If someone harms you or your business, it may be necessary for you to sue that person or company. Here are some things you need to know. First, have realistic expectations. The courthouse is not a slot machine that is going to give you a lot of money simply because you hired a lawyer and filed a lawsuit. The legal system is cumbersome, difficult, somewhat slow, often unfair and definitely expensive. You may get partial justice, but rarely complete justice.
The first step to initiating a lawsuit is for the lawyer to send a letter to the target defendant explaining, politely but firmly and directly, that you have been harmed and demand compensation. The lawyer will explain that suit will be filed after a specified period, 30 or 60 days, if there is not a settlement. Often such a demand letter will force the targeted person or company to hire a lawyer who will begin negotiations. And often these negotiations result in a settlement, which is to both sides advantage because of the savings in time, legal fees, and the uncertainty of placing the matter in the hands of judges and juries.
Unless the case is on a contingency fee, in which the lawyer takes a percentage of the settlement, such as in a personal injury accident case, then you will pay the lawyer a retainer, and the lawyer will bill by the hour or by a flat fee. To send a demand letter, you should plan on a cost of $800 to $1,500. This will cover the time to meet with the lawyer, have him or her review your documents, draft a demand letter, review it with you, make changes, send the letter, and follow up and negotiate with the target defendant and his or her lawyer.
If the demand letter is ignored or negotiations fail, then the next step is to file a lawsuit. The lawsuit explains what the defendant did you, what money you lost, what civil laws or rules the defendant violated, and what money you want the court to award you. That lawsuit is filed at the courthouse of course. In Tyler, Smith County, we can chose between filing in the county courts, which have three judges, or in the district courts, which also have three judges. There are pros and cons to each.
The lawsuit must then be served on the defendant. If the defendant is an individual, the lawyer will hire a private process server to hand him or her a copy of the lawsuit. If the defendant is a corporation, then the lawyer will serve the agent or service of process or the Texas Secretary of State. Serving the lawsuit triggers 20 days for the defendant to respond. Failure to do so will result in you winning a default judgment.
At our firm, when we file a lawsuit we also serve a series of discovery requests, asking the defendant to give us all documents, identify all witnesses, and answer certain questions. The defendant will have 50 days to respond.
Once the defendant hires a lawyer and responds, the next step is for each side to exchange documents and information. This is called "discovery." The defense lawyer will send your lawyer requests for information and documents, and you will have to respond. The lawyer will charge his or her time for this work.
Next, both sides will conduct depositions. A deposition is a meeting at the conference room of one of the law offices, where one lawyer questions the opposing party, with a court reporter taking down the answers. So you can expect to be deposed by the other side's lawyer for several hours, questioning you about your life history, the events of the case, and past disputes in which you have been involved. The lawyers can take depositions of other witnesses as well.
Depositions are expensive. The court reporter charges about $6 per transcript page. The lawyers charge their time.
Next, the judge will likely order mediation. Mediation is a process in which each side agrees on a neutral lawyer, or the judge assigns one, and each side pays the mediator the same amount of money. The mediator will then host a meeting at his or her office, listen to both sides, and attempt to negotiate a settlement. Both sides have incentives to settle. Each side is paying high legal fees. Each side has the risk of what a judge or jury will do. Each side faces the cost of appeal. Each side has better things to do with their time. Mediators typically cost $650 for half-day mediation, and $950 to $1,200 for a full day. Plus the cost of one's own lawyer.
If mediation fails, then the case will be decided by the judge or a jury. Commonly, one side will file a motion for summary judgment. This is a motion that asks the judge to decide the case, asserting that the facts and law are clear. The other side has 21 days to respond to the motion for summary judgment, explaining why the facts are disputed and Texas law requires a jury trial.
If the judge grants the summary judgment motion, then the case is at an end. One side loses and one side wins. If the judge denies the motion, then the judge will set the case for a jury trial.
In a jury trial, the parties and judge will question a room full of potential jurors and explain the case. After eliminations, 6 or 12 jurors will be selected to decide the case. Each lawyer will make a presentation, and argue why his or her client should win. The judge will present the jurors with a series of questions and ask the jurors to answer them, thereby deciding the case.
Jury trials are long, difficult and expensive. A typical case requiring a jury trial can result in total legal fees of $25,000 to $100,000, and more in complex cases.
Learn more about our work in Texas state and federal civil litigation. Or contact the Volberding Law Firm for a consultation about how we can help with your case.