When you are faced with a lawsuit or have filed a lawsuit, do yourself a big favor, hire a Tennessee lawyer with trial experience (aka a “Tennessee trial lawyer”) at the outset of your legal matter. Having practiced trial law and handled litigation and arbitration matters for nearly 25 years, I have seen people’s cases hurt because they waited to bring in a trial lawyer with the hope that things would just get worked out. I have also seen clients end up with bad results because they never retained a lawyer with trial experience.
I have a friend who is a successful businessman who does a substantial amount of business outside of Tennessee. He was owed some money from a company in Louisiana, but the Louisiana company denied that he was owed anything. He hired a lawyer in Louisiana. (I was not aware of his situation until well after the fact).
My friend paid the lawyer for many months as the case proceeded to trial. My friend thought that his case was one of clear liability, and it sounded to me like it was. For some reason, although he kept paying his lawyer and waiting for the other side to come to its senses and settle, the other side never made a settlement offer.
A few weeks before the scheduled trial, my friend’s lawyer in Louisiana called him and, no kidding, told him that he would have to hire another lawyer because he, the Louisiana lawyer, did not try cases and did not feel comfortable doing so. From what I gathered talking to my friend, he believed that the lawyer he chose could handle his case because that lawyer was with a firm that handled business matters. The end result was that my friend ended up settling his case for much less than he otherwise would have had to settle.
I just know the basics of the story, but I would bet that the lawyers on the other side of my friend’s case knew that the lawyer whom my friend had hired could not, and would not, try the case. I see the same thing happen with Tennessee clients and Tennessee lawyers. I see it happen when Tennessee lawyers who handle general business matters for a company or a client either try to deal with the dispute themselves or hand the matter off to someone in their law firm who may handle some litigation, but is not a trial lawyer.
Many lawyers who handle general business matters or non-litigation matters believe that they can handle a litigation matter. They are especially prone to think this when an old client ends up in a dispute. I think, oftentimes, they may know that they can’t handle a trial, but genuinely believe that they can get the matter settled before a trial is necessary.
There are other Tennessee lawyers who know that the best thing is for them to refer their client to a trial lawyer or at least to associate one and let the trial lawyer call the shots, but they will not do so because they want to maintain control of the client (and the revenue generated by the client).
For those who believe that there is no harm in letting a non trial lawyer represent them at the outset because, if the case does not settle or the going gets rough, they can always hire someone with more trial experience, let me explain why that thinking is a bad idea. First, positions taken out the outset of litigation, whether in a complaint, answer or even in a letter response, can have long lasting effects which, frequently, can’t be undone. When I am hired at the outset of a case where there is a jury demand or where I may demand a jury, I am hypersensitive about what positions I take and what I write in pleadings and other documents.
Second, whom you have go to bat for you at the outset will make a major impression on opposing counsel. Whenever I am retained to represent a client in a litigation matter, one of the first things I do is find out who the lawyer representing the other side is. In several cases in which I have handled over the years, lawyers who I know have very limited trial experience, if any, have appeared on the other side. When that happens, my advice and strategy are often much different than if a lawyer whom I know is a trial lawyer is representing the other side.
Third, I have been involved in cases where, by the time the other side figured out that they needed to bring in a Tennessee trial lawyer, there were important things that could not be undone by their incoming lawyer even if he or she was very experienced and capable. For example, courts rarely, in my experience, allow a party to be deposed a second time absent some compelling need. If you bring in a trial lawyer after depositions, he or she may be stuck with depositions taken and defended by another lawyer. It also may be too late by the time you bring in a trial lawyer for him or her to obtain additional discovery through requests for documents or interrogatories.
Most cases that are filed never go to trial, but, if you want to increase your chances of obtaining a good settlement sooner rather than later, and if you want to protect yourself in the event that you do have to go to trial, hire a trial lawyer when your case starts.