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10 Tips for Staying Sane in Court
by Steve Elias
Copyright © 1993 Nolo Press
- Don't Count on Winning
- Don't Take Your Rights Too Seriously
- Court Is the Wrong Place for Revenge
- Mediate, Don't Litigate
- Don't Gamble More Than You Can Stand to Lose
- Take Control of Your Case
- Control Costs
- Remember That You Pay the Court Personnel
- Keep a Sense of Humor
- Get a Little Help From Your Friends
Going to court initially evokes strong emotions: anxiety if you're the
sued and hope if you're the one bringing the case. But once the battle
the court experience commonly gives rise to another set of emotions --
Here are ten tips to help you avoid these states of mind.
1. Don't Count on Winning
In disputes taken to court, there is a common belief that there should
winner and a loser. That occasionally happens, but more often,
money is involved, the attorney fees and other costs of litigation eat
whatever award is given to the winning side and both sides commonly end
up out of
pocket. Only the attorneys come out ahead.
2. Don't Take Your Rights Too Seriously
Our culture makes us believe that we have rights and that every
violation of a
right potentially involves a jackpot award. Unfortunately, this means
that if you
are unsuccessful in vindicating your right in court by getting a
the other side, you feel doubly betrayed by the system. And yet, it is
case that nothing bad occurred except that you lost a case that you had
yourself up to believe that you had the right to win.
It is far better to view rights as goals or aspirations and not as
predictors of what will happen if you try to vindicate them in a
Remember the Spanish Gypsy Curse: "May you be involved in a lawsuit in
know you are right."
3. Court Is the Wrong Place for Revenge
If you want to go to court to punish someone for what they have done,
that it is equally likely that you will end up being the one punished.
As the old
saying goes, "If you seek revenge, first dig two graves."
4. Mediate, Don't Litigate
Litigation is trial by combat. Mediation, on the other hand, is a
process. It focuses more on equitable solutions and what both sides of
dispute require to get on with their lives and less on abstract legal
principles of justice. Get away from the idea that you should win and
side should lose. Accept that disputes almost always have a point of
that allows both sides to come away with their minimum needs met.
5. Don't Gamble More Than You Can Stand to
If you can't settle the dispute, remember that litigation is an
over which you have very little control -- and that undertaking
always a gamble. First decide on how much you're willing to risk -- in
time and peace of mind -- before you start playing. If you do decide to
be prepared to lose and remember that possibility throughout the
6. Take Control of Your Case
If you still decide to go to court, the best way to ease your stress is
remember that it's your case and that you have the right to control
Only hire a lawyer who is willing to help you acquire the information
to make intelligent decisions as they come up. There usually is no such
legal strategy. Virtually all decisions in the course of a lawsuit
common sense -- and are decisions that you can make more soundly than
you might hire. Taking charge of your case rather than acting as a
of clay can help brighten your mental outlook at once.
7. Control Costs
Part of keeping control of your case is controlling the costs. There
expensive ways to litigate -- and much less expensive ways. Whenever a
suggests a particular procedure, do a cost-benefit analysis. Often, the
results of the procedure are not worth the cost, but only you can make
decision. Keep in mind that lawyers, like doctors, often suggest
procedures solely to avoid malpractice charges.
8. Remember That You Pay the Court Personnel
If you handle your own case in court, the clerks and the judge may
treat you as a
visitor to their country who ought to either be fluent in their
Legalese -- or get a lawyer to interpret for you. This, of course, is
wrong-headed. Since you pay the salaries of the court personnel, it is
should accommodate your needs. The best way to deal with recalcitrant
clerks is to calmly persist until you get what you want. Don't feel
like there is
something wrong with you because you insist on understanding what goes
on in the
9. Keep a Sense of Humor
If you see yourself heading for court, consider reading some of Nolo's
books, such as its collection of lawyer jokes, or Devil's Advocates,
Justice or 29 Reasons Not to Go to Law School. They will highlight the
of what you are likely to encounter in the legal system. And the more
you are to laugh, the easier it will be to get through the process.
10. Get a Little Help From Your Friends
Select a couple friends to help you make decisions. Make sure they
evaluate your situation objectively rather than offer bald support. You
honest feedback from them, not sympathetic agreement.
Identify a different support group for sympathy. Make sure you that you
your emotions with these people rather than keeping them bottled up.
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