This is not an uncommon question at a local networking event. But even still, you would be surprised how complicated the answer to that question can be sometimes.
“Well, I’m a lawyer.”
“Oh? What kind?”
“A civil litigator,” I said.
And this is where the fun begins. In our era of professional specialization, the old “trial lawyer” who could handle a criminal defense trial, a divorce and a will dispute is a dying breed. More and more, attorneys are required to call one area of practice home, and refer out the case that don’t fit with their specialty.
A “civil litigator” is simply a subset of the old trial lawyer who handles only civil cases, and not criminal ones. My practice includes personal injury litigation, employment law, property disputes, estate litigation and business litigation.
Mostly, I like to think that what I do is help people realize their best futures. It sounds trite, but first and foremost, trial lawyers are always advocates. When it comes right down to it, our one job is to advocate – or argue and fight for, I suppose – our client’s best possible outcome.
After someone asks me what I do, and if I’ve explained it well, they usually ask if I like it. No, I don’t like it. I love it. Every day brings a new challenge and a new relationship to explore, and a new outcome to achieve for someone’s life.
A Litigator’s Role as Counselor
One of the primary challenges civil litigators face is determining what, precisely, is the best outcome for our clients in whatever dispute they find themselves in. Believe it or not, when people seek out legal representation, they often are going through some of the most difficult times in their lives, and they themselves may not even know what the best outcome is, or what outcome even is desirable.
Until you understand your client’s background, their personalities and the circumstances of the dispute that they’ve come to you with, I do not think you really can advise them as to the best course of action. This is what I believe sets our practice apart. Here at Kajko Weisman, we are not just litigators, but rather, counselors who from the moment you meet us are assessing you, your circumstances, and are developing a strategy and litigation plan to not only achieve your needs, but to help you identify your optimal outcome.
A great example of how understanding individual client needs, motivations and circumstances can help better craft optimal solutions is in dealing with my small business shareholder clients.
In my nearly twenty years of practicing law, I have run into a variety of disputes between shareholders of small businesses. Although it is tempting to believe that the approach to handling shareholder disputes would be all the same, that is very much not the case.
Take, for instance, two vastly different groups of people who went into business together. Call them the Family Business, and the Drinking Buddy Business.
Family Business had been owned and operated within a single family for generations. Among the family members, there were no formal agreements as to how the family business would be operated, no real succession plan in place, no definitive job responsibilities and certainly no operating agreement. And why would there be, they asked me? The business had, after all, survived for generations without such formalities.
Drinking Buddy Business, on the other hand, involved principals who, while they were friendly, had drafted agreements to cover their eventual disagreements from the get go. And there certainly were disagreements. One of the principals believed himself to be the superior strategist, and valued his contributions over the other principals. Of course, the others thought they could live without him.
I became involved in representing one principal in the Family Business, and one of the principals in the Drinking Buddy dispute. And while both cases involved determining the future of each enterprise, developing an effective litigation strategy meant understanding the personal dynamics involved in both cases, as well as the motivations behind the individuals involved.
In instances where there is purely a business dispute between the parties, conducting a simple cost-benefit analysis reveals the least expensive was for the parties to resolve the dispute. If the dispute is personal, it can become about the “principle” of the matter, which may force the case to go to trial where a judge or a jury will resolve the matter for the parties.
If, as is often likely in business litigation, there is a blend of personal and business issues, outcomes can become costly to achieve, requiring counsel to become much more of a supporting and guiding hand through the legal morass and the process of difficult decision making.
In the Drinking Buddy business, the relationship was easier to untangle where is strictly was about the money, and the parties were able to apply their business acumen toward resolving the matter. In the Family Business dispute, however, there was a blend of personal and financial issues and motivations that required court intervention to solve. Once the parties realized that the matter was heading to litigation, they gained piece of mind that the process would play itself out with counsel who understood their desires and end-goals.
Crafting Your Future
Taking the time to understand client relationships and motivations is not just good client service. And crafting a litigation strategy is not simply a means to an end in litigation. Understanding client needs and molding a strategy to achieve outcomes is about helping people create their best futures.
At the end of the day, that is what I do.