Judge-directed negotiation is a somewhat novel idea, aimed at avoiding lengthy trials and settling civil suits early in their lifespan. From a public policy standpoint, this process circumvents drawn-out legal proceedings, saving time for courts and money for taxpayers. On the other hand, from the standpoint of the parties involved in the proceeding, the costs and benefits are not as black and white.
An obvious benefit of judge-directed negotiation, both for plaintiffs and defendants preparing to litigate a personal injury matter, is the avoidance of protracted litigation that proves costly for both sides. Under the program, attorneys for both sides must have authority from their respective clients to settle the cases. This precludes the possibility of merely determining the other side’s bargaining position with no intention of accepting or working toward a reasonable offer.
Conversely, the procedure of judge-directed negotiation has its drawbacks. Because both the judge and opposing counsel are aware of each side’s authority to settle, attorneys may feel pressured to accept an offer that perhaps they otherwise would not. While negotiation always has been, and always will remain, an integral part of any legal proceeding, the circumstances are changed when the negotiations are being led by a judge. It is the job of a plaintiff’s attorney to obtain the maximum level of just compensation for his or her client. Likewise, it is the role of defense counsel to minimize the amount that his or her client must dispense. Under the conditions of judge-directed negotiations, an attorney may feel compelled to offer more, or accept less, than he or she would under more traditional negotiating situations.
In the fluid essence of the American judicial system, judge-directed negotiation is simply another way of attempting to accelerate cases from inception to conclusion. As the program develops, its overall effect on the process of civil litigation will become more clear. In the interim, it is still the essential duty of lawyers to obtain a result that is both fair and efficient, but most importantly in the best interest of his or her client.
Website Resource: To Curb Malpractice Costs, Judges Jump In Early
New York Times, William Glaberson, June 12, 2011