David K. Taylor, Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, Nashville, TN
This post is a continuation of the Top 10 most horrible, terrible, no good, “bang your head against the door” mistakes that I have seen lawyers make before, during, and after arbitrations in which I served as the arbitrator. As stated in the previous posts, there are pros and cons to binding arbitration versus trial in a court that go beyond a series of blog posts. In many instances, representing a party in an arbitration requires more due diligence and work than a trial. Great “arbitration” lawyering is essential, but many times does not happen.
No. 5: Know When to Fold ‘Em (Bad Claims/Defenses)
As the late Kenny Rogers sang, when playing poker, “you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.” The same analysis equally applies to preparing for an arbitration hearing and determining what claims/defenses will actually be presented at the hearing. Without repeating the title of these series of blogs, one serious mistake I see, while both acting as an arbitrator or counsel, is lawyers (and clients) who feel that they not only need to present every single possible claim/defense to the arbitrator, but refuse to concede positions in the middle of a hearing when it’s clear the facts are not going their way. An arbitration is not a hearing before a jury or a judge who may not know anything about the subject matter of the dispute. Your arbitrator is an industry expert, most of the time an experienced lawyer in the field at issue. She knows what good and bad positions are and when one side is trying to pull the wool over her eyes. Especially in arbitrations where there are multiple claims (such as a construction dispute), a party’s credibility on ALL positions is vital. Presenting four great claims/defenses but also one to two highly questionable ones, or stubbornly sticking to positions that look like losers, is a serious mistake. Your adversary will use anything they can to oppose the four great claims/defenses and use the questionable claims/defenses to cast doubt on the valid claims/defenses. More importantly, the arbitrator will look askance (he may not say so) at those bad claims/defenses and wonder why you are still presenting a position that appears to be a sure loser. Conceding certain claims/defenses during a hearing, no matter how hard fought, can increase your credibility to the arbitrator. Such a narrowing down on positions and in-hearing concessions can also help reduce exposure, especially if there’s a prevailing party attorneys’ fees clause. This may take some persuasion for a client who may be worried about making ANY concessions, especially in a hard fought, emotional arbitration. But part of your job as a counselor is to give the best advice possible and lay out the pros and cons, and the client can then decide if he wants to go “all in” on all stated positions.
Finally, the other great line from this song is “you never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.” Knowing what claims and defenses to “hold” and present, and which ones to dump and fold, will give you and your client the best chance of walking away from the arbitration table with money in your client’s pocket (after legal fees are paid, of course…).