For the second article in his dispute resolution series for Business Advice, solicitor David Walker gives readers a guideline on how to successfully win a court case without a lawyer.
In my last article I said, perhaps controversially, that recovering an unpaid invoice is actually quite simple. Well, I meant it. However, to get paid, you must take full responsibility for recovering what you’re owed and that means going to court if you have to.
For many people, the thought of going to court is seriously off-putting. In fact, Ive known people who would rather write the invoice off than stand up in front of a judge due to their fear of public speaking. This isa real shame because it isnt as bad as you might imagine.
But if you are concerned about going to court, think about it from your client’s perspective. If they don’t have a good reason for not paying, they’re even less likely to want to explain themselves to a judge.
This gives you a huge psychological advantage over your client, so use it to your maximum benefit.
Next, it’s important to understand that you don’t need a rock solid case to win a court case. Obviously, you want your case to be as strong as possible, but to win, your case only needs to be slightly better than average.
That’s because an unpaid invoice is a civil matter, so it will be decided on the balance of probabilities. This is not a criminal matter where a case has to be proved beyond all reasonable doubt.
To win a court case, all you have to do is persuade the judge that you have a better case than your client and to do this you need to show evidence of four things, which I have explained below.
1. You have a legally binding contract with your client.
A judge won’t automatically assume you have a legally binding contract with your client. You must prove it.
If you have a signed, written contract you can simply show a copy to the judge and there will be very little doubt overwhat was agreed.
However, if you have a verbal contract, you must be very clear about the terms agreed. You will need to explain to the judge when the contract was entered into and what you both said to form the contract. Be as specific as you can.
In a previous article I explained what elements must be present to form a legally binding contract, so refer back to that if you need to.
2.You fulfilled your obligations under the contract
This should be really simple to prove. Your contract should state quite clearly what your obligations are, so refer back to it and provide evidence of everything you have done.
Now, if there’s going to be a disagreement between you and your client, this is the stage where it is most likely to occur.
The argument may not be whether you or have or havent done the work it might be over the standard of your work, the results you achieved or whether it was delivered on time.
If your client raises these arguments, explain to the judge why you didnt or couldnt fulfil your obligations precisely as set out in the contract. It might not be fatal to your claim if there are good reasons why. For example, if you were late providing a service but the delays were caused by your client, you should explain this.
3. Fulfilling your obligations entitles you to be paid
After showing that you have fulfilled your part of the bargain, provide evidence that you have invoiced the right amount at the right time.
David Walker is the founder of Grid Law, a firm which first targeted the motorsport industry, advising on sponsorship deals, new contracts and building of personal brands. He has now expanded his remit to include entrepreneurs, aiding with contract law, dispute resolution and protecting and defending intellectual property rights.
Our legal expert David Walker is providing his expert advice on all things contract law, dispute resolution and intellectual property. Step five looks at how a breach of contract can occur and what a small business owner can do to protect their company. more»
Legal expert David Walker continues his advice series on all things contract law, dispute resolution and intellectual property. Step four involves a look at some of the most common contractual problems for a small business owner and the best way to address them. more»