When legal disputes happen, it’s natural to want to file a lawsuit. I’m not sure if this is true in all countries, but in America, we expect our judicial system to protect our rights. This systematic approach has been ingrained in us since a very early age. History has shown that major disputes (injustices or problems) are always resolved in court. As a result, when we are faced with a legal dispute, it is likely for us to utter the words, “I will see you in court.” But do we always follow through with our threats? Most of the time, we do not. But what happens to those people who decide to litigate – do they walk away unscathed? The answer is no. They spend thousands of dollars fighting their way through the system and making lawyers lots of money. Don’t get me wrong, we lawyers do an excellent job and deserve the pay, but truth be told, litigation might not always be the answer.
A few years ago, a client hired me to file a lawsuit against his business partner. Their business was losing money and my client wanted to sell. He thought his partner wanted to keep running the business, and the two partners had stopped communicating. Considering the value of the business, I requested a $10,000 retainer. I envisioned a lawsuit that would last for over a year, with attorneys’ fees exceeding $50,000. As I started preparing to file a complaint, I learned that my client’s partner had hired an attorney. After one phone call with the other attorney, we agreed to discuss settlement. To my surprise, my client’s partner also wanted to sell the business. However, because of the major business issues that needed to be resolved, we chose mediation. Once both sides agreed on a mediator, we prepared mediation briefs, and two weeks later, we reached an agreement. My client was satisfied because I saved him $46,400 in attorneys’ fees.
The costs associated with going to court can be astronomical. I once had a lawyer tell me that before he takes any civil case, he requires a retainer of $75,000.
Mediation is an alternative to trial, and leaves control of the outcome in the hands of the parties as opposed to a judge or jury, and saves them money. A neutral third party, or mediator, is involved in the mediation and helps all parties move towards an agreement. The mediator is not a decision maker and does not pressure parties to settle. The mediator is usually a skilled attorney in a particular area of law, who understands the litigation process and can help the parties identify the strengths and weaknesses of their case. Some mediators are not attorneys, but they possess problem solving skills. A mediator will likely begin the mediation by meeting with the parties together, and then separating them into two caucuses.
Although it might seem that litigation is your only course for justice, mediation can offer an alternative that can achieve your goals and save you money. It is useful in most, if not all, types of cases, because it allows parties to communicate in a more formal setting, while giving them the opportunity to plead their case to a neutral third party. So before you utter the words, “I will see you in court,” consider mediation as a less costly alternative. FBN
Tony Gonzales received his law degree from Arizona State University College of Law. He has been practicing law in Flagstaff for the last seven years. His practice areas include litigation, injury and wrongful death law, real estate and business law and family law. For more information, visit his website at www.tgattorney.com