Maximize Your Chances Of Success In Litigation

Rule #1: Shut up.

Rule #2: Seriously. Shut up.

Rule #3: The right time to hire a lawyer is immediately. The right time to start following your lawyer’s advice is also immediately.

Rule #4: You may act contrary to your lawyer’s advice if you choose. However, before doing so, you must hand-write, five times in a row on the same sheet of paper, the following sentence:

I do not care if I lose this case or what bad thing will happen to me when I do lose it, because [doing this thing that my lawyer has told me not to do, e.g., telling off the other party in a drunken phone call] is important enough that in order to do it I am willing to risk a) losing all my money, b) losing every piece of property I own, c) endangering my health, both mental and physical, d) losing my marriage, my children, my career, and all of my friendships, and e) going to prison.

Once you give the signed original of that document to your lawyer for notarization and safekeeping, you may then act contrary to her advice, in the manner you wish. (Protip: you’ll be seeing that document again later.)

Rule #5: The words “all” and “every” are intended literally. This is especially true when used in the context of documents, evidence and information. You are not a good judge of what constitutes evidence, nor whether that evidence is relevant or beneficial. Let your lawyer make those decisions, that’s why you hired her.

Rule #6: In litigation, your lawyer is your only friend in the world. Treat her like a friend. That includes paying her (in full and on time). It also includes not insulting her and not verbally abusing her staff.

Rule #7: The police are not your friends. They are not there to help you. They have no intention of “excluding you as a suspect.” They are lying to you. Yes, they are. See Rule #1.

Rule #8: Publicity, press, and the media always hurt and never help. Going to the media is the mark of a desperate amateur whose actions can only be reasonably interpreted as that he not only wants to lose his case, but he also wants to be humiliated in the process. See Rule #1.

Rule #9: At least half of the people who said they’d help you if it came down to a court case will fail to do so when actually asked, up to and including ignoring a subpoena. Many of them will not only not support you, but will actually betray you and support the other side. The ratio of former friends who will not help you in court when you ask them to is typically closer to “all” than “half.” See rule #6.

Rule #10: In case you didn’t think I really meant it the first two times. Shut. Up.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. Why is it that, although I’ve never had a lawyer or been party to a lawsuit, I’m always told to shut up?

  2. Although I hate to disagree with a lawyer, I might get sued, I think the most important thing is to hire a good lawyer. The lawyer representing me in my divorce did not do his homework and was so nervous that he made the stuttering lawyer in “My Cousin Vinnie” sound like Cicero. To make matters worse, the judge fell asleep and did not wake up until my lawyer quit talking.
    The lawyer had the gall to send me a bill me and I told him that if he tried that again I would hire a good lawyer to sue his ass. I never heard from him again.

    • Sorry that you had a bad experience, dexter. Very few people have good divorce experiences but none of this could have helped get through an already-difficult time.

  3. Amen to all that. Oh, and if you’re suing a deadbeat client, also authorise your attorney to hire a private investigator. Money spent on a good attorney is never, ever wasted. Do not hire on the first jamoke you meet or some smiling jackass with his face on the back of a bus stop. Call the bar association and interview a few potential attorneys who specialise to your sort of problem. Call their offices, schedule a time to talk. Shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes.

    A few rules of thumb on interviewing an attorney:

    1. Before you start explaining your issue, ask the attorney to toot his own horn. “Law is a very wide sea. What areas do you deal with routinely?” You already sorta know if you’ve called the bar association but here’s your chance to hear this attorney explain himself.

    2. Lay out your case as simply and directly as possible. “I’ve got a deadbeat in Morristown NJ who owes me twenty grand. I have a contract and the invoices and the signed timesheets and the receivable is long plus-ninety. Can you help me?”

    3. Listen intently to the answer to the previous question. If the guy sounds hesitant or incapable of giving you a plain English explanation of how he can help you, keep on interviewing. Engage the wrong attorney and you are well and truly screwed.

    4. If you’re faced with a lawsuit, ask the attorney if he knows the opposing counsel. First rule of winning battles: know thyself and know thy enemy. You might still win if he doesn’t know the other guy, but it sure does help, especially if there’s a potential for settling out of court.

    5. “Not that you can be held to any firm numbers just now, but can you please email me the terms of how you propose to bill for your time and services in such a case?” Every competent attorney can explain how he’s billing for his time, expenses, assistants and the like.

    6. “Do you have a strategy in mind for how I should proceed with this case?” If he’s done a lot of work in this area, he’ll quickly lay out the roadmap.

    And as Brother Likko has said, don’t talk to anyone but your attorney and his staff about your case. Just don’t. People just love to gossip about other people’s troubles. The walls have ears. Old Hunter S. Thompson said “When the going gets tough, the weird turn pro.” That might work for gonzo journalism, but people do get weird when times get tough and that means you, party to legal action, are weird. Not your normal self. Seconds out. Let your attorney do his job.

  4. Rule #11: Do not lie to the judge.

    And yes, Mr. Zimmerman, I’m looking at you.

  5. And lastly, when you are not being sued, find a good lawyer, and take them out to dinner/drinks at least every few months. That way, it is OK to call at an odd hour when things start to hit the fan.

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