There’s no doubt that obtaining the assistance of a settlement planner can help plaintiffs and their lawyers prepare for the rest of the lawsuit process through settlement. Building a comprehensive settlement team is just good preparation (more about this here).
However, the question is often WHEN to introduce a settlement planning expert to the equation. Some attorneys have seen exceptional advantages to bringing a settlement planner on board during mediation. For others, the risks may seem to outweigh the advantages.
Why might lawyers not want to bring a settlement planner to mediation? During the years I have been in practice, I have heard several reasons lawyers hold off getting assistance from an expert at this point:
- Client experience is tough to manage. Maintaining client expectations in a case is often difficult as it is without adding another professional to the equation. Bringing in a settlement planner has the potential to be confusing, especially if the case doesn’t settle.
- Bringing in an expert could send the wrong message. What message do lawyers send to the defense counsel by bringing a settlement expert to mediation? There is sometimes fear that involving a settlement planner too early could indicate that maximizing recovery is not a priority and that they’re looking for a quick settlement.
- There is sometimes less control over the situation. A settlement planning expert might share an opinion in front of a mediator that might not be on par with what the lawyer was thinking.
Settlement Planners Are Still Worthwhile During Mediation
There’s another way to think about the value of settlement experts during mediation, however, and it often outweighs the initial concerns. Instead of being seen as a message that the plaintiff is looking for a quick settlement, bringing a settlement expert during mediation instead shows the counsel is thorough, professional and prepared.
If settlement talks are already in the works, the expertise of a settlement planner may bring value in overcoming some of the obstacles and answering financial questions. In one case, for example, a client wanted to take a $9.5 million offer, but the lawyer felt he could obtain an even better recovery. I was asked to articulate my expert opinion to the mediator as to why the offer did not fairly compensate for inflation. The family heard me as another one of their advocates, and my rationale armed the mediator with additional useful information. I believe it helped push the envelope with regard to why the case was worth more.
A settlement expert can also share knowledge about using the money properly once it’s received, whether through a trust, a structured plan, or something else.
It’s All About Approach
Remember, there’s no need for a parade if you’re thinking about bringing an expert to mediation. When I have been asked to assist in mediation, lawyers have sometimes simply referred to me as a “financial expert” who is there to interpret any offers made to the client.
During negotiations, trust among the clients and lawyers is crucial. A settlement expert’s involvement during mediation can allow that trust to grow from that point until a case’s resolution.
ABOUT JOHN BAIR
John Bair has guided thousands of plaintiffs through the settlement process as co-founder of Milestone Consulting, LLC, a broad-based settlement planning and management firm. Milestone’s approach is comprehensive and future-focused. John’s team has guided thousands of clients by taking the time to understand the complexities of each case. They assess the best outcome and find the path that enables each client to manage their many needs. Read more about Milestone Consulting at http://milestoneseventh.com/.
A West Point graduate where he served as captain and military aviator, John Bair continues his commitment to our country through his efforts within the settlement planning industry. He has represented families of victims lost in the Flight 3407 crash, offered pro bono services to the families of 9/11 victims and drafted the first consumer protection bill for plaintiffs (H.R. 3699).