What Are Effective Strategies for Negotiating Settlements Outside of Court?

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    Lawyer Magazine

    What Are Effective Strategies for Negotiating Settlements Outside of Court?

    In the nuanced world of legal settlements, the art of negotiation is key. We've gathered insights from paralegals to general counsels to bring you five expert strategies for negotiating settlements outside of court. From maintaining open communication to following a structured four-step negotiation process, these legal professionals share their wisdom on effective settlement discussions.

    • Maintain Open Communication
    • Ask the Right Questions
    • Listen to Understand
    • Embrace the Mitchell Listening Approach
    • Follow Four Steps for Effective Negotiation

    Maintain Open Communication

    Communication is the key. I have found it to be more common for legal professionals to avoid talking to each other than it was 15 years ago when I started my career. Many legal professionals prefer to fight in court rather than have an open, off-the-record discussion about the issues in dispute with the view of settling the case or narrowing the issues for trial.

    I remember one case where the lawyer on the other side not only avoided contact but wouldn't even shake my hand after a court appearance. I could have become defensive, aggressive, or otherwise allowed myself to be triggered and respond in an adversarial or defensive manner. This wouldn't advance my client's case or position.

    Instead, I continued to reach out to the other side and ultimately we negotiated a statement of agreed-upon facts, eliminating the need to present any evidence at trial. It was set to be a trial on the law only, which eliminated at least a day of trial. This wouldn't be possible if I didn't reach out to opposing counsel and also ensure my ego and emotions were under control.

    Madelaine McKenzieParalegal, Campbells LLP

    Ask the Right Questions

    As a legal professional, being able to effectively negotiate a settlement outside of court is very important for your client, and one of the most important things is being able to understand the right questions to ask the other side. Asking questions is the best way to understand the goals and interests of the other side.

    This is how you facilitate less of an “us vs. them” atmosphere and promote the collaboration necessary for achieving a settlement. If you ask the right questions and truly listen to what they have to say, then you can determine what they really want and make proposals that will allow you and the other side to feel comfortable walking away with a settlement.

    If you're unsure what to ask, then it can be helpful to just ask “why” a lot. This can help you understand why something is important or why they're proposing something specific.

    Amanda Singer
    Amanda SingerFounder & Professional Family Mediator, West Coast Family Mediation

    Listen to Understand

    One strategy that helps me greatly in getting good out-of-court settlements is listening to the other side—making sure they feel heard and are heard. By doing this, it also allows me to address any issues/questions that the other side has that are standing in the way of getting a case settled. It sounds simple, but it's effective.

    Joshua Goldberg
    Joshua GoldbergPrincipal Lawyer, Joshua Goldberg Law

    Embrace the Mitchell Listening Approach

    George Mitchell was the former U.S. Senator whom President Bill Clinton sent to negotiate a deal between the feuding parties in Northern Ireland.

    Mitchell managed to settle their dispute. His secret was listening. And he listened for almost two years. He listened to all sides until they realized they could trust him and that he understood their points of view. Eventually, the parties realized there were things they could work out. And they did in the Good Friday Agreement on April 10, 1998.

    His approach is worthy of consideration in negotiations between parties before the courthouse.

    Andy Semotiuk
    Andy SemotiukU.S. and Canadian Immigration Lawyer, Pace Law Firm

    Follow Four Steps for Effective Negotiation

    Negotiating a fruitful settlement outside of court hinges on a balance of strategic finesse and a comprehensive understanding of involved interests. Drawing from my extensive experience in the legal field, there are four critical steps at the core of effective negotiations.

    First, it's vital to equip oneself with robust knowledge about the case. This includes understanding the legal parameters, assessing both parties' weaknesses and strengths, and gauging potential outcomes of courtroom litigation.

    Second, cultivate open lines of communication with the opposing party, fostering an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding, as it can fast-track resolution.

    Third, clarity about the bottom line and flexibility around it is key. One needs to identify non-negotiables but be ready to trade off other aspects if needed.

    Lastly, remember that emotions can dramatically hinder negotiations. Professionalism under even heated exchanges can make all the difference.

    For example, a client’s business dispute was veering towards a major trial. Acknowledging the parties' emotional wounds and using dispassionate, fact-based arguments, I successfully steered the talks toward a mutually satisfactory settlement.

    Jonathan Feniak
    Jonathan FeniakGeneral Counsel, LLC Attorney