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When is Settling the Right Choice?

With the plethora of courtroom dramas and police procedurals on television these days, it’s no surprise that everybody thinks they know more about the legal profession than they really do. The truth is, dramatizations of legal proceedings are nothing like how cases really go down, and these exciting yet false portrayals can really skew a client’s expectations when they end up needing to argue a case. One of the elements that suffers the most is the settlement. Too often, clients equate “settling” with “losing,” and develop a false sense that if their lawyer is encouraging them to settle, it’s because their lawyer doesn’t have their best interest at heart, when in fact settling is often the best possible outcome.

To help clear up this discrepancy, we turned to our legal professionals, to find out the truth about settling and when it’s the best option for a client. The truth is that the majority of cases end in settlements, and they are often the only way to walk away from a case with a win. Here are just a few questions to ask when you are considering settling a case.

Do you stand to win in court?

When your lawyer is telling you to settle, it’s usually because they know that it is the best option for you. Going to court is exhausting, expensive and time-consuming, and it may not even go in your favor. As Leighton Rockafellow explains, “The majority of cases settle. Those that don’t, and go to trial have about a 50% success rate. Jurors are harsh, and unsympathetic to those who bring lawsuits. Always think twice before proceeding to trial if you have a decent offer on the table.”

It’s easy to think that because you feel you are in the right, the jury will, too, but juries are often actually biased against plaintiffs. Even judges might not give you a truly fair chance, as Ramsay Hahrawy points out: “Settlement can also be encouraged by the history of particular trial judge or a jury in a geographic area. Hence the term forum shopping!” Judges have their own biases and voting histories, and your lawyer will likely have researched them thoroughly, so you would do well to listen to their recommendations. Settling means you have guaranteed rewards, while going to trial could mean you lose everything.

Would going to trial cost more than it’s worth?

Another element at play here is expense. Even if you stand to win a much larger sum of money, and even if you feel your chances of winning in court are good, going to court is expensive and time-consuming. Is the money differential really worth the hassle and time and effort? Adam Kalish says it best: “As I explain to all of my clients there is a formula to settlement that combines time and money. Is the settlement worth money now or do you want to spend more money to try to get more money down the road? It’s a gamble with going to court; you never know how your case may turn. Settlement allows you to hedge those risks.”

Will settling help preserve a relationship with the defendant?

There is a whole realm of law designed to negotiate disputes between people who still have to live and work together. This is especially true in civil courts that focus on businesses. Sometimes, keeping the relationship is more important than “winning” the case. Carroll Straus elaborates: ” In businesses it is now well understood that negotiation is “not a competitive sport” and that no one “wins” when there is a ruined business relationship. They understands that there can (and probably should) be negotiations where interests other then dollars are at stake, and the resolution can include non-monetary factors.” Think about what you really want out of your case, and what the best possible outcome is. If that outcome includes maintaining a relationship with the defendant, a settlement is a great option that allows you to get what you are owed without being overly harsh.

Does the settlement cover your costs satisfactorily?

In the end, of course, the most important thing is whether or not you get what you need out of the case. If all medical bills are covered, or withheld checks have been paid in full, or whatever other compensation you require has been fulfilled, then the settlement is a win for you. It’s important to keep your eye on the goal you are after, and not get distracted by popular ideas about “winning” in court.

In the end, your attorney will recommend a settlement if they think it is in your best interest, and it is always a good idea to listen to the professional. Their main interest is to see that you get what you deserve, and so long as you walk away satisfied with the arrangement, then you’ve won your case, even if you settled.