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Settlement Strategy

Facing a complex business dispute can be costly and time-consuming, and many companies want to seek a settlement in order to resolve the dispute as quickly and effectively as possible. Our experienced commercial litigation lawyers can discuss various settlement strategies that can meet your business needs.

Negotiating a settlement to resolve disputes

Litigation can wear down both parties. And often, the investment in litigating can seem too risky for even large companies with extensive resources.

In the business world, disputes are inevitable. However, to a large extent, you can control the way you resolve the problem. The first step is consulting with an attorney who understands the practical realities of the business world. Deciding to negotiate a settlement rather than taking a claim to trial is often the most effective and cost-efficient way to resolve a business dispute. Of course, there are pros and cons to every decision. Moreover, attempting to settle may not be your best option if the other party is being unreasonable. In most cases out-of-court resolution is best for our clients, and there are several reasons for this:

  • Negotiating a settlement is generally less risky than going to trial where you might lose entirely.
  • Reaching a negotiated deal may help you avoid many of the costs associated with hiring experts, subpoenaing witnesses, and paying for other expenses such as jury fees
  • Taking a case to trial may expose you to liability for the other party’s legal and attorney fees if you lose or fail to achieve a result better than a previously made settlement offer

Your Newark commercial litigation lawyer can fully advise you of the costs and benefits associated with pursuing settlement negotiations. They should also have skills in drafting effective settlement agreements. These should take into considerations your business’s reputation, long term health, and any tax consequences associated with the agreement.

Benefits of settlement with the right strategy

This article will address the variables in determining whether to settle, as well as settlement strategy at various stages in litigation. There is always a cost-benefit analysis starting even before the complaint is filed and that, coupled with the proper timing, can dictate a favorable resolution. The analysis of whether to settle should, at a high level, consider the likelihood of a favorable outcome at trial, a potential settlement range, and potential costs.

There are a multitude of factors that can affect the decision to settle. Momentum can change. Facts can come to light. Witnesses can prove less credible than originally thought. Financial resources may be minimal. These are all considerations a client and their attorney should evaluate from the onset of the claim.

Saving time

Litigation is a burden and opportunity costs must be considered by both parties. Responding to discovery, communicating with outside counsel, internal counsel’s workload, and training employees to support litigation takes significant time. Document management is challenging even from a day to day operational standpoint, but to access and produce records for discovery as well as making employees available for depositions and trial can take considerable time away from business operations. Considering most commercial litigation cases can go on for years, time is certainly a major factor in settlement strategy.

Financial resources

Regardless of the strength of the claim, what damages a plaintiff can collect is another major factor in settlement strategy. If a plaintiff knows they will be limited in recouping damages even if they pursue litigation aggressively, proceeding all the way through trial is likely fruitless. A plaintiff must also consider that the attorney will generally take at least third of the settlement or as much as half if the case goes through trial. A plaintiff will need to compare the cost and likelihood of obtaining a quick settlement against the risks and anticipated return of a future settlement or verdict. Taking less can often end up saving money long term.

Reputation issues

Aside from legal liability, a business needs to keep their reputation in mind. A negative perception can affect revenue, which ultimately undermines a potential recovery of damages or avoidance of paying out damages. For example, if a software company decides to sue one of its longest standing licensees for using licenses out of scope, other businesses looking for software solutions may take notice and avoid doing business with that software company. In those instances, an early settlement is often desirable.

Strength of the claim

The facts and their application to the law determine the strengths and weaknesses of the case. A client and their attorney should evaluate any developing information including information discovered through requests (e.g. motions to produce documents, depositions, and interrogatories), Court orders based on pre-trial motions, and case law.

Also, in that same example, preserving the business relationship could be more important (e.g. there could be future revenue through technical support for the software) than securing a judgment.

Commercial considerations should always be a major factor in the settlement analysis. For example, if the company is publically traded, a party needs to be aware of the ramifications on the stock price.

Determining when to settle

Timing of settlement is a fluid process, but it should be calculated at every stage. Sometimes, a party has a good sense the case will settle even before the complaint is filed. In some cases, the complaint is a tool to simply force the parties to come together to work on a resolution. Regardless of when the parties hit a breaking point, settlement terms should be finalized early to save money on court costs and attorney’s fees, and potentially maintain the business relationship.

Discovery settlement strategy

It is prudent to determine the likelihood of settlement before discovery because it is generally the most costly phase of a lawsuit. Discovery however can give a party the information it needs to leverage a higher or lower settlement figure. For example, depositions are ripe for this type of information where witness credibility and strength of testimonial evidence come out. Tracking down witnesses, holding depositions, and motion filing affects accessibility to the information. Even after obtaining the evidence, admissibility is another threshold to meet, which involves motions to the court. The challenges inherent in obtaining the necessary evidence and then being able to utilize it can force early settlement. A party will need to weigh the benefit and potential of gaining this information against the cost of obtaining it.

Pre-trial settlement strategy

If the parties have arrived at the trial date, then reality starts to set in. A party may not feel comfortable with the uncertainty of the case going before a jury or with recent pre-trial rulings that will stymie the case. This stage still leaves the opportunity to limit damage to public perception and creating negative precedent with business partners.

At trial settlement strategy

Settlement can occur during the trial also. Although parties may feel “pot-committed” having exhausted resources and time, trial presents other factors such as:

  • How receptive the jury is to the attorneys
  • The judge’s rulings on evidence
  • Effectiveness of witnesses
  • Length of the trial
  • New evidence

The parties may even consider settling post-trial if they feel the judge misapplied the law or the jury was completely off base with their verdict.

Achieving the best settlement outcome

Some unique tactics to achieve the most favorable outcome include:

  • 1. Leverage personalities and identify key decision makers.
  • 2. Structuring the settlement in installment payments makes it more palatable for a defendant.
  • 3. Create a new business relationship within the settlement agreement. Keeping with the software company example, if the software is mission critical to the licensee, they will want to continue to use it and the software company will want to keep them as a customer to explore additional sales opportunities and collect maintenance and support revenue. Consequently, the parties could simply negotiate an order document licensing the misused software in a different scope and incorporating settlement language in the order. Another alternative is the software company could extend a credit that the licensee could use to acquire additional licenses or technical services.

Other considerations in settlement strategy

Other factors that a party should cover with their attorney when deciding on settlement options include insurance coverage for pay-outs, tax implications, and attorney’s fees. Although insurance and taxes are almost impossible to contract out of, attorney’s fees allow some room for negotiation. A defendant can always request a breakdown of fees and incorporate those fees into the overall settlement figure.

A party may also want to consider how the offer is presented. For example, making the offer in open court shows a good faith effort to close out the case and puts the opposing party at risk of looking unreasonable if they do not seriously consider the offer.

Drafting the settlement agreement

Seizing the opportunity to make the first offer brings with it the ability to control the document. A drafter must also consider the including confidentiality obligations to keep the settlement terms private and include a properly tailored release of claims in the agreement so that future claims are not released.

Why the benefits outweigh the risks

The benefits of resolving your case out of court include less risk than going to trial (which could result in you losing completely). Settlements also allow you to reach a deal without the costs of hiring expert witnesses, subpoenaing witnesses, paying jury fees and other costs to support your case. Another factor to consider when deciding between a settlement and a trial is that you may become liable for the other party’s legal fees if you lose your case. If you fail to receive a result better than the one offered through settlement, you may also face this risk. Your attorney should provide you with a realistic overview of the costs and benefits of settling rather than going to trial.

Having someone to draft effective settlement agreements that take into account your business reputation, long-term financial health and tax requirements is crucial to the settlement process. Going to trial can have long-term effects on your business, especially since it is common for trials to be drawn out if there are significant conflicts. Not only could you be delayed in getting your compensation, but the cost of hiring expert witnesses to support your case along the way may become a financial burden for your company. Nonetheless, there are some cases in which going to trial is the best option. If this is the case for you, it is beneficial to have representation on your side that is knowledgeable and experienced in commercial disputes. Without representation, you could expose your company to a one-sided settlement agreement that does not work for you long term. Experienced business lawyers understand that the details of commercial litigation documents are crucial and will help you draft documents that are tailored to get the results you want.

Contact Us Today

Settlements are a good alternative to expensive and lengthy trials for most commercial disputes. We have years of experience in successfully resolving complex commercial disputes without having to go to trial. If you do have to go to trial, we will ensure that you are properly represented.

If your company, corporation or non-profit is involved in a commercial dispute the team at Snellings Law, LLC can help. Our experienced Newark commercial litigation lawyer is happy to provide a case consultation and advise you regarding the best options for prevailing in the dispute and making sure your business is a success. To learn more about settlement strategy, call us today.

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