Legal Insight. Business Instinct.

Embracing Litigation

I sue people. In a conservative place like Idaho that job description could cause me to feel like an outcast. Ralph, from the animated movie Wreck it Ralph, captures this sentiment nicely. Ralph is a video game villain akin to the ghosts from Pac Man. In his video game, his job is to wreck things. In the movie Ralph states, “It’s kind of hard to do your job when no one likes you for doing it.”

Society at large dislikes litigation lawyers. They have the reputation of charging too much, causing unnecessary problems, filing frivolous claims, ambulance chasing, and representing unethical businesses and people. Because of this animosity toward litigators, people often resist the legal system as a means of resolving disputes.

At times I feel like Ralph. It can be hard to do my job when no one likes me for doing it. At a support group involving other like-minded video game villains, the villains all repeat the mantra, “I’m bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be than me.”

Fortunately, I do not need a support group to see the vital and positive role litigation plays in our society. Yes, you read that correctly, litigation plays a positive role in our society. Litigators fight to protect, enforce, and defend peoples’ property rights. They seek to enforce the law and at times create new laws for the benefit of society. They prevent unethical business dealings and promote fairness in the judicial system. If there were no litigators, the system would erode and there would not be a forum for people to adequately protect their rights. Without confidence in the legal system, businesspeople would be less willing to take the kinds of risks that lead to economic productivity and prosperity.

For example, say you enter a business deal with Peter Promise to buy 100 widgets. You pay Peter in full and he delivers defective widgets. You try and make things right with Peter, but he ignores you. You go to the police and they tell you “it’s a civil matter.” You could walk away or you could hire a litigator to sue Peter. If you do nothing then Peter will likely continuing making promises he does not deliver on. However, if you sue him you can be made whole and you can expose Peter for the over-promising fraud that he is. Is it morally wrong to engage in litigation or is it morally wrong to do nothing and allow a predatory businessman such as Peter to continue to hurt others?

Litigation’s bad reputation is earned and reaffirmed by the conduct of a minority of lawyers. Problems arise when your litigator turns out to be of the same moral code as Peter Promise. Carefully selecting a litigator is key and going with the lowest bidder is usually not advisable. Interviewing more than one potential lawyer and researching a lawyer’s reputation before you hire will help you hire the right lawyer.

By the end of Wreck it Ralph, one realizes that Ralph is not “bad” but rather plays an important and necessary role for everyone’s well being. As a litigator, call me bad or call me good, but there is no one I’d rather be than me (except maybe the general manager of the Boston Red Sox).

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