What To Do If You’ve Been Served

Law firms get dozens of calls a week from potential clients seeking legal services. Many of these calls come from people who were just recently served with a lawsuit. If this describes you, you may be experiencing a wide range of emotions from anger, to defensiveness, to panic. The bottom line though, is what are your next steps? How can you protect yourself and your business? Our friends at Volpe Law LLC are here  to give some basic, common-sense advice to those of you who have just been served with a civil suit.

First, read every single page of the complaint and summons packet that was served to you. Once you determine why you were sued, begin searching for the right kind of law firm to represent you. For example, if you have been sued for business fraud, you may want to seek out a business Lawyer. If you have been sued for an easement dispute, you may want to seek out a real estate litigator.

Second, identify any critical deadlines noted on the summons. In general, you usually have a deadline of about 21 days to answer or otherwise respond to the complaint or risk default. However, the rules of civil procedure differ from court to court, and state to state. Sometimes smaller cases note a reduced answer deadline, while an out-of-state case may allow a 28-day deadline. Prepare to discuss deadlines with the lawyers you call.

Third, begin preserving, investigating and organizing evidence to defend yourself in the lawsuit. If you have files, you may want to start reviewing the relevant files and preparing them to be shared with your attorney once you hire one. If you were not recording things or getting copies of documents previously, now is the time to do so to protect your case.

Fourth, begin researching ways to pay your legal fees and be realistic about the costs of this. You will want to identify potential sources of funding. You should evaluate using savings, home equity loan products, low-interest credit cards (especially ones with good rewards programs), Roth IRA funds, personal loans, litigation financing, friends/family, or crowdfunding. Obtain financial advice from a financial advisor or your CPA to properly prepare for the financial impact. Litigation cases will often cost somewhere between $50,000 and $150,000 for a person or small business. However, complexities, larger damages, and multi-party involvement will drive these average costs beyond $150,000 easily. Be ready to ask your lawyer about whether there is a way to recoup fees and costs after a successful trial. Be prepared to evaluate your ideal settlement outcome (risk vs. reward of going through with a full trial).

Fifth, begin calling law firms. Go with your gut. Do not go with the lowest bidder just because they are the lowest bidder. The law firm that offers you the lowest retainer may not necessarily be the best fit. You want a lawyer who will be honest with you up front about the likelihood of success, the potential costs, and has a transparent approach to client management/communication.

If you have been served, do not panic. Instead, contact a lawyer near you to get a consultation on your case to see how they can best help you.

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