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Some Tips for Pending Civil Litigation

Do you have a dispute with another individual, or a business, landlord, tenant, employer, employee, government employee, family relative, etc.?  Are they claiming you owe them money or have violated the law, or alternatively, are you asserting this about them?  If so, you may potentially face civil litigation that requires legal advice, settlement efforts, and/or proceedings in front of a court or other tribunal.  Below are a few non-comprehensive tips for how to deal with such situations; note that these are only general tips and your own attorney will be needed for advice about how to deal with any specific situation.

1)   Consult an attorney early, preferably before you act or react.  A lot of people hesitate to call an attorney because they are embarrassed, feel lazy, or don’t want to immediately hire an attorney to litigate.  None of these reasons is sound.  If an attorney is involved early, he or she can often give advice that will prevent serious mistakes, potentially avert a crisis entirely, and act in a timely manner before expiration of any applicable legal deadlines.  Many attorneys, including those at Pearson Butler & Carson, PLLC, offer free initial consultations.  There is typically no obligation to immediately hire an attorney or immediately commit to in-depth legal work.  Consulting early with an attorney will frequently save a tremendous amount of money, difficulty, and embarrassment over the long-term.  The courts are littered with people who initially had strong cases on the merits, but lost their case or otherwise fell into crisis because they needlessly messed up their legal situation prior to consulting with an attorney.

2)  Be open to settlement. Litigation is a stressful, time-consuming, expensive, disruptive, and frustrating process for most people.  If it is possible to find an arrangement or compromise resolution outside of the courtroom that both sides can tolerate (even grudgingly), everyone is typically better off if they can reach a settlement.  Litigation is rarely a gratifying tool for vengeance.  Note that achieving a sound settlement and settlement agreement is not a straightforward process, even when both sides are willing, and use of an attorney is strongly recommended for reaching and memorializing settlement.

3)  Preserve documents and evidence.  In situations where someone else has summoned you to litigation or threatened to do so—or alternatively, in situations where you have summoned someone else to court or threatened to do so—there is very often a duty on your part to preserve  relevant documents, data, and other evidence.  Failure to do so can often have serious legal consequences.  Accordingly, this is an issue where you should get guidance from an attorney as early as possible before destroying or deleting anything.

4)  Manage your communications.  In most instances, though not all, it is typically advisable to discuss your legal issues and grievances with as few people as possible, and to refrain from discussion about your legal situation in emails, text messages, social media, twitter, letters, phone calls, and the like.  This is true for numerous reasons, many of which are perfectly innocent and apply even if you have a rock-solid legal position and even if your opponent is totally in the wrong.  Failure to act and communicate appropriately during pending litigation can lead to all kinds of unanticipated legal hazards.  Be sure to reach out to an attorney early to find out what kinds of communications should and should not be made, what individuals or companies or regulators should or should not be contacted for various purposes, and how to best interact with relatives and friends during the litigation process.

5)  If in doubt, don’t – go ask instead.  Even if they may not know every potential law or regulation, most people have a gut sense that they are considering an act, omission, or communication that is of potential importance.  They often have a sense that they have an important choice to make, but that they are not sure how to properly handle it.  In the vast majority of instances, the best thing to do in such a situation is go ask an attorney before moving forward.  Most people tend to make a legal mistake by ringing a bell they subsequently wish they had left unrung—not by failing to ring a bell quickly enough.  Most people in most situations have the time and means for a quick telephone call with legal counsel before they make a decision and push the button.  The people who actually avail themselves of the opportunity for a legal sounding board are usually the ones who consistently manage to keep themselves out of trouble.  Good legal managers win their cases in court, but great legal managers usually find a way to err on the side of caution and thereby avoid formal litigation when reasonably possible.

About the Author

In June 2014, Mr. Witte became a member (equity owner) with PEARSON BUTLER, PLLC, where he chairs the firm’s litigation department.  Among other things, he provides a wide range of “general counsel” services for businesses, including entrepreneurs and small businesses needing legal support but lacking full-time in-house counsel. He collaborates with other firm specialists to provide a range of support in relation to business planning, financial planning, leases, probate resolution, interstate commerce regulation, tax issues, and family/domestic law.

Mr. Witte also litigates as needed on behalf of the firm.  Some examples of his recent efforts include a $23.4 million dollar fraud judgment secured in Jameson Stanford Resources Corp. v. Stanford (Utah 5th Dist. Ct. 2014), and drafting the successful brief for Veysey v. Nelson II, 2017 UT App 77, cert. denied, 397 P.3d 846 (Utah 2017).

Litigation Practice Areas:

  • Alternative Dispute Resolution
  • Contract Litigation
  • Labor & Employment Law
  • Real Estate Litigation

Contact Dan Witte

If you would like more information or would like to speak with Mr. Witte, call (801) 495-4104.

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