Step 1: stay calm
It was January 26, 2012 and I was having a great morning — until I was abruptly confronted by a joint lawsuit filed by Facebook and the Washington Attorney General for several serious claims against our company. Before I even learned the details of the suit, they hosted an elaborate press conference that was all over the news. My first reaction was an adrenaline rush akin to being cornered by the king of the jungle at the end of a cliff. I did not sleep that night. Or the next.
This was my first lawsuit, and the gravity of the suit and its consequences left me nearly paralyzed. I knew none of the allegations were true, but I didn’t know what was going to happen next. The coming months were an insane roller coaster teetering between stress, anxiety and fear over the rising costs and uncertainty of it all. I just did not understand how it worked. Fortunately, by May 2012, we had wrapped up both lawsuits with very favorable outcomes. The Attorney General withdrew two-thirds of their claims after we threatened to dismiss the complaint, and the settlement shortly thereafter only served to cover their attorney fees and reinforce compliance steps we had taken long before the lawsuit.
Although it felt crazy at the time, I made it out of my first lawsuit alive and we came back stronger than ever. If you’re up against your first lawsuit, here are a few tips that will hopefully make life easier:
- Get a competent lawyer NOW. If you don’t already have a lawyer on retainer, this is what you need to work on immediately. Do not do anything before you hire a lawyer. And do not compromise on the lawyer you pick. It goes without saying that a great, experienced lawyer will greatly affect the outcome of a suit. In my opinion, you can find the best lawyers from referrals.
- Go crazy (but not too crazy). Give yourself a few days to feel everything you have to feel. It’s going to feel like a punch in the stomach at best and like the world is ending at worst. But the only way out is through. By dealing with your fear and emotions upfront, you will be able to remain productive and continue to manage your company while dealing with your lawsuit.
- Turn to your support system. Stay balanced by turning to your support system of friends and family who will be able to help you get through this mentally. To know that you have the support of your loved ones and can, to some extent, share this burden makes life so much easier.
- Learn how lawsuits work. Chances are, no one has told you that lawsuits don’t work exactly as you might think. It’s not necessarily about right and wrong, and the system doesn’t really care. It is unaffordable to fight right and wrong unless you have an unlimited cash reserve. Instead, it’s about finding an outcome that makes the most business sense for you. It is generally agreed that 95 percent of lawsuits settle prior to trial. In a lawsuit, there are usually multiple options for you to explore that will resolve or settle the case.
- Remain calm. During the lawsuit, the plaintiff may try to strong-arm you into a tight spot with fancy legalese. It has happened to me, and it throws me off every time. That is, until my lawyer told me they were blowing smoke. Expect to be thrown off and do your best to remain calm and stand your ground so you don’t make any hasty decisions.
- Be extra frugal. Unfortunately, a very painful part of a lawsuit is the cost. It is important to hope for the best but plan for the worst. That means if you don’t already have a significant cash reserve, start building one immediately and find ways you might be able to cut unnecessary expenses in the business.
- Don’t forget to rebuild. Once your first lawsuit is over, another difficult part of the journey begins. For me, it was rebuilding my brand and myself. I took a step back and reevaluated what I was building towards until I was happy with the answer. Fortunately, nothing changed aside from an increased level of determination and a passion to take my company to new heights. We also thanked those clients who stood by us during the lawsuit, who had helped further strengthen our position in the industry even while facing these serious charges.
At the end of the day, unyielding perseverance and determination will allow you to overcome whatever you’re up against. The first lawsuit will make you feel like the world is set against you; however, once you’re done with this battle you’ll realize it’s just a normal part of business. Welcome to the big leagues — you’ve been noticed.
Fehzan Ali is the co-founder & CEO of Adscend Media and is responsible for driving and implementing the strategic vision of the Company. He is an industry thought leader, providing editorial content about innovative ad-based solutions.