Have you ever stood before a judge in a courtroom? It can be intimidating. Unless you’ve done it before. Perry Mason and Judge Judy it ain’t.
Much of what happens in a courtroom for civil cases is procedural and boring. Unless you’re the lawyer and it’s your first and last case.
I bought a computer system back in the early 1980s. It didn’t work so I boxed it up and took it back to the vendor. To make sure I got my money back I had my local bank stop payment on the check.
The vendor was not happy about the return and promptly sued for $976. It was a restocking fee. Since there was no mention of a restocking fee in the original invoice I took the problem to my lawyer.
He said to settle out of court; offer them $250.
I was young and brash and thought I had done nothing wrong so I countersued for $25,000 on five points I considered courtroom worthy. I filed the lawsuit papers myself.
I was my own lawyer.
You know what they say, right? One who represents himself in court has a fool for a client.
I expected the plaintiff to call the whole thing off or try to negotiate a deal in hopes of whittling down the $976 bill. My mistake was the $25,000 countersuit; an amount which bumped the claim out of small claims court and into a real courtroom with a real judge.
That’s when I went to a different lawyer who outlined a proper strategy; file a motion for a change of court, get to a different judge, and make the plaintiff sweat for awhile.
For two years I argued before a judge in court, requested and responded to various plaintiff interrogatories, and near the end the judge let stand three of my five charges. That was enough head banging for the plaintiff’s lawyers who then let the case fade away to obscurity.
After two years of inactivity the case was dropped from the court docket.
That means I didn’t lose.
It would have been far more efficient and less expensive to negotiate a settlement for a few hundred dollars, but there was a principle at stake (and I was young and foolish). In the end, I had learned a great deal about how courtrooms and lawyers function. Years later I argued a case before the Federal Trade Commission. Twice. As with my first case, it was a draw.
No winner. No loser.
Courtrooms are not like Perry Mason or Judge Judy on TV, but they can teach strategy and tactics. If you’re willing to pay the price.