How to Win a Settlement Conference

By Adele Nicholas

A settlement conference (also called mediation or pretrial conference) is a meeting between the two parties to a civil lawsuit where they discuss their claims and attempt to resolve their dispute prior to trial. In general, a judge or a court-appointed neutral mediator presides over the conference and helps the parties work out a compromise. Typically, a successful settlement conference will result in the defendant agreeing to pay a certain amount of money to the plaintiff in exchange for dismissal of the case.

Discuss the case with your lawyer. It is important to discuss your goals for settlement, the range of possible outcomes, and the strengths and weaknesses of your case prior to going to the settlement conference. If you are going to represent yourself without a lawyer, discuss the case with a neutral person who can help you evaluate your case more objectively.

Define your "bottom line." If you are the plaintiff, you should have a general idea of the lowest amount of money for which you are willing to dismiss the case. Likewise, if you are the defendant, determine the maximum amount of money you are willing to pay to resolve the dispute. This will help you shape your bargaining strategy. But flexibility is also important. Don't hesitate to reconsider your position based on things you learn during the conference.

Listen with an open mind. One of the goals of a settlement conference is to educate yourself about the other side's position and their strongest arguments. Consider your case from their perspective, and pay attention to the input of the neutral mediator.

Consider the advantages of settlement. If a settlement conference is going to be successful, neither side is going to get everything it wants. But both parties benefit from avoiding the costs and uncertainty of trial, as well as the flexibility to craft a creative solution to the dispute.

Negotiate wisely. If you go directly to your "bottom line," negotiations are going to break down quickly, and both sides will be frustrated. Negotiations usually last several rounds of proposals and counter-proposals. Try to react to the proposals made by the other side to signal where you eventually want to reach a resolution.

About the Author

Adele Nicholas is a writer in Chicago. Since 2003, she has been a contributor to publications including Corporate Legal Times, ChicagoMag.com and InsideCounsel magazine. Nicholas holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from Northwestern University and a J.D. from the John Marshall Law School.