I think of myself as a pretty good litigator. And fun to work with. But, even I have a hard time making litigation a fun or enjoyable experience for my clients. Litigation can be expensive and stressful. For an emerging business, extensive full-blown litigation can sideline employee focus and, worse, impede growth. So, what can you do to avoid it? Here are 6 strategies to minimize litigation:
1. Put it in Writing
Disagreements with employees or customers can be quickly solved when there is a contract or other document that clearly outlines each party's rights and obligations. Putting the terms of an employment and/or business relationship in writing also helps to manage expectations and ensure that everyone is on the same page. While it takes time to write out agreements and policies—in the form of employee handbooks, customer contracts, business contracts, etc.—doing so will save you time, money and headaches in the end.
2. Read Agreements + Make Sure They are Clear
Unfortunately, putting an agreement in writing is not always enough. Plenty of disputes arise over the meaning of a particular word or phrase contained in a certain agreement. So, while having a written agreement or policy is important, reading your agreements and making sure they are clear, complete and easily understood is essential. Forget legalese. If you can't understand the agreement, you should assume no one else can either.
3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Avoiding disputes, and litigation, is often about managing relationships. There is no better way to foster and manage a relationship than with open communication. If something unexpected happens—missed deadlines or budgets—talk about it. The sooner, the better. People are less likely to get angry and pursue litigation if they feel they are being treated with openness and respect.
4. Understand What Happened
Spend the time to find out what happened. Don't rely on rumors or quick conversations. A thorough understanding of the facts underlying a dispute will enable you to formulate the most appropriate response and resolution. And, don't assume you will remember everything. Document the steps you take to get to the bottom of a conflict.
5. Act Quickly
Misunderstandings and minor disputes are easily resolved if addressed quickly. Disputes that are ignored and brushed under the rug often fester and grow into something much bigger and harder to contain. Dealing with a problem quickly helps avoid larger disputes and, in the end, strengthens relationships moving forward.
6. Know When to Ask for Help
Seek counsel from your attorney. Often, a 15-minute telephone conversation with your attorney on the front end of a dispute will save you time and money in the end. An attorney that has litigated employment and business disputes will have a unique perspective on how litigation can be avoided in the first place. Attorneys are here to help and advise, so don't be afraid to reach out.