

“I’m done with this! I just want to sue him,” the client says over the phone, “I’m just done.” I reply that we can get everything underway for the litigation, but that it takes time. People who feel that they have been wronged are interested in justice for themselves. There is an understandable frustration, and feeling that if they can “just get what’s fair” then they’ll be satisfied.
On the other side of the coin is someone who is getting sued. They (sometimes) feel surprised, hurt, frustrated, and need time to gather themselves together and prepare for the realities of a lawsuit.

The fact is that litigation takes time. Forty-five days notice is required for the first trial setting, and there is usually a discovery period in which both sides make requests for documents and other evidence. Discovery can last for months, or even a year or more. The time it takes to conduct a lawsuit is there to protect people from what you may think of as “frivolous lawsuits.” You can’t just run into court, swear up and down until you’re blue in the face that something is true, and try to get money or some other compensation for your story. The other side gets to ask you questions before you ever step into court, to find out what the basis of your story is and how you calculated the compensation you think you deserve.

I have yet to see a case that made it to trial that should never have seen a courtroom. Admittedly, I’ve not practiced for long, but I have not heard any stories from any attorneys I have met (except perhaps criminal cases in which the proof of the state was overwhelming, but the defendant insisted on his or her God-given right to a trial) in which the attorney thought the trial was a result of some sort of abuse of the justice system.

The procedural safeguards that are in place for a lawsuit may take more time, however, they protect the random person who happens to be the target of a frivolous lawsuit. There are rules allowing judges to sanction attorneys and their clients for bringing claims with no basis in law or fact. Such rules give attorneys the tools to manage clients who may be too eager to get into court, and no attorney wants to earn a reputation for not doing his own homework and not checking facts.

So the next time you hear someone say, “I’m done. I just want to sue them.” Make sure to remind them that they should sleep on it because the courtroom is not a place for emotional vindication or revenge. It is a place for justice, and it has safeguards in place to weed out the cases that don’t belong.

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