“Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser – in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.”
-Abraham Lincoln, Notes for a Law Lecture
I’ve always loved this quote. It reminds me that being a lawyer is an opportunity to settle disputes and keep peace. It’s certainly a lot better than blood feuds and pistols at dawn.
That said, a lot of people get understandably nervous about settlement discussions. They ask: why am I being offered this amount? Is it too little? What will happen if I reject it and I lose? Is my attorney saying I should give up?
The answer to that last question is no. Attorneys are required to tell you about any offer to settle a case. But to answer the other questions, an attorney can help you make a smart, informed decision about settling a case. Here’s some things we may discuss with you:
– Our estimate of the amount your case is worth. In reality, no amount of money will ever make you “whole” from the harm you’ve suffered. But we can tell you, based on our experience, whether the settlement offer is reasonable compared with what a Court might award.
– Any limitations on your claim. Some types of claims are “capped,” meaning that there is a limit on how much you can actually recover in Court. For example, if you sue a municipality, you cannot recover more than $400,000.
– The costs of going to Court-all those “fees, expenses, and wastes of time” that Lincoln mentioned. The nice thing about a settlement is the amount is definite. An attorney can tell you about the likelihood of success if you go to trial, and the impact a trial will have on the expenses associated with your case.
– When to go to Court. Unlike Lincoln, we don’t always discourage litigation. Some offers aren’t reasonable, or aren’t appropriate for your case. We’ll tell you when we think you need to go to Court.
Two final, related things. First, the decision to settle a case is always yours. Attorneys are obligated to respect your decision to accept or reject a settlement. Second, I always tell my clients: I’ll be here tomorrow regardless of your decision. I don’t have any personal stake in what you do; my advice has nothing to with what I want to happen. If you settle, I’ll be working on your settlement and making sure you get the money quickly. If you don’t, I’ll be preparing for trial. I want what’s best for you, and I’ll be here to make sure that happens.