Perseverance in the Face of Adversity: A Lesson for Clients (from the Gridiron)

Less than a week ago I was in Chapel Hill to see my alma mater, New Bern High School, play for the state 4-A football championship.  The Bears withstood several big plays and managed some of their own to create an exciting contest.  Late in the game, the Bears’ opponent, Indian Trail Porter Ridge High School, took a 38-33 lead.  This and another booming kickoff from the Porter Ridge placekicker left the Bears needing a long scoring drive to win the game.  New Bern persevered and one senior—MVP quarterback Josh Taylor–handed the ball to another senior—running back Jac Watkins—who scored the game-winning touchdown with 26 seconds to go in the game.  After those seconds ticked off the clock the Bears and the many, many fans who attended—including me, my youngest brother, and several of my high school classmates—erupted into a celebration.  State champions!  New Bern Bears!

So you may ask how is this story relevant to you and the law.  Simple:  the lesson of perseverance in the face of adversity.  The Bears found themselves in a very uncomfortable situation late in the game and their backs were against the proverbial wall.  When dealing with a legal matter you are often faced with opposition that seeks to delay, confuse, frustrate, and otherwise beat down your will.  In some cases the client may throw in the towel and settle the case despite having the opportunity for a better result by pushing forward.  It is an unfortunate fact that some parties and their attorneys purposefully employ this strategy in an effort to avoid being held liable for violations of the law. 

In the context of a legal case adversity can take many forms:  burdensome and often unreasonable requests for documents, delays in providing information and answers to questions, abject failure to respond to requests for information, repeated requests for continuances when they are not needed, hiding the identity of witnesses or the location of documents, and on and on.  I have encountered many of these tactics during over my 15+ years as a practicing attorney and I have seen clients respond in different ways.  Some clients are unable to weather the proverbial storm and they relent when they probably should stand their ground.  Other clients continue the case in the face of almost insurmountable odds against them (NOTE:  there are definitely circumstances when a client is ill-advised to persevere.  It is quite unwise to make decisions based on legal myths.  And persevering in the face of fundamental weaknesses and deficiencies in one’s case is not noble; it is inefficient, at best, and quite destructive, at worst.)

If you and your attorney have had honest conversations throughout the representation and believe your case and objectives are sound be in it for the long haul.  Civil cases can take at least one year (from the date the lawsuit is filed) to go to trial and in the case of a medical malpractice claim or complicated contract or business case or a case with multiple parties it is not unusual for the case to continue even longer.  Realize that a case may require the ongoing expenditure of money to cover neccesary costs such as filing fees, depositions, expert witnesses, etc.   Many of these things are needed to properly prepare your case and/or learn more about your opposition.

A key responsibility for an attorney is to aid a client in determining the viability of persevering and, if perseverance is warranted, creating a strategy for moving ahead with the client’s case.  The attorney-client relationship should be a team approach where both parties work together to obtain a favorable result for the client.  Though it may be lengthy and sometimes even appear to be a losing cause just keep fighting the good fight.  Just as the New Bern Bears did on that brisk Friday night in December 2012, perseverance can occur and result in a triumphant victory.  Go Bears!  2012 4-A North Carolina football champs!


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