Ask Dr. CopyrightDear Doc:

I know that you have a “juris doctor” degree (hence, the “Dr.” in your title) that you got by spending three long, hard years in law school. For those of us who don’t have the time, money, or frankly, any interest in going to law school, can you tell us what you learned to save us the effort?”


Lay Z. Client

Dear Lay:

Of course! The Doc is always ready to deprive your local law school of another $150K in tuition, and besides, the Doc thinks that we already have WAY TOO MANY LAWYERS in this country. So here goes…three years of law school in three sentences (with a lawyerly explanation for each):

The person with the better written records wins.

Seriously, if you show up with contracts, notes, specifications, video tapes, and blue prints, and the other guy says, “But Fred told me that a size 14 prawn shackle would be perfectly adequate to hold the weight of the transverse garbanzo beam.” Who do you think that the judge and jury are going to believe? Keep good records, and you can avoid most disputes ever turning into law suits.

The person who should win at trial almost always does.

Judges and juries have a sixth sense about these things. At most trials, while studies confirm that the thing to which jurors pay the most attention is the lawyers’ neckties, the outcome usually is correct and just. The Doc has great faith in the system. Once things get to appeal, however, all bets should be on the side with lots of money and lawyers. There is no more jury, and the rules get super complicated. As a dean of Villanova Law School once said to his students in the 1970s, “This is law school. If you are looking for justice, the chapel is down the street.”

If the law suit is worth enough money, there is no paper too petty to file, or issue too inconsequential to be argued.

The legal process is pretty good at sorting out disputes where the amount to be won or lost is of the same general order of magnitude as the lawyer’s fees for the case. Increase the “at stake” value to a very large number, and the entire system breaks down because there is no longer any question about the value of paying the lawyers more money to generate more paper and more delay. They’re not supposed to do that, but in the real world, even the court rules get distorted by dollar signs followed by too many zeros.

So there you have it! The Doc just saved you $150K and three years of your life. Of course, if you are in business today, it is just about a sure thing that you will get involved in a legal dispute at some time. There are alternatives to litigation, such as mediation and arbitration. Even a proper apology sometimes works wonders.

When you find yourself in a dispute, give the attorneys at Lipton Weinberger & Husick a call – they do all sorts of dispute resolution – and remember to tell them that you have great written records!

Until next month…

The Doc.

— Lawrence Husick, Esq.