Steve Harms

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tips for Going to Court or Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Hearings

If you plan on going to court on your case, either with a lawyer or on your own, these tips may help you prepare.  These tips apply to both formal court hearings and informal alternative dispute hearings.

* Gather your evidence:
          * Gather all documents that relate to the matter.
          * Gather written statements from witnesses familiar with the matter. If your ADR permits or requires live witness testimony, see if they’re available to testify.
*  Know your case:
          * Prepare a summary of your case. Stress the three or four major points of your case. Don’t read the summary at a hearing. You should be prepared to discuss the issues extemporaneously.
          * Know your case backwards and forwards. Even though you may not enjoy it, that also means learning the other side’s case as well as your own. You should understand your debtor’s claims and defenses, itemize them, study them, and be prepared to discuss each and every one of them in detail.
               *  Be professional:
                     * Keep emotions out of it. Be humble, calm, factual, and believable. That’s not to say you should come across as a robot. Take a look at your favorite legal drama and note some good examples of how to use emotion, voice, and dramatic technique to present your argument while remaining calm, rational, and professional. Maintain good eye contact with the mediator or arbitrator.
                    * Dress and behave professionally. That means both in your actions and your dress. Body language counts, and so do the clothes that you wear. You want to send the message that you take the proceeding seriously. 
                    * Expect to be interrupted. You shouldn’t expect to be able to present a rehearsed speech. Sometimes a mediator or arbitrator takes a very active role, questioning you and interrupting you to require further facts or explanation of your opinion. If you anticipate interruption it’s less likely that you’ll become flustered and more likely that you’ll present a great answer that helps win your case.
                    * Anticipate technical questions. If your case involves technical issues, such as whether a product you sold was properly designed, be prepared to answer highly technical questions. You may need to bring along a witness who’s totally versed on the technical side of the case.
They say that patience is a virtue, and that’s very true in court or alternative dispute resolution (ADR).  Have a dollar figure in mind, but resist the temptation to get to the bottom line too quickly. Just like in settlement negotiations, you usually shoot higher than your bottom line at first so you have room to negotiate downward. ADR works best when both sides accept that there’s room for compromise. If you decide to hold fast to 100 percent recovery as your bottom line, with no negotiation at all, then I’m afraid you’ll probably be disappointed.
Whether you use a professional collection agent or not, it is a good idea to learn the ropes.  Start with a smaller, simpler case, where not too much money’s at stake and the issues are well-defined. Get your feet wet with a case where the stakes are low, and figure out your comfort level (or that of the employee you assign to handle the proceedings).
Although you can handle your own case, you certainly don’t always have to. At times you may decide that you want professional assistance. If you’re involved in a formal arbitration, just as if you were in court, you need a solid understanding of arbitration procedure and the rules of evidence. A professional collection agency or collection attorney can provide assistance by
                           *  Drafting written versions of any agreements that result from the dispute resolution.
                           *  Helping to negotiate from the standpoint of a third party, reducing the effect of personal feelings or animosity that would interfere with negotiations or reaching an agreement.
                           *  Advising you, and suggesting to both sides, what a judge is likely to do based on the facts and issues raised by the parties.

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