You receive notification that your business is the subject of a lawsuit. What would you do? While your first instinct might be to panic, there are two courses of action that are a better use of your time and energy.
1. Hire an attorney
You may believe you can successfully represent your business in the lawsuit, but courts don’t typically share your confidence. In fact, many courts require that you hire an attorney for the litigation process. Doing so makes the legal system work most efficiently.
At a minimum, your attorney will:
- Draft papers to be filed with the court — even in states that don’t require professional legal representation, when a business owner tries to file papers on his or her own behalf, the documents can be declared void, meaning the documents will have no legal effect. If the papers have no legal effect, the business owner can be said to have failed to appear in court. And if the business owner fails to appear, a judgment can be entered against the business for failing to appear in court.
- Appear in court proceedings — state courts like to have court proceedings run as smooth as possible. Business attorneys have the background necessary to accomplish that task. Business people, untrained in law, usually slow up the process. Most states require professional representation in court, regardless of your business structure.
2. Watch what you say
You’ve heard the line in the movies; “Whatever you say may be used against you in a court of law.” Think of that when you want to comment on your case outside the courtroom. Anything you say, whether verbally, in writing or electronically, could be used against you. And you’re not alone. The same applies to anyone employed by your company.
The suggestions here may be common sense when things are going smoothly and you’re thinking rationally. But when the heat has been turned up by the threat of a lawsuit, you can be sure plenty of business owners fail to hire an attorney and fail to watch what they say.
Hiring an attorney makes the litigation process run more smoothly for both your business and the judicial system. And, by not making statements to other people, either in person or by some form of written communication, your business stands a better chance of success in the courtroom.
Peter Zuger was born in Bismarck, North Dakota. He attended the University of Mary in Bismarck, where he graduated in 2003. He went on to receive his J.D. degree from the University of North Dakota School of Law in 2008. While in law school, Mr. Zuger was a member of the Board of Editors for the North Dakota Law Review, won UND’s Moot Court and Mock Trial competitions, and was a semi-finalist in a regional trial competition hosted by the American College of Trial Lawyers.
After law school, Mr. Zuger served as a law clerk for the South Central Judicial District in Bismarck, North Dakota. Mr. Zuger joined the firm in 2009. His practice areas include commercial litigation, trial work, and banking law.