As a business owner, your goal is to make a profit by selling the goods or services you have to offer. It’s not your goal to face a stream of lawsuits. But there’s some bad news: The odds are you’re going to face one or more lawsuits at some point.
As Forbes noted a while back, every year finds roughly 36 to 53 percent of small businesses stuck in at least one type of litigation. This litigation often drags on, meaning that somewhere around 90 percent of all businesses find themselves litigating something at any given time. So, in the face of such grim statistics, you might wonder: How can I get through litigation better and faster? Good question!
Identify your goals
The first thing to understand is that every situation is different, so the best solution for one business problem may not work for a different business. It likely won’t work for the same business if it’s facing a different problem. Not only will the facts of the case change, but you will likely have different goals in each situation.
Naturally, your goals for the litigation will influence the strategy you’ll want to take. You can start by asking yourself if you have stakes other than money:
- Do you need to maintain a working relationship with the other party?
- Do you need to consider how the litigation may impact your public image?
- Are you establishing any sort of precedent for employee disputes?
- Is the result of the litigation likely to shape the direction of your future business?
As you can imagine, these questions matter because you can take a different approach with a competitor than you can with a vital supplier and business partner. In either case, you may deserve money from the other side, but you may not want to be as aggressive toward your supplier as you would toward your competitor.
You can ease your way into the matter
Another important thing to note is that you don’t have to go straight into the deep end with your litigation. The vast majority of business matters settle outside of court. And there are good reasons for that. Courtroom battles are expensive. They take a long time. And, despite all the work you may do to strengthen your case, you forfeit control when you pass the matter over to a judge or jury.
Accordingly, it’s often good to start with simpler, less confrontational matters and escalate only as needed. For example, if you are the damaged party (or plaintiff), you might work with an attorney to pursue any number of steps outside the courtroom:
- Try resolving the matter directly between the two parties
- Work with an attorney to draft a formal notice
- Have attorneys for each side meet to address the business concerns
- Bring parties to mediation or another form of alternative dispute resolution
- File a lawsuit with the court
- Enter mediation or negotiations after the discovery period
Naturally, you may choose to pursue more aggressive tactics if the gentler tactics don’t work, but it’s hard to restore the relationships you damage by aiming your litigation straight for the jugular.
Make certain your team is all on the same page
With all that’s at stake in business litigation, you need to make sure that you and your team members are all seeing eye-to-eye. You want to be on the same page. And that often starts by making sure that your attorney clearly understands your goal.
However, it also means that once you find an attorney you trust to help you toward your goal, you stick to the plan you develop. Business litigation can be a bumpy ride. It can take a long time, and you’re bound to feel the stress more keenly at some points than others. This is natural. It’s much like investing in the stock market. Things go up and down, but so long as the facts still support your overall plan, you stick with it.