Heather Hansen

Complaints Get You Nowhere. Try This.

Civil lawsuits begin with Complaints.  Here, the offended party files a numbered list of all of the ways he has been wronged. The other party responds by admitting, denying, or objecting to that list. As you might expect, there are lots of denials and objections. Depending on which side they’re on, young lawyers spend much of their time either writing Complaints or responding to them. (And we wonder why lawyers are often depressed….). Complaints are a necessary step in the legal process. But Complaints don’t get things moving. When it comes to lawsuits, and life, Complaints get you nowhere until you add Discovery. And discovery is nothing more than asking questions. 

From the time that a case is filed, to the time that we stand before the jury in the quest for victory, the majority of our time is spent asking questions. We start discovery by exchanging Interrogatories–written questions to further explore the Complaint. How much of the Complaint is opinion, and how much is fact? Is there another side to the story? Then we move on to depositions, where we get to ask questions of the parties and the witnesses, in person.  What do you want, and what do you need? Finally, we move on to expert discovery. Is there someone who can help us overcome our biases and understand what’s really going on? Discovery works. It’s only after asking questions, and being curious, that we get to the point where we know whether, and how, the case can be resolved.

Discovery works for our lives outside of lawsuits as well. Do you have a Complaint? Let’s do some discovery. Take your curiosity, and determine how much of what you’re inner voice is saying is fact, and how much is opinion. Explore other ways to look at the Complaint, and what it is that would meet your needs. It may be that you have to bring on an expert, whether a trusted friend, a family member, or a therapist, to help you see things a different way. The same is true when facing someone else’s Complaint. Sure, you can try “admit, deny or object”. You can deny and object until you’re blue in the face.  But remember that denials and objections don’t get thing resolved. Discovery does.

A Complaint is just the beginning. In order to resolve it, we have to keep moving.  Curiosity, imagination, and the vulnerability to ask questions all lie on the other side of denials and objections. And that other side is where victory can be achieved. 

Heather Hansen

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