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Should You Choose to Litigate or Not?

By | Ligitation, Podcasts

Conflict is sadly a part of most relationships, be it business or otherwise, but in the context of former, litigation for many is often their preferred choice to resolve issues. In this podcast, Heath Berghofer of OMB Solicitors provides useful information on the processes available to you in resolving disputes.

TRANSCRIPT

Dan: Heath, why do people choose to litigate?

Heath: People choose to litigate most normally to recover a debt or potentially to resolve some form of dispute. Normally it’s around a commercial law issue, but sometimes it can also be to right what they call a wrong that’s been made against them.

Dan: Do people choose other alternatives like mediation, or the other options available to them?

Heath: Yes, they do. One of the things we like to discuss with people when they first come in or they want to sue someone else to recover money or potentially some sort of family law matter to resolve a dispute between their former partner, the question is always, what are we trying to achieve here? How much it’s going to cost? It’s an important thing to keep in mind from the outset because obviously litigating can be a very expensive exercise and there can be, in some cases, no winners at the end.

Dan: There’s often a winner and a loser, isn’t there? Worst still, you’re giving that discretion to somebody else to make the decision for you, potentially?

Heath: That’s right. That’s very important. So particularly at the outset of any sort of dispute, for example a monetary dispute, someone’s done work for another person and that person has decided for one reason or another not to pay, the question needs to be asked at the outset, ” yes, you may have been wronged, and yes you may have an action, but how much is it going to cost you to recover this debt?”

The first question is, how much is the money that’s owed? What are my options for recovery? So that leads to two potential avenues. The individual could go through our Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, which is a very fast and effective dispute resolution process, which involves things like mediation and gives those options for people to potentially resolve their own dispute, and if they can’t resolve it, go before a judicial member to have their dispute resolved.

Alternatively, they can pursue their debt recovery matter through the state courts, depending on what monetary amount they’re seeking to recover. But if that amount, for instance, is $5,000.00 or $10,000.00, it would be very difficult in certain circumstances to engage a solicitor to effectively recover that debt. So then it becomes a question of the individual; do I want to pursue this myself through our tribunals? Because it’s not only a monetary decision they need to make, but also a time commitment as well. There’s an emotional component that touches every piece of litigation. Litigation can go for a number of years, and it can be quite a tax on an individual emotionally to go through the process.

Dan: Heath, how do people actually prepare themselves for litigation?

Heath: That’s a good question. It’s very difficult for people to properly prepare for litigation, because you really don’t know what the outcome is going to be. But I think a clear mindset of what a person wants to achieve at the start is the most important point. A good question to ask is, what’s this going to cost me? What am I going to achieve here? Because ultimately, if you walk into any sort of debt dispute matter or litigation with the objective of punishing the other person, well more often than not you can end up effectively just punishing yourself through your own actions. That’s not what you want to achieve. You want to be able to achieve a result here that’s beneficial to you, not the opposite.

Dan: So if a person wishes to litigate, what are the steps? I’m assuming that they need to go and seek some legal advice before contemplating this?

Heath: The person firstly should get some legal advice. They should go to a solicitor. If they can’t afford a solicitor, then they should go to one of our free local community centres in the Gold Coast region. After receipt of that advice, they’ll need to make a decision about what they want to do with the dispute. That may be at the first instance to contact the other side to see if they can resolve between themselves, which is always a very good option.

If the other side doesn’t want to discuss the matter or resolve the matter, then they need to make a decision as to whether they want to institute any sort of formal proceedings, either in QCAT or our state courts, or walk away from the dispute from a commercial basis, conceding that it’s going to cost a lot of time, money, and effort to do this. Maybe it’s better for me to spend my time with my family and with my job, because that’s going to be more beneficial.

If they do take the course of instituting the proceedings, then they can go in a number of directions. QCAT, for instance, it means preparing the required documentation, filing the first step for a mediation between the parties, which can be very effective in most circumstances. It can get the parties meeting each other to discuss the issues and potentially resolve it. If that doesn’t resolve the dispute, then they’ll be before a tribunal member who will resolve it for them. I think the key there, and the key with all of this is if you get before that tribunal member, that may be a decision that both parties ultimately are not happy with. So it’s something to consider at the very outset that, again I refer to what I said before, there may be no winners because ultimately the decision may be in no one’s favour, and everyone will come out unhappy.

Dan: I was just going to say Heath, the irony or the paradox of all this is that for those people that perhaps are wanting to punish the other side, the path to resolution does always involve mediation, so they’re going to have face off with this person at some point during the journey, aren’t they?

Heath: That’s right. It’s a really important step, particularly face-to-face mediation, getting the person in the room opposite you is normally the best way to resolve a dispute with someone facing you. You have to speak your complaints or the issues that you have and what you’re trying to resolve here, rather than doing it through paper or over the telephone. It seems to produce a better result for whatever reason.

Dan: So, okay. It’s gone to litigation, or has gone to court. Now what are the outcomes of litigating? What can be the orders given by the judge or the tribunal or whoever it might be?

Heath: So in a typical debt recovery dispute, it may be in the tribunal, for instance, that amount of money is awarded to one party or another, or no money is awarded either way and the action is simply dismissed. In a state court, again similar circumstance. But if the party’s actually represented, then they may get a cost order as well on top of that. Which can recover, in part, some of the legal costs incurred. But it will not be all the costs incurred under the proceedings.

Dan: So I suppose the take home message for people that are perhaps wanting to seek some sort of recourse, be it through mediation or litigation, is to get some advice at the outset?

Heath: It’s very important to get advice, that’s right. Very important to get advice, and particularly get an understanding of what this process will involve so you can make a really good informed decision before they start taking steps, rather than blindly running through thinking everything will be fine at the end of it, because it may not be. Because particularly from a solicitor’s perspective, we want to achieve the best result we can for our clients on a commercial basis. There are some instances where that may be a very difficult thing to do, and it may be that they have to do it themselves. But it’s better to, from the client’s perspective, to have that understanding from the start than to find that out halfway through the proceedings. So it’s quite important for people to understand that before they start.

resolving construction disputes

How Builders Can Resolve Disputes Quickly

By | Ligitation, Podcasts

The building and construction space is the source of many legal disputes that arise out of complicated contract arrangements. This will often lead to the parties enforcing their legal rights, which can lead to costly and protracted legal battles. To better understand the issues, and what you can do about them, in this podcast, Commercial Litigation expert, Cameron Marshall of OMB Solicitors discusses the matter.

TRANSCRIPT:

Dan: Cameron, is there one intrinsic thing in these matters that tends to be the problem?

Cameron:   Yes, I find that it’s probably, it sounds pretty simple but the thing that can be done is for the parties just to read and understand the contract that they’ve signed, that’s probably the first place to start to try and avoid any disputes.

Dan:   Is it the case that most people don’t, is that common?

Cameron:  I’d say quite a lot unfortunately, it sounds very basic but I see it quite a lot from in my field of work all the time, that disputes could’ve been quite easily avoided by the parties understanding what they had to do, and knowing which way to go when a dispute arises, yeah.

Dan:  Is there something about the contract or particular clauses that you think that are typically the drama?

Cameron:  Yeah, well, not … Yeah, typically they come from a whole range of problems, because I’ve been doing this job for 20 years odd, so I see a lot of different ones. So when I see things such as something as simple as just the parties, or how they may be named in the contract, they need to make sure that the exact legal entity is named. That comes a real problem if we ever have to enforce payment for work being done if we haven’t even got the contractual parties correct, because it gives wriggle room to a party trying to avoid payment, possibly.

Cameron:  Other things like that come up is often when contracts have been negotiated, that’ll take a little bit of time and a start date for the commencement of the work might be included. But, often when the actual contract’s signed, that start date’s passed. So if we’re working on a practical completion date, we’re already halfway through that, we could be halfway through that period and the contractor will be facing some problems down the track, when the completion date’s quickly coming up and he might be getting pressed for completion, etcetera, etcetera. So it’s just those things that need to be sorted out beforehand.

Cameron: The construction schedule’s one that also comes up a lot. It’s one of those things that sometimes gets overlooked in the contractual negotiations, the contractors and the owners and the builders need to just make sure that the construction schedule is one that they can keep, and one that’s realistic. We don’t wanna, again, get into disputes with someone falling behind when the contract, construction schedule itself was just not able to be done.

Cameron: There are even situations where I’ve seen contracts not signed. So-

Dan:  Wow.

Cameron: We get a couple of hundred thousand dollars worth of work and the dispute arises and then one contractor says that they haven’t signed the contract. There’s legal ways of getting around that, but you don’t really wanna have to go there if you just check the contract and make sure it’s being signed by the proper party. So there are some of the examples that I see quite often.

Dan:  Now, Cameron, when things go wrong, where’s a starting point for people to sort of consider how to resolve this, is it typically the case that they don’t do anything at all, they let these things linger, or what’s the best way around it?

Cameron:  Well, again, let’s go back to the contract, let’s see what the contract might say. So let’s talk about a breach of the contract. Normal construction contract if someone’s noncompliant, maybe they haven’t paid a bill, maybe some bit of work is being delayed, then it’s something that can be addressed in the contract by simply providing a notice to the other party. Usually it has to be in writing, but once again, it clears the air and provides certainty as what the other party alleges isn’t done, and it gives time for the other party to do it, and if it’s not done then you can have a look at your legal rights, but again, you go back to the contract, see what it says, and it will guide you through a lot of the problems.

Cameron: There are dispute resolution clauses often in building contracts, now these can be used, I’ve seen one recently where we had a latent defect come up because of soil testing. And it needed to be, there was a dispute between the builder and the contractor, and it needed to be resolved so the parties went through their conciliation process and the arbitration process in the contract which required eventually an independent expert to decide whether it was a latent defect, latent condition sorry, and that resolved that issue so the contract could proceed. It’s not always the case the parties are happy with those rights, but it’s a lot better than going down the legal course if it can be done prior to incurring legal costs, yeah.

Dan:  From a practise perspective Cameron, is sort of traits that you see of builders who may sort of sit on these things longer than they should in terms of bringing the issue to a resolution, sort of practical issues that sort of emanate?

Cameron:   Well, the building site is, I’ve been on them before in my younger days, it’s a different world there, there’s a lot of trust between the parties and a lot of things spoken orally, which is the normal way to do it and good, but it’s not the good legal way to do it. So, what may be said by one party and understood, thought to be understood between the parties that things may be okay, may not be the situation and when a dispute does arise and the lawyers get involved, then again the contract will be the document that we all look at and will be the one that we’ll be trying to enforce. So, it’s one of those situations where on the building site you don’t wanna rest on your belief and understanding of what the other party thinks is the case, or what you think is the case, rather, let’s get it clarified, let’s go back to the contract, make sure what the parties are doing is understood, and then you can go forward. You don’t want, you thought it was the case, ’cause you’ll just end up in problems down the track.

Dan:  So, undeniably, the real take-home message for people listening to this podcast, those that work within, in the industry, is to get advice and make sure these contracts are watertight.

Cameron: Yes, it’s just really … They’re a daunting document when you look at them, but once you’ve had a little bit of experience with them, and you read them, it’s, they’re pretty straightforward and they all have the general similar tone and vein to them, so just understand what you need to do, and if something does go wrong, how do you address it? There are ways to go enforce your legal rights through the courts and the different tribunals, but a lot of that can be avoided simply by knowing what you need to do under the contract and doing that.

Dan: Cameron, thanks for joining me.

Courts, Cost & Considerations

Courts, Cost & Considerations

By | Articles, Ligitation

An experienced solicitor offers viable solutions in the face of legal action.

Leading Gold Coast lawyer Simon Bennett says courts are often described as casinos for the rich. “Most people think only large companies and wealthy individuals can afford the cost of litigation and there is some truth in this,” he says. “When civil and business matters can only be resolved by legal action or it is necessary to defend against proceedings there are ways to minimise costs.

“It is essential to remove emotions from the equation. Litigation is often driven by feelings about justice or rights and wrongs. Legal action should only be taken after all the facts and the likely results are established. Few can afford the expense of proving a point in court.

“It is important to choose a specialist solicitor who is experienced and competent. Very few lawyers have experience in running complex litigation in the superior courts. An inexperienced solicitor may make costly tactical errors. Sound representation comes through experience, knowledge of court procedure, and rules of evidence. Poorly drafted court documents are often challenged or redone – this all adds to the cost.

“People who plan legal action should ask their solicitor detailed questions. This will show whether the solicitor has the necessary qualifications and experience. Superior court actions involve a barrister’s fee. The choice of barrister is crucial.

“Errors in the preparation and presentation of a case are costly and may result in a negative outcome. Ensure money is spent wisely by engaging a solicitor who has intimate knowledge of and a good relationship with the bar, and I don’t mean the local pub,” he says.

Simon says the best way of reducing legal costs is to work with a solicitor to establish a reasonable settlement. “Provide the solicitor with as much information as possible as soon as possible,” he says.

“A settlement that is commercially acceptable in the light of risks and costs is a positive result. If a settlement can’t be reached then at least the solicitor has the full picture and the opportunity to gain the tactical advantage,” he says.

viable solutions in the face of legal action

This article was featured in Label Magazine, by Simon Bennett

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