In brief - Be helpful, cooperate and communicate with your lawyer

Your lawyer will be able to assist you as effectively as possible if you provide clear instructions, make the necessary documents available and listen carefully to the lawyer's advice.

Why do businesses get sued by their customers?

One of the harsh realities of the business world is that from time to time, situations arise in which a business is sued by a client or customer. Maybe a faulty product was sold, or negligent advice given, or there was a failure by the business to abide by the terms of a contract.

More than likely, if your business is sued, you will require the assistance of a lawyer. Here are five tips on how best to assist your lawyers in defending a claim that has been made against your business.

1. Provide clear instructions on what happened

The first place to start is by telling your lawyer all of the circumstances that gave rise to your business being sued in the first place, as best you can remember them.

It may also be necessary for some of your staff members (those who are able to shed light on the relevant circumstances) also to meet with your lawyer so that he or she can take their instructions.

This will enable your lawyer to ensure they are on top of all of the facts early and will be better placed to help you assess the strength of the other party’s claim against you.

2. Make available whatever documents your lawyer requires

In order to get a clear picture of what has happened and whether your business faces any concerns regarding liability, your lawyer will need copies of all documents you have that relate to exactly what happened. The best policy is to give your lawyer more information, rather than less.

In addition, wherever possible, you should take copies of whatever documents you make available to your lawyer. This will assist you and mean that you do not need to keep coming back to your lawyer’s office to look at the documents if he or she has any further questions about them.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask your lawyer questions

It is very likely that you will have questions about what will happen now that your business is being sued. What is involved in preparing a defence? What sort of time commitment will you and your employees be required to make? Will there be a court hearing that you (or others in the business) will need to attend to give evidence? Or will there be a mediation? How long will the mediation run for? What is the procedure at a mediation?

Your lawyer should be able to provide some answers to your questions and explain what your role in the process will need to be.

4. Be prepared and be flexible

Unfortunately, litigation is costly. There are lawyers' fees to pay (unless, for example, you have an insurance policy under which the insurance company may pay your legal bills), as well as the cost to the business of making your own staff and resources available to your lawyer when required. This may include making employees available to your lawyer to take their witness statements, or making yourself available to attend a mediation.

Litigation is also time consuming, in that you or your employees may be required to attend a mediation with your lawyer, or to help your lawyer prepare a defence, or to provide further instructions.

In addition, you may have to wait for the other side to make a move before you can respond.

It pays, then, to be prepared and to be flexible.

5. Be helpful and cooperative with your lawyer

Litigation is often an uncertain and stressful time for businesses, so it makes good sense to take whatever steps you can to minimise the stress and uncertainty. One step to take is to be as helpful and cooperative with your lawyer as possible by following the tips above.

Remember that your lawyer is being paid to do his or her best to assist you in the defence of the claim - but that is not to say that every case is able to be defended successfully. Your lawyer is best placed to assess the merits of the claim and advise you. Listen carefully to that advice. After all, you've paid for it.

This is commentary published by Colin Biggers & Paisley for general information purposes only. This should not be relied on as specific advice. You should seek your own legal and other advice for any question, or for any specific situation or proposal, before making any final decision. The content also is subject to change. A person listed may not be admitted as a lawyer in all States and Territories. © Colin Biggers & Paisley, Australia 2024.