As I was walking out of the courthouse last week, I overheard the conversation of two adults who were leaving ahead of me. Engaged in an obviously heated discussion, the woman bellowed to the man, “I’m going to hire a lawyer and I’m gonna sue … it’s just wrong … it’s the principle of the matter.”
My first thought was: who is going to pay for that attorney’s time and expenses to sue on this woman’s behalf because her principles were offended?
Adhering to one’s principles costs a lot of money when it requires litigation. Litigation costs a lot of money. Therefore, potential litigants would be wise to step back from the perceived wrong purportedly committed against them and to analyze litigation under a business model, just like good attorneys do.
For example, when evaluating whether to accept a personal injury case on a contingency fee basis—i.e. the client must pay the attorneys’ fees and expenses if and only if the client receives compensation – good attorneys typically evaluate the likely worth of the injury sustained (e.g. broken arm, loss of leg, or catastrophic brain injury) and the likely cost to litigate (e.g. ease or difficulty of proving liability and causation, cost of experts required, and length of time to obtain results). Regardless of a victim’s purported principles, a good attorney decides whether or not to take a case on a contingency fee basis by conducting a cost/benefit analysis: weighing the cost of litigation versus the benefit of receiving compensation.
Although the “cost” and “benefit” to litigate a particular case may differ from attorney to attorney, the basic premise is the same; the likely benefit together with the probability of achieving that likely benefit must outweigh the likely cost to achieve that likely benefit.
Similarly, whether you are an individual facing a divorce or a custody dispute, a small employer facing a complaint from a former employee, a partnership facing a split-up, or a corporation facing a patent infringement lawsuit, it would be wise to step back from the emotions surrounding your principles and conduct a cost/benefit analysis of litigating to correct the perceived wrongdoing.
A good place to start is to ask yourself and determine for yourself the following: (a) what you seek to achieve through litigation; (b) the potential benefit or reward; (c) the cost to achieve the potential benefit or reward; and (d) the likelihood of prevailing. Conveying the answers to these questions to your attorney will assist your attorney in fine-tuning your cost/benefit analysis as the next step in helping you achieve the best possible outcome.
Remember, the ultimate answer may not always be litigation. Taking a step back and examining the big picture from a realistic – and practical – perspective will enhance your attorney’s ability to assist you in making the best decisions for yourself under your particular circumstances.