Family & Juvenile Law Section “Top 10’s”

Top Ten Things To Know For A Settlement Conference
Submitted by Master Robert E. Laird, Jr.

  1. Don’t assume this will be easy. In fact, to do this well will require almost as much work as preparing for court.
  2. Don’t avoid settlement conferences because it will cost you money. You have a duty to settle the case if it is reasonably possible and to save your client money if you can.
  3. Be confident in the applicable law before you come to the conference. Don’t assume you know the answers because you have tried cases like this before. Check all applicable statutes and case law. In fact, bringing the law with you is a good idea. Checking the law every time may give you an idea you hadn’t considered before for the case. If the case doesn’t settle it will at least help you for trial.
  4. Although it is never easy, encourage your client to think past the personal hurts of the past, especially when property is the main issue. If you have a client who just has to say what they have to say, and you only have two hours for the conference, you may not get much accomplished.
  5. Although you should be expected to represent your client’s position, there is little need to be as aggressive as you would be for a trial. Making the other side angry unnecessarily will not help your client’s position.
  6. Although there is no need to complete discovery before a settlement conference, you should be knowledgeable about your case and have some idea about the other side’s case.
  7. Be prompt for the settlement conference. In fact be early if you can. If the settlement officer is not ready to begin, you can talk to the other attorney until he or she is ready. Few things make a judge or master happier with a lawyer than to be told the case is settled before the conference begins.
  8. Don’t assume nothing can be accomplished because you have a difficult case. Identify the issues you believe can reasonably be settled. If there is an issue which you believe just cannot be settled be frank with the settlement officer and the other side before you begin. You can always begin with other issues and work toward the more difficult ones. Sometimes even the issues you believe cannot be settled turn out to be easier than you thought if some of the other issues can be worked out first.
  9. Comply thoroughly and completely with all court orders for the settlement conference and file any requested material in a timely manner. This will assist you with #1 below and will help the settlement officer in preparing for the conference.
  10. Think through your position before you start. Be ready to propose ideas to your client before you get to the settlement conference. Talk to your client ahead of time and thoroughly brief them about what is going to happen. Work out a game plan before the settlement conference begins. Nothing is more discouraging to a settlement officer than to have a lawyer who hasn’t given the case any thought before the conference begins.