If you listened only to corporate-based rhetoric, you would get the following impressions about individuals who sue organizations:
- Frivolous lawsuits are out of control, and too many huge verdicts are being awarded to individuals who spill coffee on themselves and the like.
- There are too many individuals- including employees, consumers, injured persons and attorneys- who are “extortionists,” and are filing frivolous lawsuits to look for a quick (and large) buck.
- “Tort reform,” and restricting individuals’ access to the legal system, is needed, or else businesses may not financially survive.
As someone who works with individuals bringing legal claims, I see many problems with these concepts, which mischaracterize the state of the world as I experience it.
If you’re an employee or an employer involved in a lawsuit, you may feel strongly that you are “right” and the other side is “wrong.” I think this is a counterproductive way of looking at a legal dispute.
Employers who are angry wind up paying more in legal fees. A lot more. This is old news to employment attorneys, but perhaps not to the angry employers themselves. Sidetracked by anger and the idea of chasing “principle,” they may not be listening to what their own attorneys are saying. (I should mention that many employees I’ve run into are angry as well, and I warn them of their own risks).
On several occasions, during seminars and personal discussions, I’ve heard employer-side attorneys acknowledge that angry, “principle”-chasing employers are making financially-unwise decisions, but the attorneys claim (which is true) that it isn’t the attorneys’ fault. On three different occasions, when I heard such an attorney acknowledge that angry employer clients tend to pay large legal fees, the attorney followed up with a statement to this effect: “but hey, I’ve got kids to put through college.”
Why do employer defense attorneys bring up their kids’ college funds when talking about employers who are angry or chasing “principle”? Because angry employers are a treasure-trove for legal fees, that’s why. Angry employers usually extend litigation a lot longer, and pay a lot more legal fees, than do employers who are more objective and rational about the risks they face.
Are you an angry employer? Do you think of your anger as a source of college funds for attorneys’ kids?
This is a tip not only for employees, but also for employers and anyone else who is thinking about litigation.
If you are thinking of filing a civil lawsuit, or gearing up for a vigorous defense of a lawsuit (e.g. “we’re not going to pay that s.o.b. a dime”), you should know that starting or prolonging a lawsuit is only good for a select few things (see below).
What a lawsuit is NOT good at doing is proving a “principle,” or obtaining any type of emotional satisfaction. To the contrary, the longer the litigation goes, both parties in a lawsuit usually become more and more emotionally-drained. Usually, both parties, and especially the defendant/respondent, become more financially-drained over time. (This disadvantage does not apply to the parties’ lawyers, who often get paid more the longer things go).
If you are an employee thinking about pursuing a legal claim (e.g. a discrimination charge against your employer), it is important you feel passion and emotion for that claim and your belief in it. However, you should also take time to look at the claim from a different perspective. Treat that legal claim as if it were stock or a money market account into which you were making an investment.