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Staying Calm Under Pressure – Advice from a Former Judge

April 14, 2015

Don’t freak out if there is a business dispute

You may believe that a significant business dispute will never happen to you. In some ways, a lawsuit — whether by you or against you — is a bit like a serious personal injury. When it does happen, it derails important plans and goals. It takes money, time and focus to solve the problem and get back to real life. Always, this is money, time and focus that you had planned to devote to other efforts.

Fortunately, there are ways to get you back to business sooner and with less pain than you might otherwise suffer. As both a judge and a business litigator, I have had a front row seat at various tables in the courtroom for all manner of business disputes. For better or worse, the courtroom shines a bright, fluorescent light on three (correctable) errors commonly made by businesses dealing with a dispute.

Do Not Put It Off. Evaluate Early. And Often.

Do not let the moments pass you by.

You can see them clearly in hindsight. In my experience, you certainly can see them from the front of a courtroom and from the jury box. You can see all those moments that went by when there was a chance to gather the facts early and take a long hard look at what the costs, risks and benefits of a lawsuit would be, and to prevent the dispute from escalating, or, at a minimum, better deal with it.

Early dispute evaluation will save you money and time. But it requires an up-front investment. It requires gathering enough facts to identify your strengths, your weaknesses and the unknowns.

A critical part of this process is to make sure that your business culture allows people to admit when they are not perfect – that they could have done something better or that they in fact made a mistake. You want your team to feel comfortable bringing to your attention potential problems before they are actual problems. Missteps and mistakes do not stay hidden once a dispute erupts. It is better to find out the truth early, when you can avoid some of the natural repercussions that may flow from a misstep. Learning about a misstep is also an opportunity to make changes that improve your future success.

Shannon Joseph

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