As a trial lawyer, you’re giving it your all to obtain the settlement your client deserves. The plaintiff’s injury has been life changing, and you know she is going to need a lifetime of care and financial support. Mediation is coming up.
You know that connecting your client with a settlement expert is part of smart financial planning before that large sum of money comes in. Is the mediation phase too early to bring in an expert? What kind of message would you be sending to your client, or to the opposition?
Improving the Client Experience
For many plaintiffs and their families, a personal injury lawsuit is their first experience with lawyers, negotiations, settlement talks, and more. As their legal representative, you have the complex task of managing expectations and keeping the client well informed every step of the way. Adding another professional to the mix could make the situation more confusing.
However, a financial expert can explain the implications of a settlement offer, which can help plaintiffs and their lawyers make good decisions. “The settlement expert can help my clients understand the financial options presented by an offer, and he or she can help the clients and me see the true long-term financial picture that may be possible with a specific offer,” Hawaiian personal injury attorney Wayne Parsons commented on a previous Milestone Legal Examiner post. The settlement planner can be an advocate for the plaintiff, breaking down a settlement offer or potential offer in ways that make sense to the plaintiff as they consider their current situation and their future financial and medical needs.
Sending the Right Message
It’s critical to send the right message to the defense counsel during mediation. Could a settlement expert get in the way of that? Orlando Mediator Lawrence Kolin raised a good point in the comments of that same post: “The problem seems to lie in the adversarial nature of a battle of experts between parties that likely makes finding a self-determined resolution difficult.” Of course, confrontation and adversarial contact is counterproductive during mediation.
Some or all of that issue may be remedied in the introduction of the settlement expert during mediation. When a lawyer asks me to attend mediation, he or she might not introduce me as a “settlement planner” to the defendants and their lawyers. Instead, I am simply an additional expert there to interpret any offers made. I may be asked to articulate my opinion to the mediator when an offer is inadequate. As an advocate, my rationale can often provide the mediator with additional useful information.
Bringing a settlement expert into the picture early can show thoroughness, professionalism, and preparedness on the part of the plaintiff’s attorney. The expertise of a settlement planner may also bring value in tough-to-settle cases.
“I help my clients get the money and they use the financial planner to decide if it is enough and what they can do with it,” Parsons added. “It also can help me and my clients propose counter-offers that sometimes are creative because of what we learn from the settlement expert.”
As with many aspects of the legal profession, choosing whether to have a settlement expert on board during mediation is a case-by-case decision. If you’re considering the value of working with an expert, it’s important to be comfortable with the professional you’ve chosen and to have well thought-out objectives before entering mediation.
About John Bair
John Bair has 20 years of diverse experience in the settlement management industry and the civil justice community. Throughout his career, he has founded several settlement planning firms, leading to the founding of Milestone Consulting. 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).