Justice exacts a heavy price

Seeking redress in the courts is expensive and rarely satisfies your desire for revenge

Seeking redress in the courts is expensive and rarely satisfies your desire for revenge

When your professional reputation is at stake and a supplier's failure is making your project a laughing stock, it can be an easy trap to fall into: to seek justice in the law courts. At first glance it seems so obvious: your company will receive compensation, the supplier will have every humiliating blunder exposed in court, and your reputation will be restored.

This is what you might imagine will be the outcome in the heat of a row with a supplier, but it rarely works out this way.

Last week, one of the longest-running court cases in the history of IT in the UK was settled. After millions of pounds spent on legal fees and years of painstaking work, Unisys and insurance giant United Assurance have settled out of court, agreeing to pay their own legal costs. Neither side has gained anything, yet the insurance company is still without the IT system it said it needed more than two years ago.

The lesson is, don't give in to temptation. Litigation may give you the opportunity to prove you are right, but if you want to get the most out of the situation you are in, it is unlikely to be the best course of action. Don't let the testosterone culture of big business get the better of you.

Before you decide to line the pockets of some city law firm, consider going into arbitration or mediation. Bringing in a third party can help you and your supplier to understand your differences and remember what made you sign the contract in the first place. It is much cheaper than going to court and it offers a quicker way forward.

If you are still not convinced, think again of the battle between United Assurance and Unisys. Even if United had won the case, it is doubtful its position would have improved. It would still have had to work with Unisys, because its Scottish Life subsidiary is a happy customer of the IT services company. Exiting victoriously from a courtroom may not be the best way to develop a fruitful working relationship.

So before you are tempted to use the courts to bring a supplier to account, remember, the only real winners are the lawyers.

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