All too often in practice we see clients who seem resigned to the fact that they have to pay an attorney to resolve their problems with someone else. Here are some specific examples of people who hire me to write demand letters or to sue someone:

  • A romantic relationship goes bad and someone has to move out of the house;
  • Start-up business owners want to part ways;
  • A friend loans money to another friend and cannot get it repaid;
  • The wife in a short marriage wants out and will sign off on whatever.

Folks going through a legal issue can learn something about conflict resolution from a recent exchange between the leaders of Russia and Turkey.

Russian President Vladimir Putin railed against Turkey for the way it reacted after shooting down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border in Nov. 2015. Turkey claimed the plane was repeatedly warned that it was violating Turkish airspace.

“Just pick up the phone and explain it to one another,” Putin said. “Instead, they immediately fled to Brussels…(and) began to hide behind NATO.”

A lot of protracted and expensive litigation could be avoided if people would follow a few simple steps before calling a lawyer to solve their problem.

  1. Try to work it out by talking with the other person.  In-person is preferred, but if that is not possible, try using the telephone.  Text messaging in an attempt to resolve complicated issues will not work, and email can often lead to misunderstandings and escalations of a dispute. 
  2. If you find yourself already in a heated text message exchange, “just pick up the phone” and call the other person.  Say something like, “hey, I thought this would be easier than sending all those texts because it’s important to me that we try to work this out professionally.”  You’d be surprised how the tension will usually evaporate, and you can then continue to deescalate the situation by arranging a mutually convenient time to discuss the issues.
  3. If you do reach a verbal resolution, write down the terms and have each of you sign the document.  This does not need to be a formally drafted legal document.  It could be something as simple as a cocktail napkin that says “if you move out by May 1, you can take the Xbox, bedroom set and I will pay you $1,000.”  The signed document may or may not be legally enforceable in court, but that does not matter as it’s unlikely that you will need to go to court.   Most people have a moral compunction to honor their word, especially if it is written.
  4. If you can only reach agreements on some issues but not others, follow the advice in #3 above for the resolved issues.  End the meeting with “I’m glad we were at least able to narrow our issues.   We will have to agree to disagree on the rest.  Let’s figure out a way to resolve it without racking up huge legal fees.”
  5. A good way to resolve the remaining issues without calling a lawyer is to use a private mediation service.  Most mediators will only work through attorneys and the court system.  However, your goal is to stay away from lawyers and courts, right?  Try using a mutual trusted friend to help you to resolve the issue.

If all else fails and you need to call a lawyer, keep in mind that by following the above steps you are making it less likely that the situation will turn into a legal bloodbath.  Why?  Because by following the above action plan, you are demonstrating respect for the other party and his views, and this will be remembered even if you do end up in court.  In addition, the cocktail napkin can be transformed into a legally binding Marital Settlement Agreement or Corporate Dissolution Agreement by an attorney who will charge a lot less than he would if he had to actually negotiate and resolve the factual issues between the parties.

But let’s face it, there are some legal problems that require attorneys to resolve.  These would include:

  • Complicated business break-ups which involve division of assets and future profit;
  • Romantic dissolutions which involve domestic abuse, child custody or support, or significant asset division;
  • Collection matters in which the borrower is non-responsive or uncooperative;
  • Any legal dispute in which there is a specific urgency that cannot wait on the convenience of one or both parties to be willing to resolve. 

If you need help with a legal matter or simply want to learn your rights, feel free to contact us.  We are here to help.

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