How to Negotiate a Settlement

By Anna Green

Reaching an out-of-court settlement can save both the plaintiff and defendant time and money, as well as free up the court system for cases that cannot be resolved without litigation. Negotiating a settlement can be a lengthy process, even when the parties retain the services of a professional mediator. For complex cases, it is not unusual to spend three to five full days in mediation.

Understand the strengths and weaknesses of each party's case. Before you can begin to negotiate a settlement, make sure that you understand where your case is the strongest and what the opposing party will argue.

Determine how much you are willing to compromise before you begin to negotiate. Prior to speaking with the opposing party, consider your bottom line and calculate a range for your ideal settlement. As you think about this figure, keep in mind that further litigation may mean additional attorney fees and court costs.

Present a written settlement offer to the opposing party. If you do not wish to sit down and have a formal negotiation, consider drafting a proposed settlement agreement and presenting it to the opposing party. Even if she does not accept it, it will give you a starting point for your negotiation.

Sit down with the other party and his or her counsel to try to reach a common ground. Many parties find it useful to handle negotiations with the assistance of a certified third-party mediator. If you do choose to use a mediator, he can assist you in preparing settlement papers after you reach an agreement.

Focus on the big picture. As you work with the opposing party, avoid focusing on the details and instead focus on larger issues, such as the time, cost, and stress involved with taking the case to trial.

Avoid personal attacks and inflammatory language. Even if you feel emotionally invested in the case, stay focused on the facts and remain professional throughout the negotiations.

File a motion to dismiss with the court. After you have reached a mutually agreeable settlement with the opposing party, the plaintiff will need to file a motion to dismiss the case pursuant to the rules of the jurisdiction where the case was filed.

About the Author

Anna Green has been published in the "Journal of Counselor Education and Supervision" and has been featured regularly in "Counseling News and Notes," Keys Weekly newspapers, "Travel Host Magazine" and "Travel South." After earning degrees in political science and English, she attended law school, then earned her master's of science in mental health counseling. She is the founder of a nonprofit mental health group and personal coaching service.

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