Don’t let a lawsuit consume you—follow these simple steps to get through it.
One day you’re working away, living life, and you receive a letter. You open it, only to discover… you’re being sued! Your heart starts to pound. Your life flashes before your eyes. You think: you should have just done it, you should have dyed your hair a wild color, gotten that tattoo, and eaten the pasta.
Don’t worry! Your life (and your business) don’t end just because you’ve been sued. It can be totally scary to realize someone is starting a legal proceeding against you, but there are 10 simple steps you can take to get through it—read below to find out more.
It is entirely possible to go your entire life without getting sued. The odds increase a little, though, when you own a business, and when you’re putting yourself out there online, interacting with clients and selling products and services.
If, for some reason, it does happen, go through this 10-step checklist for support!
1. Don’t panic
In the US, almost anyone can file a lawsuit for any reason, even if their case doesn’t have any merit. For example, someone could file a lawsuit against you if they don’t like the shoes you’re wearing. The court, of course, will immediately throw the suit out. Just because a lawsuit is filed doesn’t mean it will go anywhere, so don’t panic!
It’s important to know that only 5% of lawsuits go to trial. This can happen for a few reasons:
- The court decides the case is unfounded (that is, there is no basis in law for filing the suit).
- The parties (each side, the plaintiff and defendant) in the case reach a settlement before a trial becomes necessary.
- There is a technical issue in the lawsuit that makes it impossible to try.
2. Don’t do or say anything until you get a lawyer
You know in your heart you’ve done nothing wrong and that you’ve followed the law. But sometimes we can say things the wrong way and implicate ourselves in something we didn’t mean to. That’s why the best thing to do—after calming down and making sure you’re not panicking—is to ensure you don’t do or say anything until you obtain a lawyer.
So zip it! And make sure you’ve nailed this step before you go on to number 3!
3. Don’t contact the other side
Similar to step number 2, you’ve got to stay quiet. Do not, under any circumstances, contact the other side (the person who is suing you, their lawyer, or anyone they know/might be involved). It can be tempting to just reach out and explain your side of the story, but you might end up making the situation worse for yourself.
If you need to talk about the case and tell your side of the story, feel free to talk to your attorney, spouse, therapist, priest, or rabbi. Your conversations with these folks are considered privileged, which means that they remain completely private and confidential. They cannot be summoned to tell the court what you’ve told them.
Note that “therapist” means a licensed therapist and “priest” and “rabbi” mean ordained priest and rabbi. By law, conversations between you and coaches and spiritual guides/helpers (or other non-licensed practitioners) are not privileged, and any information you give them could be used against you.
4. Hire a lawyer
Guys, this is huge. This might just be the most important step in this whole checklist. Your best bet in getting through a lawsuit unscathed is to get professional legal advice from a lawyer that is licensed to practice in your state.
If you need help finding one, you can ask friends and family for recommendations. You might be able to find some helpful websites with lawyer ratings and reviews for your city, so Google might help you here.
Once you track one down that you think might be a good fit, make an appointment for an initial consultation. Most lawyers will offer a free first/initial consultation, usually between 30 minutes to 1 hour in length. The initial consultation is a good time to figure out if the lawyer really is a good fit for you and your case, and if the lawyer feels it’s appropriate for them to take it.
The lawyer will likely want to know a little bit about you. They will ask you for some personal and contact information and about the reason you decided to contact them for a consultation. Be prepared and have any relevant documents with you in a file when you go. It might also help to write a brief summary of the dispute from your perspective, noting any important dates when events happened.
Before you hire the lawyer, make sure they are someone who typically handles your type of case. Specifically, you’ll want someone experienced in litigation, but it is good to find someone who has handled your specific situation before. You’ll also want to make sure they are competent and a practicing member of the Bar in your state.
This is also a good time to ask about their fee structure so you know how much you’ll have to pay in legal fees.
Note also that anything you discuss with the lawyer during this initial consultation is privileged, whether you choose to hire them or not.
5. Contact your insurer
If you have liability insurance, your insurer will want to know about the lawsuit immediately.
Sometimes the insurer will take care of defending the suit for you. That means they will hire a lawyer on your (but mostly their own) behalf.
It is a good idea that you still consult with a lawyer separate from the insurance carrier’s lawyer to ask questions about what your insurance will cover, because your interest and your insurer’s interest are not always aligned. Remember that the insurance company will hire a lawyer that covers their own butts, but not necessarily yours.
Your lawyer will be able to communicate with and keep an eye on the lawyer your insurer hires to make sure your interests are represented.
6. Collect and preserve information
As soon as you receive the lawsuit, you have an obligation to preserve all evidence relating to the suit.
That means that you must keep (and keep safe) any and all documents, emails, communication, files, notes, memos, etc. that relate to the topic of the lawsuit. It can be dangerous to delete or destroy any of this evidence and can cause you to lose the suit.
Review the facts as written in the complaint that you received and document your own version of events. You may have done this if you’ve already had an initial consultation with a lawyer (yay you!). Doing so helps your lawyer respond to the plaintiff’s complaint and defend you.
It is absolutely essential that you provide your lawyer with any and all documents that you’ve collected and preserved, even if you think they might hurt your case.
7. Respond to your lawyer quickly and completely
It sucks, but lawsuits involve a lot of “hurry up and wait”. There are a lot of deadlines to meet for submitting documents and then sometimes long waiting periods (while the other party responds or due to having to wait for a meeting date).
Your lawyer is probably incredibly busy. They’re likely juggling multiple cases and hardly have time for a bathroom break. So be patient, but when they do get to your case, respond quickly! It’s a bit of a balancing act that requires a lot of patience, but striking the right balance here gives your lawyer the opportunity to do the best job they can for you.
When you do respond to your lawyer, don’t exclude information just because you think it isn’t relevant. Let the lawyer make that determination. There are so many times where a client will omit certain information because they didn’t think it was important or relevant, but that one small detail could have won the case!
Again, you need to give all relevant documents to your lawyer, even those you think might be bad for your case. It’s easier for them to deal with “bad” information if they know about it from the very beginning rather than it being a terrible surprise.
8. Try to be logical and realistic
Being sued might be one of the most emotionally difficult things you’ve ever gone through in your life. It can be stressful and extremely trying. But one of the best things you can do for yourself, your lawyer, and your case is to try to be logical and realistic and put your emotions aside.
If your case comes to settlement, try to see this as a win. Turning down the opportunity to settle just because you’re hurt and you want to prove you’re right can cost you both time and money, and even if the case does go to judge or jury trial, there is no guarantee you’ll win.
9. Consider protecting your assets
If legal proceedings have already started against you, you may not be able to complete this step. It depends on which state you live in.
States have different laws about transferring (to a trust or person) assets (accounts, property) to hide them from creditors (creditors are who may come after your assets if you lose the lawsuit and the other party becomes entitled to them).
You may have to wait until the lawsuit is over to rearrange your assets, but it can protect them just in case there is a next time.
This is non-negotiable: do not move or transfer any assets without asking your lawyer first!
10. Remember that life goes on!
If you’ve followed the above steps, then you’re in a great place. Don’t let the lawsuit consume you. If you’ve hired a competent lawyer, you’re in good hands. Follow their directions and remember that a lawsuit is not the end of your life or business.
But you should still eat the pasta.
For other ways to protect your money and business, watch the free masterclass: How to Legally Protect & Grow Your Online Business So You Can Keep More of the Money You Make