Managing a Legal Case Requires Constant Changing of Your Planned Path and Adapting of Your Strategy

By: Scott McEachern, legal practitioner coach

One of the most common questions received from practicing paralegals is, "What do I do next?" or some similar variation to this question.  Usually, there are a few possible answers with each possible answer dependent upon the action or response in the next step that will be taken by the opposing party; and accordingly, it is often necessary to await the next move by the opposing party befpre doing anything.

Strangely, many paralegals often try to plot out the entire course of a legal proceeding, from beginning to end; however, legal cases usually unfold in an unpredictable and dynamic manner rather than as per a script.  There is a process to a legal proceeding.  The process contains a series of stages.  Each of the stages involves certain steps.  Within each of the various stages and steps there are myriad of potential pathways that the case may take.  For example, When a Plaintiff's Claim is issued and served in the Small Claims Court, there are possibilities that:

  • The Defendant will admit immediately liability and offer a settlement;
  • The Defendant will deny liability and bring a Motion to Strike per Rule 12.02;
  • The Defendant will ignore the lawsuit and be noted in Default and thereafter bring a Motion to set aside the Noting in Default;
  • The Defendant will ignore the lawsuit, be noted in Default, and allow the Default proceedings to unfold; or
  • The Defendant will go into bankruptcy and get a Stay of Proceedings that halts the entire process.
Twists and Turns

Pac-Man Pathways Of course, there are other possibilities as well.  The above are just five possibilities and with each possibility there are many redirections that will result in a different pathway to follow.  As there may be many, perhaps dozens or more, pathways that open up at each step within a legal proceeding, planning the case from beginnng to end is impossible.  The management of a legal case requires constant adaptation as the opposing side, and perhaps others, react, make choices, and pursue different directions.  As an analogy, when a person plays a game of Pac-Man, generally, how the entire game will unfold is unknown.  Yes, there are patterns and predictable characteristics programmed into the game; however, it is unlikely that a game will unfold perfectly in accordance to a set plan; and instead, adjustments will be required as the ghosts suddenly change direction in ways that alter or affect the available pathways.

Make Sure That Your Client Knows to Expect the Unexpected

As a legal practitioner, it is imperative that you prepare your client for the various shifts in direction that are almost a certainty the course of a legal proceeding.  Of course, clients want to know what will happen next and what will happen almost every step of the way; however, what the client needs to appreciate is that legal practitioners are without the ability to provide crystal ball predictions  Instead, clietns need to know that twists and turns should be expected and that you are well armed and ready to respond and address the various changes in direction by adapting the overall case strategy as needed.

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