It is never fun to have a lawsuit filed against you. However, whether the dispute stems from a business argument, a car accident, or the inability to pay a debt, I’ve got some tips on how to minimize the stress and navigate the process. 

1. Don’t panic.
Claims are often overstated in the initial complaint. And the opposition will throw everything at the wall to see what sticks. You may see embellishments or outright misinformation – remain calm and do not reach out to the opposition. This leads to my number one rule – do NOT communicate with the opposition as anything you say can and will be used against you. Take a moment, gather yourself, and don’t react out of fear or anger. Trust me, there will be a time and place when you can have your say. 

2. Gather all of your insurance policies.
If there is an insurance policy associated with the lawsuit (a car accident, for example), there’s a strong possibility an insurance company will owe you a defense. The Duty to Defend is a term used to describe an insurer’s obligation to provide an insured with defense to claims made under a liability insurance policy. As a general rule, an insured need only establish that there is potential for coverage under a policy to prove the insurer’s duty to defend. Therefore, the duty to defend may exist even where coverage is in doubt and ultimately does not apply. Implicit in this rule is the principle that an insurer’s duty to defend an insured is broader than its duty to indemnify.

Hire a lawyer with experience in the courtroom.
Sometimes the knee-jerk reaction is to call your neighbor Bill because you know Bill is an attorney. Don’t call Bill! He may talk you into hiring him and more often than not, hiring a friend or relative isn’t in your best interest.

I recommend checking the below online sources for attorneys in the community.

You want to be sure the attorney you hire an attorney with experience in the area you’re being sued for. Is it a business case? Personal injury? Domestic dispute? Make sure you search for an attorney who fits your specific need.

When should you hire an attorney?
The date of service controls when your answer is due. Try to meet with a lawyer within 10 days of service so that you can file your answer by the due date. You’ll want to allow yourself time to interview more than one attorney. You shouldn’t interview just one – I recommend at least three. You’ll also want to allow time for your attorney to analyze the case and assert possible defenses. Bring your evidence and documents to the interview so your attorney can take a look at the case and the evidence you have.

Confirm payment obligations with the attorney.
How much does your attorney cost? Make sure you find out during the initial interview! Hourly rates vary based on skill and locale but note that it is not the size of the firm that determines the skill. Smaller firms may be as good but less expensive because there is less overhead. 

Additional questions for your attorney

  1. Clarify which attorney in the firm will do the work. Sometimes you think you’re hiring one attorney, but then a paralegal does most of the work. 
  2. Ask for a budget – meaning, if the attorney plans to hire outside experts, make sure they ask you prior permission to exceed “x” in costs.
  3. Be sure to read the retainer agreement – and ask all your questions.

Help your lawyer help you.

Sometimes people assume the lawyer just “works” solo to get them the desired outcome. However, it’s good to remember that you hold the key to a majority of the information your lawyer will need to unlock. You play a pivotal role in your own defense. Here’s how you can help your lawyer help you:

Keep all documents related to the case.
Any evidence or documentation (i.e. emails, photos, texts, voicemails police reports), etc. should be kept in a file. If the opposition tries to contact you, document all correspondence attempts with the date and time. Do NOT communicate in return. 

Make a list of witnesses
Make a list of witnesses with their contact information along with a description of what they saw or know. Draft a timeline of events so your lawyer knows exactly what transpired and when.

Insurance Companies Complaint
Stress to your attorney to tender the complaint to all insurance companies. The Duty to Defend only arises from the date of tender. Insurance companies often first deny claims until pushed by an insurance expert. If your attorney isn’t sure, ask them to confer with an insurance attorney specialist.

Once your case is with your attorney…
Do not call your attorney with every little thought that crosses your mind. This can get costly! Make a list of thoughts and questions to raise during periodic reviews with your attorney. During your review periodic review, you can get a resolution to all questions better in one meeting than multiple, expensive phone calls. And finally, try to relax once the matter is in the hands of a competent attorney.