Top Ten Tips for businesses on what to do if you receive a court summons.

  1. Don’t panic!  You should have at least 21 days in which to decide whether or not to defend the action.  Take a deep breath, read through the papers and contact your solicitor for advice.  If, for whatever reason, you have less time to deal with matters just pick up the phone and seek legal advice immediately.
  2. On the other hand, do not bury your head in the sand.  This will not go away.  If you ignore it, then the court will assume you do not wish to defend the action and is likely to find in the other side’s favour.
  3. Be honest and, where necessary, self-critical.  It is human nature to “spin” stories to make ourselves look better.  If your business is at fault in some way, admit it to your solicitor at the beginning.  It will not necessarily mean you will be wholly unsuccessful but your solicitor needs to know the truth in order to negotiate on your behalf.
  4. Try to collate as much relevant information as possible.  It is unhelpful when we as solicitors have to keep chasing our clients for information.  It can also be unhelpful for us to receive thousands of irrelevant documents which have to be waded through.  Ultimately this will result in further expense for your business, as solicitors usually charge by the hour!
  5. Encourage any staff member who is involved to speak openly to your solicitors.  Again, this may sound obvious but employees are often reluctant to discuss matters fully with third parties.
  6. Be open to the possibility of mediation.  Mediation is not for everyone and certainly does not guarantee a successful outcome, but it can be beneficial in some circumstances.  Getting both parties together to discuss matters often clears the air, with the result that settlement is more likely to be achieved.
  7. Be realistic.  Litigating is expensive.  Your solicitor will advise you fully but it is likely you will end up out of pocket, even if you are successful.  Usually the losing party has to pay the other side’s costs but a shortfall generally remains.  Sometimes it is better to take a commercial view and settle the case early.
  8. Be patient.  This is often the most difficult aspect for clients used to running efficient businesses.  Litigating can take time.  Factor in appeals and a case can take years to reach a final conclusion.  Again, it is often better to consider a commercial settlement early on.
  9. Do not be afraid to question.  You run a successful business.  You are intelligent and articulate.  Yet for some reason you feel intimidated by the slightly antiquated world of lawyers, judges and courtrooms.  Do not be afraid to ask questions!  You are entitled to understand what is going on and why.  Your solicitor will be happy to explain everything to you.
  10. Finally, try to remain objective.  It can be upsetting finding yourself in a situation where you or your colleagues’ conduct is being called into question.  It is tempting to become involved on a personal, rather than a business, level.  As difficult as it may seem, it really will assist both you and your legal team if you are able to step back and see the bigger picture.