Court sports such as squash, racquetball, and tennis have remained popular as a healthy diversion for businessmen and women. One other “court sport” has also grown increasingly popular during the past decade.
However this most rapidly growing court game is guaranteed to be bad for your health, increase your stress levels, deplete your pocket book and produce a sour aftertaste. This rapidly growing sport is played in a court of law. The number of civil lawsuits filed during the last decade has doubled.
The contest usually begins with one of the participants begins to think that if things don’t work out, “I’ll sue ’em.” From this point on, everybody is a loser. Despite the burgeoning number of participants, hardly ever do you hear of a satisfied winner. When the game is played all the way to the end, there is a declared victor, but it is generally a Pyrrhic victory at best. Rarely are either of the participants eager to play the game again.
While equity may be the intended objective of this court game, we live in less than a perfect world and the actual results are often weighted more towards compromise that justice. Practical business transactions don’t always allow for a clear translation into legal definitions. Significant issues can become distorted in the process.
No spectator, the attorneys, judges, jury, or staffs, will ever understand the issues as well as the participants themselves. The irony is that by deciding to play the game, the participants turn the control of the outcome over to the spectators.
It’s little wonder that the outcome is so often unsatisfactory considering that the rules provide for the final decision to be made by the onlookers. In addition to the costs and emotional strain that the court game takes on its participants, one last insult is that the decision makers have nothing at stake in the outcome.
As if playing in the court of law isn’t bad enough, it favors the big guy over the little guy. The pressures on the independent business owner are greater than those of their corporate brethren. They are burden by spending their own dollars, “real money”, and the responsibilities of attempting to run their business with the distraction.
The system favors those with “deep pockets”. Businesses with corporate treasuries can bear the expense. Generally that’s a management spending somebody’s else’s money with a face saving objective in mind. While the results of the court game are unsatisfactory from a business and financial point of view, the outcome often lets both parties claim some sort of victory on principle.
How can you avoid playing this dangerous game that is developing such a large following? First, be careful about who you do business with. If you can do business on a handshake, legal documents will help you avoid any misunderstandings. If you can’t do business on a handshake, legal documents will probably only provide the basis for continuing disputes. If you don’t trust someone, find somebody else to do business with.
A second step that you can take to prevent becoming a participant in this deadly game is to receive sound legal advice prior to entering into any transaction. If prevention is better than a cure, sound, conservative legal advice is a better medicine than having a world class litigator to argue your case. Take whatever steps are necessary to provide complete disclosures and insure that you exercise due diligence in carefully examining the implications of all relevant material.
If you have already begun to slide down the slippery slope to the court of law, what can you do to stop the journey? If you look at the resolution of any dispute as being a process of negotiation, begin by following some good negotiating principles. Look for areas of agreement regardless of how small they may be. As small issues are resolved, the degree of disagreement on the remaining issues will shrink.
When you are unable to reach an agreement on all the issues involved, perhaps an agreement could be reached on getting an independent opinion. A truly independent outsider’s viewpoint, respected by both parties, might soften the entrenched positions of the combatants. While not having the finality of a court’s judgment or the compromise flavor of an arbitration proceeding, a non binding independent opinion can move the participants along towards making the best decision for themselves.
Because its your business, improve your health on the squash and tennis courts, but stay out of the deadly legal courts.