Snyder: Unfounded Optimism
Wednesday, December 5, 2018 | 145 | 0 | min read
The fall of Atlanta “is not a calamity that endangers our cause.” — Montgomery, Alabama Advertiser, September 1864
“No former period of the war has contained such elements of encouragement for the South as the present.” — Richmond, Virginia Examiner, February 1865, 60 days before the surrender at Appomattox
Many clients receive litigation status reports that parallel the unfounded optimism in the South in the final months of the U.S. Civil War. People who try to settle cases often see litigants with that same willful refusal to recognize a failing battle effort. Parties and lawyers who have been living with a case for a long time may delude themselves about their chances of winning.
Lawyers in the front line
Typically, the lawyer is the front-line soldier with the best ability to assess how things are going. The client expects reliable status reports and guidance in choosing the best course for the litigation. Corporate and insurance clients usually require reports to include an evaluation.
Clients want a lawyer who believes in their case. And lawyers have a duty both to the client and the legal system to represent the client “zealously within the bounds of the law.” But sometimes lawyers prepare status reports that mislead clients to pursue expensive and futile choices.
Some lawyers seem to think they are litigation superheroes who can’t be beaten. Dig deeper and you will find they settle most of their cases, but at what cost? The justification that the client would have gotten a worse deal without the lawyer’s extreme tactics may not be sound.
Many lawyers are like animals burrowing a tunnel and never stick out their head to see where they are. They have a playbook they think they need to follow before even considering settlement. It seems as though there is always one more report, one more deposition, one more motion they have to have.
Lawyers also fear telling clients the unvarnished truth about their cases because the lawyers want to keep the gig. I’ve seen cases where it is the third lawyer on the case on each side. In one instance, the lawyer told me that both prior lawyers had counseled that the opponent’s settlement proposal was reasonable; each was fired. The current lawyer said, “You and I both know those lawyers were right, and they were fired. I am going to try the case.”
Those battles at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge? According to the Mobile Register, union casualties were “10 times greater than ours.”
In fact, Confederate casualties numbered 6,687 to the Union’s 5,815.
Psychological reasons for unfounded optimism
There are psychological reasons why people refuse to settle. For example, people need to justify past expenditures, known as “sunk costs.” So they feel the need to keep fighting, even when settlement is the best way to stop that drain.
Another is reactive devaluation, where people refuse to credit information from the opponent that conflicts with the belief system they have created for themselves.
When litigation status reports only offer a choice among battle plans, clients may not realize settlement could be their best option.
Pass the buck to the mediator
Mediation is a good way to get the most belligerent parties to talk about settlement. Opposing sides don’t even have to sit together. Caucus sessions take place among the mediator and representatives of a single side. Nothing said in caucus gets repeated elsewhere without the party’s permission, so caucus is a safe place to discuss the weaknesses of a case, as well as its merits.
The mediator is a professional neutral. Parties can get the opinion of someone who comes to the case without preconception. This is closest to what could happen in court. The mediator can ask pertinent questions and bring the parties to partial or full agreement.
When parties can’t bring themselves to agree, the mediator can suggest a mediator’s proposal to close the case. This allows everyone to save face and does not damage the attorney-client relationship.
If you are creating or receiving litigation status reports that don’t consider mediation, an essential part of the plan may be missing. Mediation offers a timely, cost-effective way to end whatever war you’re fighting.
Attorney Teddy Snyder mediates workers' compensation cases throughout California. She can be contacted through WCMediator.com.