Open Bar: The slow march of justice
October 28, 2012
Editor’s note: Open Bar is a new column written by local attorneys Michael Brownlee and T.J. Voboril, of Thompson, Brownlee & Voboril, LLC. Most people know that hiring a lawyer can involve a significant outlay of financial resources. Very few are aware that a lawsuit requires a massive commitment of a more precious commodity: time. Money can always be replaced, but the years spent tussling with your legal opponent are gone forever. This is not to suggest that lawsuits are never necessary. Indeed, in many circumstances, the injury is so grave and the parties so divided that litigation is the only option. But, as with any journey, one should not embark on a crusade for justice without knowing the length of the endeavor.When I meet with prospective clients for the first time, I see people who are injured financially and emotionally. In rare cases, we can proceed to the “emergency room” by seeking a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction. However, as their names suggest, these salves are only a stopgap. The final resolution of these disputes, like in most lawsuits, may be many moons hence. A lawsuit is not like surgery to repair a broken collarbone. It is more like cancer treatment: a long, arduous process that will frequently make one sick. No sane person would request chemotherapy to fix their skinned knee, but I often counsel people who are seeking the legal equivalent, not because they are insane, but because they are uninformed about the consequences of their quest. Before filing a complaint or an answer, your attorney will need time to evaluate your case and research applicable law. Once the lawsuit starts, the time traps are legion. Many months can be spent pleading and responding to motions. Discovery can often take the better part of a year. This timeline is bad enough for a relatively simple case when the parties are working well together. If your opponent is well-funded (or merely vindictive), expect to face delay tactics such as additional motions or unnecessary discovery. In a more complex case with multiple parties, the time required to do almost everything is multiplied. Because courts in our area increasingly require parties to engage in mediation before even scheduling the trial, a year could pass before the parties pick a trial date. With our severely underfunded court system and the commensurate busy dockets of our courts, there might not be availability for a trial for another year or even more. Make no mistake, our judges and their staffs work tirelessly to ensure that their cases are proceeding forward as fast as possible. Unfortunately, the staggering volume of cases infringes on the ability of the system to move as quickly as everyone would prefer. Assuming that your investment of time and money in litigation pays off in the form of a victory at trial, the clock has not yet stopped ticking. Your defeated opponent may very well choose to appeal the trial court’s decision. Well, there goes another year! Even if no appeal is taken, there is considerable time required to collect your winnings and turn the judgment document into those green, fungible pieces of paper that are so useful for buying goods and services.Even if apprised of the long road ahead, it is easy to misjudge one’s fortitude to see a lawsuit to its end. Like an inexperienced runner caught up in the excitement of the early miles of a marathon, at the outset many litigants think that their energy is limitless. When they first come into my office, they are very emotional: angry, frustrated, even sad. After a year or more of litigation, the emotions are often the same, but for very different reasons. They are no longer really angry with the other side, their anger is now directed toward the other side’s attorney. They are frustrated with the court’s delays, not with the other side’s original conduct. And they are sad that they have wasted time obsessing over their lawsuit when that time could have been put to more positive and productive use.Although litigation may be unavoidable, consider that there are strategies for limiting the time spent resolving disputes including mediation, arbitration, simplified procedure and avoiding disputes in the first place. We will address these topics, and more, in the columns to follow.T.J. Voboril is a partner with Thompson, Brownlee & Voboril, LLC, a local boutique civil litigation firm. For more information, contact Mr. Voboril at 970-306-6456 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://www.thompsonbrownlee.com.