The Trials of Chris Tigani
When Robert Tigani mounted a multi-million dollar legal battle against his son for control of the family business, financially strapped Chris Tigani fought back by representing himself. He saved untold dollars and earned respect in the legal community. But has he saved his job?
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Ratcheting up the drama was Chris’ decision to try the case pro se—to represent himself—a rare move in such high-stakes litigation. He thus not only called and examined his own witnesses, he also cross-examined witnesses for the other side, including his 66-year-old father. Because he was his own lawyer, during direct testimony he simply talked to the judge for more than an hour after taking the witness box.
While receiving generally good reviews, especially for his preparation, Tigani’s performance provides an object lesson in the advantages and pitfalls of acting as your own lawyer.
As with most pro se litigants, his decision was motivated by finances. Already dealing with what he says were legal fees of $100,000 per month nine months before the court proceedings began, Tigani was hoping for a quick trial and resolution. His lawyer, Tony Clark, of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, requested a court date in three months. N.K.S. and Robert Tigani asked for a year. Parsons sided with N.K.S.
That was in October 2009. Tigani immediately released Clark, whom he calls “an absolutely honorable man,” and elected to go solo against four law firms and a phalanx of attorneys. “Having been fired from the only job I had ever known,” he says, “the law became my job” for the next six months.
The 39-year-old Tigani had an advantage over most pro se litigants: He was no courtroom neophyte. He has been either a party or a primary litigant in a couple of other cases, the most high-profile of which is a suit and countersuit involving multimillionaire car dealer John Hynansky over a failed deal to buy Hynansky’s Greenville estate.
Fueled by his favorite beverage—Coke Zero—Tigani hunkered down in his war room for 40-plus weeks of writing pleadings, responding to pleadings, preparing myriad exhibits and preparing to depose 12 witnesses. He credits his two former assistants at N.K.S., Paul DiConsiglio and Darlene Wunner, for their help, but basically it was the Chris Tigani Show.
On the advice of attorney friends, one of his first moves was to gird himself with the $332 “Corporate and Commercial Practice in the Delaware Court of Chancery,” a 1,450-page tome that is the bible for litigators in Delaware’s nationally known Chancery Court. He also haunted the stacks at the Widener Law School library.
He soon found that he liked doing the research, writing motions, preparing exhibits—so much so, he says, that he plans to take the Law School Admission Test in October and “will absolutely” enroll at Widener.
Tigani’s legal aptitude first surfaced when he took a business law course at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina. “It was the only A-plus I ever got,” he says.
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