Do I have a case? By S. Craig Panter

Factors to consider when evaluating your case

Do I have a case?

Many questions on legal advice sites begin with the words “do I have a case?”

Obviously, every situation is different, and it is not possible to provide a “one size fits all” answer to that question.

Even so, there are several factors to consider in making a decision as to whether to hire an attorney. Let us look at a few of those.

Legal wrongs versus social wrongs.

There is an old saying in the law practice that “there is no wrong without a remedy.” Unfortunately, that is not a true statement.

The dictionary definition of “wrong” is an “unjust, dishonest or immoral act.” The law provides remedies for some wrongs, but not all of them.

For example, in the employment context, Mississippi is an “at-will” state. This means an employee can be fired for a good reason, a bad reason or no reason at all. So ,an employer can fire you for being one minute late to work, for listening to music the employer does not like, for being friends with someone the employer does not like, and so on.

It certainly does not seem “fair” to be fired for any of those reasons. Such firings could be viewed as unjust or immoral. But, they are not contrary to the law, and there is no legal remedy.

Similarly, not all harassment in the workplace is a legal wrong. If it is being done on the basis of the employee’s race, gender, religion, or other protected traits, then federal law may very well provide a legal remedy.

On the other hand, if your boss is simply difficult, overbearing, or downright mean but is not treating you that way because of a protected trait, then you probably have no legal remedy.

Read here for more information on harassment in the workplace:

When you speak to a lawyer, be prepared to discuss the specific facts of what happened and not what you simply feel or believe about the situation.

The job of a lawyer is to separate the facts that give rise to a legal remedy from the facts that are simply unfair or unjust.

The extent to which you have actual damages.

Sometimes, a person has been subjected to a legal wrong for which the law provides a remedy. At the same time, often the amount of damages that can be recovered is fairly small.

The amount of damages that you can recover for a legal wrong is important in two respects. First, you should consider whether it is worth your time and effort to pursue a claim.

Second, the amount of damages will have a significant impact on the question of whether a lawyer will take your case. Let me give some examples.

I recently saw a question posted on a legal website by a lady who had lost $20 in a transaction. She wanted to know what her remedies were.

Now, she may very well have suffered a legal wrong and been entitled to file suit and recover that $20. However, $20 could not possibly be worth her time and effort in pursuing a lawsuit.

Likewise, if she hired a lawyer and paid by the hour, she would pay many, many times more than $20, which does not make good sense. Further, no lawyer is going to take a $20 claim on a contingency fee basis, hoping to recover $20 and be paid 40% of that as a legal fee.

That is an extreme example, of course, but the same type of analysis applies to larger claims. I would not suggest for a moment that $1000 is not a lot of money. But, if a lawsuit is necessary to recover that amount, it is simply not economical for the client to pay a lawyer an hourly rate of, say, $250, to try to recover it.

Nor is it economical for the lawyer to take that case on a contingency fee basis, because the lawyer would clearly have more time in a lawsuit than $400 (which is 40% of $1000).

When you talk to a lawyer about your claim, be prepared to speak candidly about the cost of litigation and whether it makes economical sense for either you or the lawyer to pursue the claim.

The deep pocket issue.

Lawyers often use the phrase “deep pocket” to refer to a defendant that has the financial ability to pay a judgment.

Once again, the ability of a defendant to pay a judgment should figure in both your decision to hire a lawyer on an hourly rate basis and a lawyer’s decision whether to take a case on a contingency fee.

For example, assume you have a very good claim against the defendant for $10,000. A lawyer quotes you a fee of $3800 to handle the case. You should be very reluctant to hire a lawyer if you do not think the defendant could, in the long run, pay the judgment.

Likewise, suppose you ask a lawyer to handle that case on a 40% contingency fee. Remember, when a lawyer takes a case on a contingency fee, she only gets paid if and when she recovers money for you. In the light of this, if it does not appear that the defendant would be able to pay a $10,000 judgment, the lawyer will be very reluctant to take the case on a contingency fee.

Hopefully, this post will provide you with a little insight as to how lawyers make decisions as to whether to take a case and factors you should consider when speaking with a lawyer.

Talk about all of these matters candidly with a lawyer to find out whether you really do “have a case.”

Panter Law Firm, PLLC, 7736 Old Canton Road, Suite B, Madison, MS 39110.


Craig Painter