The title of this post applies to anyone you are going to war with through the court system. It could be your spouse or even your business partner, but at the end of the day you will not think he or she is the same person you knew before, and the likelihood is that they will be thinking the same about you. What is so disturbing is that both of you will be correct. Hopefully it will never happen to you, but if you ever get into one of these street fights, my advice, based on personal experience and a long career in financial planning, is to settle your disagreement before it goes any further. The worst voluntary resolution of your dispute is worth far more than the best court mandated settlement.
If you choose to ignore this advice and litigate rather than pursue a negotiated settlement, remember that both parties will lose, so your objective is not winning but attempting to lose as little as possible. Legal fees are only one reason why this is so. With attorney fees ranging from $300/hour to $500/hour in the San Francisco Bay Area, legal fights are expensive. There is an entire team of attorneys, expert witnesses, accountants, psychologists, vocational specialists and financial advisors, earning money at your expense, so legal costs for each party can reach six figures very quickly. Every time you or your attorney contact each other or the other parties to the dispute, by phone, email, fax or other, the cash register is ringing, and many attorneys will even charge you for ‘shower time’ because they, of course, never stop thinking about your case. It was with a heavy heart that I used to see the bulging envelope from my attorney every month containing the itemized costs of my folly.
My own partnership dispute, many years ago, was undoubtedly the worst twelve months of my life. I, and no doubt each of my former partners, listened to good advice about the importance of resolving our dispute voluntarily through mediation rather than pursuing a resolution through binding arbitration. However, it’s difficult to stay cool and collected in a street fight. One party accuses the other of X and issues a complaint. The other party feels obliged to respond by issuing their own counter-complaint and the process rinses and repeats. Children in a divorce, and clients in a business dispute, are inevitably dragged into the arena. Egos come into play and because there are no rules in a street fight, few can afford to take the highroad, and the situation becomes a race to the bottom, at which point everyone involved, including the attorneys, have lost their dignity.
A lawsuit is one of the most stressful experiences you will ever have, perhaps only less stressful than the death of a close family member. Your children will suffer either directly or indirectly. If you are divorcing your spouse your children are already suffering, but one parent’s desire for revenge often overshadows the well-being of the children and things are said and done that cause severe damage to the parent-child relationship. Even in my business lawsuit I lost a year of priceless quality time with my wife and daughter when the latter was at a wonderfully tender age.
Finally, if you go to court the outcome is totally unpredictable so it makes absolutely no sense at all to place yourself in this situation. Swallow your pride, put your ego away, and sally forth to negotiate your settlement.
“Misery is the company of lawsuits.” Francois Rabelais