By L. Charles Grimes, Esq.
I have handled various complex cases and dealt with many high-stakes disputes since I started practicing law in 1989 as a business litigation attorney. My dedication to the rule of law and the pursuit of justice has led me to the courtroom many hundreds of times. I have spent years of my professional life as a trial lawyer in North Carolina, in other states, and even in other countries, arguing for my clients’ rights.
However, over all this time, I have found that often the most powerful tool at my disposal is also one of the simplest: a phone call. Sometimes the simplest things elude many of us. This can be especially true with opposing trial attorneys who often appear at first only to want to fight but can often become much less confrontational and more willing to try to engage in reasoning together once they are approached correctly.
Indeed, by setting aside cold emails and harsh demand letters back and forth, which often lack the human touch and appear only to be overly threatening, I have witnessed firsthand how a carefully crafted simple phone call can work wonders. Sometimes, a conversation can defuse tension, open doors for negotiation, and often lead to resolving a dispute without the need for costly and lengthy litigation. Why all trial attorneys don’t try to do this as much as possible still astounds me to this day.
For example, I recall one case in which I represented a set of clients entangled in a potentially explosive contract dispute with a huge out-of-state company. The tensions were as high as possible, tempers were flaring, and hurtful words like “fraud” were hurled everywhere. It seemed like the situation was destined to devolve into a bitter multi-year legal battle in Federal Court. Yet, before rushing to file a lawsuit, I contacted the opposing party’s attorney for a simple, straightforward phone call.
I prepared carefully as always in leading up to the initial conversation, and simply laid out my client’s position clearly and calmly. I listened to the opponent’s concerns and allowed them to express their perspective. We discussed potential solutions and started the process of negotiation. Most importantly, I showed them that we were open to a fair and amicable resolution – we weren’t just “out for blood.” Also, they fully understood that we were fully prepared, and would not just be walked over.
The outcome? Tensions were defused. The parties began to communicate more effectively. And ultimately, we reached a resolution that saved both parties significant time, money, and emotional stress. Everyone felt protected and, what is most important, respected.
This is not an isolated example. I have done this many times. One reason is that it often works, and the opposing attorney, particularly his client, wants to avoid fighting in court with me and my business litigation law firm, potentially for years. Another reason it is the right thing to do is so that my clients always know that I did all possible at each stage, using a carefully measured
strategic approach, to avoid a massive war for them, their business, their family, and most importantly, their mental well-being. And if that cannot work with my clients’ opponents, so be it. We will at least know we tried, and we acted with class and wisdom at each stage.
In my business law practice, I firmly believe that immediately turning the volume up to a 9 or 10 isn’t always the most effective or efficient way to achieve my client’s objectives. Sometimes, a volume of “2 or 3” – a quiet, reasoned conversation – can be just as powerful, if not more so. And it’s much less likely to result in burned bridges or lasting resentment.
When circumstances demand it, I will be ready to advocate aggressively in the courtroom. But I always remember that my ultimate goal is not just to “win” a legal battle at any cost. It is to secure the best possible outcome for my clients – in the courtroom, in negotiation, and beyond.
Being approachable, smart, and kind is certainly no weakness as a trial lawyer, and by far most trial judges see and know this when reviewing the case records and earlier communications themselves, clearly observing from the bench who has been most reasonable and fair but firm in getting to court. This approach and reputation in court as the well-reasoned parties with self-control not only conveys a great deal of charisma and class, but it is a huge positive in appearing before judges, in my experience. However, the opposite is not. Most high-stakes court cases involve at least one unreasonable “hot head” involved, and that is not me. However, if at the very beginning of the dispute resolution, a smart, reasoning, and more kindly approach will not work, then, of course, I go to court and obtain the justice that the law will allow my clients, and often do so swiftly when the case calls for it.
I have never shied away from a fight. As a trial attorney in court, I have tried many cases involving contract disputes, business torts, broken business bargains, governmental overreaching, land use disputes, wrongful takings by state and local governments, and many other civil matters. Each time, I have always been prepared to do whatever is necessary to ensure my clients’ rights are fully protected. But I also firmly believe that “just because you have a hammer, it doesn’t mean everything is a nail.”
Litigation in court is a tool, but it’s not always the right tool for the job. An initial one or two phone calls can often find out more about where a case is likely headed than many months of discovery and motions hearings – if that well-reasoned approach is handled correctly by an experienced trial attorney who knows the courtroom well, and how to avoid the time and expense of it when possible. I have seen those initial communications work near magic, and I highly recommend it as part of the art of trial lawyering at the highest level.
Disclaimer: This blog post is intended for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The situations and facts discussed are for illustrative purposes to explain what the author believes to be sound and wise thinking, and they may not represent the specifics of your case. You should always consult with a legal professional about your unique circumstances.