Talking about money with your client is awkward. You are trying to tap dance through the minefield of expectations, tamping down the client’s wildest hopes without offending him. If the client has a starry-eyed view of what his case is worth (on the high side for the plaintiff, or the low side for the defendant), they may be disappointed by what you have to say.
But even if the conversation is uncomfortable, it’s critical that you start it before the mediation. Mediation is much less likely to be successful if one of the clients undervalues or overvalues the case. Here’s why.
1. Too Much, Too Little: Either Way’s a Problem.
It may be obvious that if the plaintiff overvalues the case, the mediation is doomed. Since the plaintiff has a skewed view of the value, the plaintiff is going to turn down even a reasonable settlement offer.
But the plaintiff also can torpedo a good deal by having too low a view of the case — because the goal is not just to settle, but to reach a good and fair settlement. A highly risk-averse plaintiff may want to accept the first offer plopped on the table.
Likewise, if the defendant has a crazy-low view of the case value, the case clearly is not going to settle because the defendant is never going to put enough on the table to interest the plaintiff. But if the defendant overvalues the case, the defendant will be tempted to stack too much cash on the table, too fast.
Ideally, you want your client lasered in on a fair, reasonable value of the case, neither too high nor too low.
2. Helping Your Client Get to a Reasonable Value of the Case.
Coming up with a “final,” target number before mediation is like trying to clap with one hand; by definition, settling takes two parties. But before mediation, you can help your client understand what a reasonable settlement range might be, and what factors will affect that range. Even more importantly, you can make sure your client understands that you both will have to be flexible to account for information you learn during the mediation. As in all areas of litigation, you do not have complete control over your client’s assessment of the case value, or of you. But you can take specific steps to establish and increase the client’s trust in you, so that you can help the client rationally assess the numbers on the table at mediation.
In my next blog entry, I will be talking about the ways you can get your client ready to hear what you have to say about the case value — whether it’s good news, or bad.
What Attorneys Are Saying About Mediating with Lee:
“Lee Wallace is both a brilliant lawyer and a very nice person. She gives her all to a mediation assignment. She is a hard worker, with a very quick mind, who is able to thoroughly understand the important aspects of even very complicated factual situations and knows how to apply the law to them. She got my difficult case settled and I will not hesitate to seek to use her again.”
– K. Pollock
“We’re going to ask for Lee again, and again, and again!”
– S. Mahoney
“I recently had my first mediation with Lee Wallace, and I must say it will not be my last. She did a great job facilitating negotiations, and helped each party grasp both the strengths and the weaknesses of their arguments. I would not hesitate to recommend Lee Wallace as a mediator for your case!”
– B. Collins
“Lee Wallace exceeded all my expectations as a mediator in a Personal Injury suit presented before her. Lee’s experience, education and demeanor was amazing and she gained trust from both parties at the very beginning. Not only was she polished and highly professional, she was thorough and did not waste time bringing the mediation to a successful conclusion. Overall a very pleasant experience and my client was pleased with the result as well.”
– D. Russell
“Lee had the intellect necessary to get a really difficult case settled even where the odds were stacked against her. I would use Lee to mediate any of my cases.”
“Lee helped get a case settled that I never would have imagined would have settled that day when I walked into that mediation. Opposing counsel and I had drastically different views of the case, as did our clients. Yet, with Lee’s knowledge, experience, and preparation, she was able to lead us to a resolution that my clients were satisfied with. I look forward to using Lee again in the future!”
“Lee’s calm reasoning and creative solutions helped us to resolve a challenging case when one side was willing to walk away and the other side would not budge on their number. She worked hard to find a compromise when none seemed possible.”
“Lee brings to her mediations a wealth of experience from which all parties can draw. Her impressive ability to marry the case facts to negotiation strategy aided in the just resolution of our case.”
“Lee was prepared, having read all the documentation I had forwarded her pre-mediation, and she did an outstanding job in getting a difficult case settled. I look forward to using BAY Mediation and Lee in the future.”
“Lee Wallace helped us resolve a case that I did not believe could be resolved. As an initial challenge we had multiple parties, several of whom had to join by remote video conference. The details of the case were also challenging [and] there were widely disparate views regarding case value. Lee was resolute, objective, and prepared. While her 30 years of trial experience and breadth of knowledge on a variety of legal issues were invaluable, her kind and logical demeanor got this case resolved. I must confess at one point I was ready to storm off myself in frustration at the other party, but Lee encouraged me to stick with it and keep working. I’m so glad she did!”
“It was a pleasure working with Lee T. Wallace during the mediation process. She pushed both sides to continue to fight through the process and not give up. And because of her vigorous determination I was able to settle my client’s claim to their satisfaction.”
“Lee did an effective and efficient job getting this case to a successful resolution. She takes a low key approach to make sure each side does not feel undue pressure to increase their offer or decrease their demand. I will definitely use Lee for future mediations.”