Think you have a slam dunk legal case? Well in my 12 years of litigation experience (all in California) I’d say there is no such thing. But if you were to have a slam dunk case, at a minimum you would need at least five different things to come together in your favor. Here are the five essential elements for a slam-dunk case:
- The Law. The cornerstone to every slam-dunk case is having a good legal argument. Strike that, a slam-dunk case must have a GREAT legal argument. You would have to have the law squarely on your side. But that law, by itself is just one element—you need more than that.
- The Facts. The law is never applied in a vacuum. There has to be facts that support the legal argument. And typically facts can be all over the place, some good, some bad, some downright terrible. To have a slam-dunk you would have to have all the facts on your side and they’d all have to be good. A caveat: every party always thinks they have nothing but good facts on their side. This is rarely the case. Plus, facts can be interpreted differently by different people—including judges and juries. To have a slam-dunk case, the facts have to be indisputably good. But facts alone are not enough either.
- The Equity (i.e., fairness). Judges and juries are people and people want to right a wrong. This means, to really persuade someone you have to be able to show them the inherent fairness of your position. Why is your side the fair result? Not just fair to you, but objectively viewed as being the “right” answer. You can never underestimate the power of equity. Even in the best of cases, a fair result is highly persuasive and can even trump the law and the bad facts. Most judges and juries find the fair result in their guts, and then back their way into the legal reasoning and support for the equitable (fair) position.
- Money. Lawsuits of every kind are expensive. The pursuit of justice takes a toll, and that toll is usually felt most keenly in the pocket book. Even if the law, facts, and fairness line up in your favor, your slam-dunk case will die a premature death if you don’t have the money to pursue the case as far as is necessary to resolve the dispute—that means getting to an agreeable settlement or trial. Without either (1) money, or (2) some alternate arrangement to pay for legal services (such as contingency fees for example), your slam-dunk case is just slam sunk.
- Time. To successfully see a case to trial you have to be a master guru of patience. In our court system, it can easily take 3 to 5 YEARS before you get to trial. For example, on a case we recently filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in July, the opposing party filed a motion to challenge the pleadings (called a demurrer in legal jargon) and received a hearing date of April 5, 2013. So we now have to wait until next year just to find out if the defendant will be required to answer the lawsuit. That means we can’t hope to even go to trial for a very long time—i.e. years from now. If you don’t have the time, your case won’t make it to the finish line.
In most cases you’re lucky to just have one or two of these items on your side. In fact, in a recent case we resolved, the client had the first three, which is rare. But there was a lack of money and time, so the case had to settle. In other cases we go to trial, but the result is unknown (until a judgment is reached) because of weak facts, law, or equities. I have yet to see all five of these elements come together. But if a case ever does meet all five, then you may have the first ever slam-dunk case. Then again, you may not because nothing is ever certain in litigation.