Your Working Life is Short: Why Waste it on Litigation?

The other day I conducted a mediation between a non-English speaking plaintiff and a used car dealer. The issue was whether the dealer had misrepresented certain aspects of the sale to the plaintiff. We were well on the way to settling the matter when the issue of attorneys’ fees came up. By statute, Plaintiff would be entitled to attorneys’ fees if Plaintiff prevailed.

Yet, at the mention of attorneys’ fees, the used car dealer balked. The owner of the dealership got very angry. The owner absolutely did not want to pay any attorneys’s fees. Indeed, prior to the litigation, the owner had offered to repurchase the vehicle but offered next to nothing in fees- an amount that would barely cover the cost of filing and serving the lawsuit.

So, the mediation abruptly ended. I contacted its counsel a few days later and learned that the owner decided to take its chances at trial. Even though counsel explained to the owner that juries generally do not like used car dealers especially when the plaintiff is non-English speaking, the owner still wanted to forge ahead to trial.

This attitude got me thinking: our working life is too short to take this litigation so seriously. A recent article in The Atlantic entitled “Your Career is Just One-Eighth of Your Life” by Derek Thompson notes that according to the website 80,000 hours, a typical career is 80,000 hours long which equates to about 480 weeks of labor. In contrast, the average life span is about 4,000 weeks of which we are awake for 3,000 weeks. In short, we spend about 5 hours of not working for every one hour we do work. (Id.)

So, if the owner of this dealership is going to work only 480 weeks in his entire life, why spend so many weeks on a lawsuit?  Aren’t there more important issues at work on which time should be spent?

And if we broaden this notion, isn’t life simply too short, particularly our working life, to spend any significant amount of it embroiled in a dispute or a lawsuit? To what end does it serve? And at the end of the day, what has been accomplished other than the expenditure of a large amount of our working lives?

Perhaps I am biased, but I do think that resolving disputes and lawsuits through mediation early and often is the way to go. It frees up both our working and non-working hours for the more important things in life- whatever they may be. There is an old adage: at the end of one’s life, one will NOT hear that person say, “I wish I had spent more time at the office.” Indeed, neither will that person be saying, “I wish I had spent more time embroiled in litigation.”

So… I wish the owner of the dealership had put the litigation in perspective vis a vis the entirety of his working and nonworking life. But he did not … and so will waste a lot more precious time in litigation.

…. Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE

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