Court cases are all around us. Literally millions upon millions are filed each year in the United States.1 They can be anything from a traffic citation to a divorce to personal injury to domestic violence and everything in between. Before I attended law school, I couldn’t comprehend the vast reaches the law has on each and every one of our lives. Honestly, I am still surprised when issues come up that require research into something you never thought you’d need to know; I’ll never forget when a male colleague of mine had to research the fair market value of hair weaves to assist a victim of theft. And, perhaps, unfortunately, many of us will find ourselves party to a case in one way or another at some point in our lives.
Sure, we’ve all seen TV shows where litigating a case is all gavel-banging and fist-slamming and fast-talking. That’s exciting and entertaining for something you watch at home with a glass of wine in your pajamas, but honestly, if you’re involved in a court case, you’d probably prefer it didn’t look that way. Court cases are much better when surprises don’t arise and when things remain cordial.
So, on that note, here are 5 lessons (conveniently all using the letter “R”) to make that legal issue of yours just a little more manageable:
1. Be Reasonable.
I want to give a disclaimer up front and tell you all that the legal field is not perfect. It is filled with humans, after all. It is subjective. Mistakes are made. But despite this, we are lucky in America to have the safeguards and procedure we do. What it ultimately comes down to is figuring out how to navigate and roll with the punches. The process takes time, lots of it, which requires vast amounts of patience. You might not get everything or exactly what you want. In many cases, there really isn’t a winner or loser. Our personal definitions of what is “fair” will certainly not always align. But if you remain reasonable about the reality of the system, you’ll be able to get through it with a lot less gray hairs and sleepless nights.
2. Do Your Research.
I am not kidding when I say that the same skill set we use to find the perfect recipe on Pinterest or to Facebook stalk our best friend’s ex can be applied to your legal situation. The internet has such a vast amount of information these days that you can find the answer to almost any preliminary question you might have. So pull up that search engine and type in what you want to know! Once you figure out the basics, a good next step is figuring how that legal issue might be confronted specifically where you live. Most local superior courts, organized by the county you live in, have websites that can point you in the right direction of what steps have to be taken procedurally and maybe even forms you might need to fill out. About this point is when you have to decide if you need an attorney. Often times it’s advisable, but sometimes, depending on the issue, you can handle it on your own and save some money. If finances are a big concern, check to see if your local library offers a free lawyer consultation service. If you need more help, did you know that some lawyers will set up a consultation for a one-time flat rate fee where you can ask a bunch of questions up front but do not have to actually retain them? So if you have done your research beforehand and have that yellow legal pad ready to go, you might be able to get all the information you need right then and there! Avvo.com is a great resource for finding good local attorneys!
3. Keep Records.
Keep records of everything. I’m talking receipts, emails, notes from conversations, observations with dates on them, screenshots… A paper trail can be a saving grace in any situation—it will save your attorney a ton of time which in turn saves you a ton of money. Since you never really know when a legal issue may arise, this is something I would truly recommend to everyone in all situations. Start a filing cabinet or a system of folders where you store any and all important information and paperwork. I promise it isn’t something you’ll ever regret.
4. Respect Everyone.
Your lawyer, the other party’s lawyer, the judge, the mediator, the bailiff, the court reporter, the secretary. This cannot be stressed enough. Despite all the venom in court TV, in real life I’ve seen evidence of “catching more flies with honey.” Kindness counts. This does not mean being a pushover by any means! (Remember grit and grace.) When I was in my last year of law school I was elected to be the leader of my school’s trial advocacy board. I was not the most aggressive person. In fact, I was (and still am) an easy-going, friendly, smiley introvert. But when I stand up for what I believe in you better believe I stand up and stand firm. I’ve been told that it is almost like a secret weapon; people don’t always expect a graceful woman to hold her own with the grit required to succeed, and then we do and knock their socks off. Our zeal and passion do not have to come at the price of kindness and respect.
5. Take Responsibility.
This is a hard one. If we’re involved in something messy and know that the other person has messed up big time, it’s easy to put all of the blame on them. But ask yourself, did you really stop all the way at that stop sign or did you roll through the intersection before the other car hit you? It makes it a heck of a lot easier for you and your attorney in the long run if you fess up to whatever part you played in the issue rather than crossing your fingers that the other side won’t call you out.
As of January 2017, the American Bar Association reported that women only made up 36% of the legal profession and only 27.1% of all judges in the country.3 I tell you this only to say that all of the tips I just outlined above also apply to myself and my female colleagues as we follow the lady-lawyer pioneers into this relatively new frontier. How much more power could flood a courtroom if the very things that make us feminine (our compassion, our empathy, our grace) were our tools to succeed in the messy and gritty legal world? So equip yourselves, ladies. Be reasonable, do your research, keep records, respect everyone, and take responsibility. With these tools, you’ll surely start off on the right foot in whatever legal battles come your way.
For more pieces about different facets of a grit + grace life, check out:
Divorce Was Not in the Plan
Why I Share My Story of Healing After Domestic Abuse
A Woman’s Grit Is Her Biggest Asset for Success
True Beauty is Found in a Woman’s Strength
Anatomy of a Strong Woman
A Woman of Grit Without a Hard Heart
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