The Burial is a movie that came out recently this year (2023) starting Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones; a legal drama that is based on the true story of lawyer Willie E. Gary and his client Jeremiah Joseph O’Keefe’s lawsuit against the Loewen funeral company regarding an agreement that wasn’t upheld, the movie offers a cinematic window into the intense, dramatic world of contract litigation.
The film underscores the significant of well-crafted contracts and the potential pitfalls when the terms are contested. It’s an entertaining film, and also – particularly because it is a true story – a good reminder of how legal representation can make or break a case.
Why is the role of an attorney in a contract dispute so significant? Let’s take a closer look!
The high stakes of a contract dispute
A contract is a legally enforceable deal between your business and another party. In order for it to be legally binding (in most cases), there has to be intent by both you and the other party to make the agreement, an offer made by either you or the other party, an acceptance given by either you or the other party, and an exchange of something of value in the contract (this is known as “consideration” in legal terms). If any of these elements are missing, the contract isn’t valid.
When you make a deal with someone, you expect it to be upheld. However, if the language in the contract or any of the elements are unclear, or if the other party simply doesn’t follow through (or accuses you of doing so), you could find yourself in a bind, without whatever the consideration was.
For example, say you bought a building and hired an architect to renovate the space for your business’s needs. The architects started the project, but halfway through decided to stop because they felt that the scope of the project and the amount of work they were putting in deserved more compensation than was initially agreed upon. This not only leaves your new space a total mess, unfit for clients or employees, but also leaves you in the difficult position of either having to pay them what they are demanding or hire another firm if you ever want to be able to use the space.
This is just one hypothetical. Any kind of contract you make – whether an employee contract, a vendor contract, a non-compete – can have serious impacts on the stability, profitability, and reputation of your company.
That’s one of the reasons that having an attorney you trust to handle the situation is necessary. With skilled legal representation, the dispute is more likely to be resolved in your favor.
The stages of a contract dispute
While no two contract disputes are exactly alike, all proceed in a similar manner. Knowing how a contract dispute works and what to expect can give you a better understanding of where and when an attorney can prove helpful.
Every contract begins with the offer, acceptance, and consideration – in legal speak, this is known as “formation and terms”.
If one party fails to fulfill their obligations as stipulated in the contract, or is accused of doing so, this is known as a “breach of contract”. Breaches of contract can be classified as minor (when you don’t receive an item or service by the due date), material (when you receive something different than what was agreed upon), actual (when one party refuses to uphold the terms of the contract), or anticipatory (when a party states in advance that they will not be delivering on the terms).
Once a breach occurs, it must be resolved; during the resolution stage, negotiation, mediation, or arbitration take place in an effort to find an amicable ending to the dispute and avoid having to go to court.
When all alternative dispute resolution efforts have been exhausted, then litigation (a trial) may need to take place. Evidence, witnesses, and legal arguments – and ultimately, a jury or judge – will determine the fate of the parties involved.
The role of an attorney in a contract dispute
An attorney can be beneficial and influential in any and every stage of a contract dispute. Retaining a business attorney is often a way to prevent disputes in the first place, as attorneys can write and approve clear, well-drafted contracts with explicit and mutually agreeable terms. The precise language of the agreement is vital, and any ambiguity can become a battleground. An attorney will advise you as to any loopholes that need to be closed or additions to be made, and they will translate the legalese of the contract so you know exactly what you’re signing!
If a dispute arises, an attorney can do a lot during the resolution stage to find a compromise that keeps your business’s interests at the forefront while avoiding the time and cost of litigation. An experienced attorney can advocate for you and represent your company; they can problem-solve creatively, and advise you as to whether a settlement may be better for you than a trial. The average cost of litigating a commercial contract dispute ranges from about $91,000 to $115,000, according to the most recent data, so having an attorney can save you significantly!
If a trial does need to take place, an attorney can develop a winning strategy, gather evidence, present a compelling narrative (as demonstrated in The Burial), and ensure your rights are protected!
An attorney not only saves you money, but also saves you time; you can focus on the day-to-day of running your business, rather than devoting all of your time and energy to the resolution process. Their specific and extensive knowledge of contract law can provide valuable insights that will lead to the best possible outcome!
Facing a contract dispute? Call Sierra Crest Business Law Group!
At Sierra Crest Business Law Group, we have 60+ years of combined experience helping business owners navigate rocky legal terrain and can do the same for you. No matter what stage of a contract dispute you are currently in, and no matter how challenging your situation may seem, we can take a holistic approach to your issue that will result in a stronger, more stable future for your business. We’ve got your back! Call today to request a consultation and learn more about how we can serve you.