TEN DO’S OF STARTING A LAWSUIT
1. DO Answer the Phone. We are always just one phone call away from the most important case of our lifetime or our firm’s lifetime. Everyone is asked to know and understand the phone system and to answer it---even if it is 7:59 a.m., 8:29 a.m., or 5:31 p.m. The clients and would-be clients are out there waiting to see how we respond.
2. DO Move Quickly On the Case. Clients’ primary complaints are not hearing from their lawyer and their lawyer moving too slowly. Initiate action and keep momentum going.
3. DO a Hard Evaluation of the Chances for Winning. We very much need to avoid the cases where we will eventually disappoint one another with bad results. It will be easier to explain problems and/or reasons for not taking a new case now rather than reasons for losing later.
4. DO Explain All Aspects of the Case to the Client. Have the client understand the amount of time that will be involved, the expected problems with the case, the fact that lawsuits generally are not fun, and the needed cooperation to be expected.
5. DO Size Up and Evaluate the Client. The largest percent of credit for winning a lawsuit goes to who the client is. Great facts and great law will go nowhere if the lawyer lacks a good, decent, and honorable client. This is the time to figure that out.
6. DO Get All background Information. Take the necessary time to learn all facts about the client’s background. Learning bad facts at the time of completing interrogatories or preparing for depositions is too late.
7. DO Find a Theme for the Entire Case. A lawyer taking a case should use that early opportunity to figure out the theme to be sounded throughout the case and throughout the trial, up to and including closing argument. It can shape the entire remainder of the case.
8. DO Draft Jury Instructions. Drafting jury instructions at the time taking a case will focus investigation, discovery issues, and the entire course of the suit. This is particularly important as to the verdict director.
9. DO Have the Client Contribute to Expenses. In this time of high dollar litigation, it is important to have clients doing their part financially on cases. It helps them understand the realities of litigation and can also create positive attitudes toward settlement.
10. DO Get After Legal Research. Get into the law books early and be certain that the case is founded upon solid law.
TEN DON’TS OF STARTING A LAWSUIT
1. DON’T Be Arrogant of Silk-Stockinged. Particularly in a plaintiff’s law firm, clients are not interested in condescending, snotty lawyers from the Country Club set. Be human and humane.
2. DON’T Raise Expectations or Promise a Specific Result. Clients will remember every word that is said in the first few meeting and at the time of signing a fee agreement. Create realistic and low expectations.
3. DON’T Open a File If You Do Not Like the Client. If you do not like the client, you cannot expect twelve citizens to like the client. Do not open the file under those circumstances, since it will most likely be a loser. The disappointment will be great for you and that client.
4. DON’T Let Time Get Away. Too many of us have “mental blocks” on various files. They sit in the corner for weeks and months. Try to avoid this. Set a regular schedule for going over your files.
5. DON”T Stab Co-Workers in the Back. We must pull together and avoid destructive criticism of one another. All of the other law firms in town will cause us enough problems without us creating problems for one another.
6. DON’T ignore Support Staff in Introductions. Try to introduce clients to staff on the very first visit to the office. The secretaries and paralegals will enjoy working on the case more if they know the clients, and the clients will like the opportunity to meet the persons with whom they will be talking.
7. DON’T Cuss in the Office. Sometimes on early morning and later evening visits, some clients or potential clients can hear some rather ugly language from some of us. We ought to avoid it.
8. Never Deal an Enemy a Small Blow. Just deal enemies big blows with jury verdicts. Do not give them small insults which will only energize them to work on the file against us and try to beat us.
9. DON’T Lose Temper with Client or Lose Control of Case. Clients have legitimate questions to ask and legitimate concerns. As much as possible, try to be like Sears & Roebuck---“The Customer is Always Right”. However, you need to e persuasive with the client and have them trust in your judgement.
10. DON’T Worry. Be Happy. As Bobby McFerrin has so well instructed us, we should not be paralyzed by worry, but rather should be energized by happiness.