What to Do If You Get Sued: Your 8 Step Plan

“You’ve been served.”


Those three words — indicating you’ve been served with a lawsuit — will send a chill down the spine of just about anybody.
If this has recently happened to you, first of all, I’m very sorry. Getting served with a lawsuit can be unnerving and seem very foreign. If you haven’t been sued before, you are probably wondering what you should do first.

The truth is, once you get advice and understand the basic steps and phases of a lawsuit, the actual process of being involved in litigation will become much less foreign.

If you have been sued, you should move swiftly to get your affairs in order.  What follows is a list of 7 specific steps you should take immediately after getting sued.

1.  Act Quickly.

If you’ve just been sued, you need to act quickly.  Now is not the time for delay. Every active lawsuit has strict deadlines and severe consequences for missing those deadlines.

2.  Find Out What Deadlines Apply.

When you begin interviewing attorneys (see Step #4 below), you should immediately ask what deadlines apply so that you know how much time you have before you need to make a decision. In most cases, you will need to file an answer or responsive document to the summons and complaint in a matter of days.

3.  Gather All Your Documents.

The next step is to compile all of your relevant documents, letters, emails, contracts, bills, photographs, and any other evidence which has anything to do with the dispute which is at the heart of the lawsuit. If you have a chain of emails between you and the person suing you, then you should save both print and electronic copies of all of these records.

4.  Begin Interviewing Attorneys to Represent You.

You should immediately ask friends, family, and trusted advisors for recommendations of an attorney to represent you. The State Bar of California also publishes a pamphlet titled “How Can I Find and Hire the Right Lawyer?” Check out the websites and/or blogs of any recommended attorneys and make sure they practice the area of law relevant to your lawsuit. Bring all of your documents you gathered in step #3 to your initial meeting.  Even if you don’t have the money to hire a lawyer, you should speak with a couple of attorneys because they may be able to work out a creative solution so that they can be paid and you can have legal representation. If there is an attorney’s fees provision in an applicable contract or statute, then you may be able to get an attorney to represent you for free, because their attorney’s fees would be repaid if you prevail.

5.  Get Access to Money.

It’s no secret that litigation is very expensive. If you have money that is tied up in CDs or mutual funds, you may need to call your financial advisor or bank to gain access to those funds. You may also need to borrow money from an equity line, family, or a retirement fund. Your attorney can advise you as to how much they think a vigorous defense will cost.

6.  Think About Settlement and/or Mediation.

Before you get too far into the case, you should think about settlement, whether through formal mediation or informal discussion. There is nothing wrong with calling up the person who sued you and seeing if you can work out your dispute with an out of court settlement. Of course, most disputes end up in court because this option didn’t work, but it’s also never too late.

Before you call the plaintiff however, talk this option over with your attorney. Even if you only pay the attorney for a few hours of their time, they may give you a negotiation strategy which could save you thousands on the settlement of the claim.

7.  Discuss Countersuit with Your Attorney.

If you have claims against the person who sued you, then you may want to file a countersuit against the person who sued you. There can be strategic advantages to filing a countersuit, although any advantages must be weighed against the increased costs and the chances that a countersuit will deepen tensions between you and the plaintiff.

8. Get Ready for Trial.

The vast majority of cases settle before going to trial, but nevertheless you should prepare yourself as if you are going to go to trial. Be sure your calendar is free of major obligations and vacations in the months ahead so that you are available to assist your attorney in preparations, and ready to appear for trial if in fact you do go to trial.

Photo credit: Flickr/couragextoxlive