Voluntary Settlement Conferences
In general, voluntary settlement conferences are similar to mediations. However, in a voluntary settlement conference, the emphasis is on settling the litigation, rather than resolving the underlying conflict. Unlike mediation, where the parties negotiate their preferred settlement terms, in a voluntary settlement conference the attorneys for each side actively negotiate the terms of possible settlement. As such, having an attorney present with you during litigation can help bolster your chances of reaching a settlement agreement. At the Law Offices of Salar Atrizadeh, an attorney with a breadth of experience in the various forms of alternative dispute resolution can help evaluate your case and prepare you for a settlement conference.
Throughout a voluntary settlement conference, the settlement officer is much more active and involved than in mediation. Frequently, the settlement officer is a retired judge or a litigator, with a great deal of experience in the particular area of law. During the conference, the officer will usually express an opinion about each position’s merits, the likely outcome of trial, and the officer’s projected settlement value for the case. This helps both parties value their case and make a more objective decision of whether to settle or continue to pursue trial. This is also why it is helpful to select a settlement officer with experience in the field of law underlying the conflict.
Voluntary settlement conferences are also similar to mandatory settlement conferences, except voluntary settlement conferences can take place even before filing a lawsuit. Indeed, voluntary settlement conferences often take place before the discovery stage of litigation. This may make settlement difficult since discovery helps each side better understand the quality and strength of the opposing side’s arguments and supporting evidence. The parties may mutually agree to expedite discovery to provide a greater understanding of the case, allowing for more effective discussions during the settlement conference. Mandatory settlement conferences will generally take place right before trial as a last attempt to settle the dispute before proceeding to trial. Additionally, as the name suggests, the court orders mandatory settlement conferences, while the parties are free to schedule and organize voluntary settlement conferences themselves. Furthermore, in a mandatory settlement conference, the court may appoint a judge to oversee the proceedings. In a voluntary settlement conference, the parties are free to select a settlement officer.
Voluntary settlement conferences can also take place over several days, if necessary. This is especially helpful in cases involving multiple issues, or a large group of parties on either side of litigation. With multiple days, each side has the time to properly consider arguments and settlement options. In the event that a voluntary settlement conference does not reach a complete settlement, the settlement officer can help resolve issues regarding the pending motions or discovery conflicts. Additionally, the conference provides a more accurate prediction of the chances of victory in trial. During a voluntary settlement conference, both sides have an opportunity to evaluate the evidence, obtain a better understanding of the arguments, and predict the results of trial more accurately. In light of all these gains, the parties to the lawsuit proceed with a more informed understanding of their own likelihood of success at trial.