If you're a party to a civil claim, you're likely to be asked whether you're open to settling the case via a Joint Settlement Meeting or some other means.
You might immediately think to yourself if you're a Defendant, "Why would I want to settle, when I'm completely innocent?" Or: "Won't this be an admission of guilt? I'm innocent!"
If you're a Claimant, you might think, "I'd rather have my day in Court to see justice done." Or: "Won't I get more money if I go to Court?"
Regardless of the mixed emotions you might feel and the thought that a settlement is 'something less' than what a trial might have achieved for you, there are some practical reasons why a settlement may or may not be a good idea in your particular case.
1. Settling early will save you the stress and inconvenience of a trial. Once a case is settled, you can strive for closure and 'move on'. Neither party tends to walk away from a settlement fully satisfied, but they will have avoided the high stakes that a trial can bring. And don't forget the time you would have to put into a trial - preparing for it, attending it and sleepless nights worrying about it.
2. Settling early can save you money. As soon as the parties in any civil litigation we are conducting are at a point where both sides know the strengths and weaknesses of the case, are fairly sure of the parties' position regarding loss and damage and disclosure has been made, we ask our clients whether they want to settle. We do this as soon as possible so that they can save on legal fees. This includes, not only our legal fees in preparing for trial, but also the other party's, because, if our client ends up being the losing party, we want to limit their liability for the other party's legal fees as best we can. We do this by making sure that their fees are kept as low as possible. Yes, the parties do have to pay for a Joint Settlement Meeting, but the fees for a JSM are worth it if the case settles to the basic satisfaction of both parties and the hefty costs of a trial are avoided. The other thing to bear in mind if you're thinking about money is that, if you are the losing party, once the Judge discovers that you were not willing to try to settle the case, they may 'penalise' you through the level of damages they award.
3. Settlement can open up other ways of resolving a dispute. Yes, settlement is usually about money. However, for some parties, they really want something else either instead or in addition. A written apology, perhaps, or a change to an organisation's procedure, or a reference and so on. It's often possible, via a settlement, to gain more in terms of justice than a Court can give. Bear in mind that many parties feel a huge sense of anticlimax when they attend Court, even if they 'win'. This is because trials can happen more quickly than a person's emotions can process, trials are nothing like what you might see in TV Courtroom dramas and they do not deliver the emotional solutions that parties are often looking for. Although a Joint Settlement Meeting or equivalent can be quite formal, alien to the average layperson and, almost clinical, in terms of procedure, that's nothing compared to going to Court.
If you're involved in civil litigation, you should always give considered thought to settling your case. Your lawyer should guide you through this process and deal, not only with the 'black and white' legal aspects, such as what you should offer and the tactics of negotiation, but they should also address your 'human' concerns.
At Greycoat Law, we pride ourselves on being great negotiators. We also take care of our clients on a personal level - whilst settlement can seem like the obvious solution to us as lawyers in many cases, we also recognise how difficult it can be for the client, who might feel that they are 'choosing to lose', as opposed to having a Judge decide for them. If you're facing a dilemma about your civil case, do give us a call.
And don't forget to listen to our 8 minute podcast discussing JSMs here: