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El Salvador     Dispute Resolution

Emergency protocol: What to do before calling a lawyer?

Rubén Rivas, Torres Legal,  March 29, 2024

There are many manuals, practices and advice for lawyers presenting cases to the judiciary. However, there is little information for clients on how to deal with the preliminary issues of court proceedings or any other form of dispute resolution. Of course, as a general rule, it is alarming that an entity has to specialise in such first aid. In some scenarios, the need and recurrence of such protocols will be more recurrent or critical, such as in the case of credit default recovery.

However, conflict is as normal and as old as social coexistence, so it is useful to know how to manage it in the best possible way, from the initial phase. On a practical level, anyone who has faced a legal problem probably received a simple recommendation when the situation became delicate: "CALL A LAWYER". However, little is said about what can be done before getting one that can maximise the likelihood of that trial being successful. Specifically, there are three main factors that help pave that path to success.

Counting damages

Recall that the parties have an expectation going into the judicial process. The plaintiff expects his or her counterparty to be ordered to do something specific. Generally, this means paying a certain amount of money if we are talking about the plaintiff. In the case of the defendant, his intention is to avoid the payment requested by his counterpart. Now, either because of an emotional factor implicit in the lawsuit as such, or because they do not yet measure the degree of affectation, the parties do not know what they intend to obtain at the end of the trial.

A good way to start the dispute resolution process is precisely to take stock of the damage to be covered. The importance of this point is due to the fact that initiating a judicial process involves a cost versus benefit assessment. Consider a person who wants to divorce because he or she is no longer happy with a partner from whom he or she has endured a series of humiliations. In this case, it will be necessary to assess whether the client expects compensation or to dissolve the marriage.

Now, if this is not the case, there are several questions to be asked: Is it necessary to subject the client to a time-consuming process of re-victimisation if he/she does not wish to obtain compensation? Is it feasible to follow an abbreviated procedure if the divorce is the only thing that is of interest to him/her? The decision of what type of lawyer to hire will definitely be less complex after the answers to these questions because the client will already have a slightly clearer idea of what he or she will be looking for and what type of help he or she will need.

Traceability of the dispute

Another issue to bear in mind is that lawyers work with evidence. Therefore, whether or not there are witnesses to what happened in the case, it is important to generate a paper trail about the origin of the dispute. A very useful tip on this point is to keep a written record of the preliminary conversations between the parties. This allows for two very important things. Firstly, the facts are clearer for a third party (in this case the judge) and become easier to reconstruct later. Secondly, it avoids the manipulation of witnesses, as there is written material against which their later statement of the facts can be checked.

Hands-on work

Finally, a matter of great strategic importance is to team up with the lawyer in charge of the case. It is often thought that once selected, the client should simply wait for the best to happen. However, regardless of the research to be done by the legal professional, it is the client who knows best what happened and has a full picture of the context in which the actions and decisions that gave rise to the dispute were taken. In these cases, each member of the team should have a specific role. Thus, the client should provide the story and the lawyer should provide the way in which that story will be told and proven in front of the judge, which positively influences the effectiveness of the handling.


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