Things to think about before you rush into suing someone

It’s tempting, in the heat of the moment, to decide you want to take someone straight to court – after all, you’re right and they’re wrong. But there can be tactical and practical issues that could make it harder to win your case than you first thought. Here’s a guide to things to think about.

Going to court can be expensive and time-consuming. You need to be sure it’s worth it before you even start threatening the other side with legal action, because the last thing you want is to have to climb down later – you could even make your negotiating position weaker as a result.

It’s worth stopping and counting to ten first, and taking the following steps:

  • Work out how much compensation you can expect the court to order the other side to pay you if you win.
  • Work out how you’ll pay legal fees. If you win the court will order the other side to contribute towards your fees (but you’ll have to pay the balance – lawyers often call the difference between your actual fees and what you recover from the other side the ‘nuisance value’ of a case). If you lose you’ll need to have enough available to pay both your own fees and a proportion of the other side’s fees.
  • Investigate the other side’s financial standing. It’s no good winning if the other side can’t afford to pay you your compensation.
  • Check you can line up all the evidence you’ll need to win.

Ask yourself the following:

  • Do I have a complete picture of what happened? There may have been conversations, emails may have been sent and documents drafted, that you don’t yet know about. Investigate, to be as sure as you can that nothing will come out of the woodwork later to damage your case.
  • Do I have all the records I need? For example, are you sure there are records of every conversation between your people and the other side? Can you put your hands on them – even if they are electronic?
  • Can I guarantee key witnesses will give the evidence I want? They may have disappeared, may refuse to give evidence, may not remember things happening the way you do or may simply turn out to be rubbish in the witness box.
  • Will you and/or your managers have the time to spend on your court case? Litigation can be very time-consuming…
  • Could your dispute end up in the papers or on the Internet? If so, you may need to plan how you will protect your reputation.
  • Are you worried about your future relationship with the other side? If they’re an important customer or supplier, you may find a court case means you can kiss goodbye to that.

It’s only after you’ve thought through questions like these that you can decide what to do – mediate, start legal proceedings, negotiate a settlement or walk away. If you need help, visit Thomas Barry & Company Solicitors early – failure to get the right advice right at the outset can be a false economy.

*In contentious business, a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage or proportion of any award or settlement.