When you represent yourself skillfully, eventually the other side cries uncle and asks to settle your case.
It doesn’t matter whether you sued or got sued. It’s a war of attrition, a long hard slog.
Your basic strategy is to fight till they quit.
Your job is to show the other side that you’ve got all day every day for that fight, that you will fight until they quit.
When they understand you, if they’re smart or have a lawyer, you’ll get the call: “What will it take to settle this case?”
In the simplest terms, you’re being asked for a number that’ll go next to Amount on a check payable to you or the other side.
You can play cat and mouse for a bit, but you should know the answer well before you get the call. Your answer should’ve been part of creating a strategy to win.
Negotiating a civil settlement is like negotiating anything else — an employment contract, the price of a big-ticket item, your teenager’s allowance. You try to strike a balance that leaves both sides feeling relieved and satisfied.
There are loads of materials to help lawyers settle cases for their clients, but very little is geared to pro se litigants. So here are a few thoughts from my experience:
- Let the represented party make the first move. Or if both parties are pro se, the plaintiff moves first.
- Keep your emotions in check. Let the settlement terms satisfy your emotional needs.
- Demand everything you need to walk away happy, not just a dollar amount. Other items could include credit reporting, a move-out date, free or discount services, or a letter of release or apology.
- Consider professional mediation if the other side is willing to pay, or if the court orders it.
- Understand the risks of not settling, including loss of the case or a less favorable settlement down the line.
- Set a deadline for a signed agreement and stick with it. Be willing to walk away from settlement discussions.
- Don’t seek or take advice from anyone on whether a proposed settlement is satisfactory. You alone can decide if it’s satisfactory to you.
The thing to remember in settlement negotiations is that the effective pro se litigant has an ace in the hole. You’re facing either an ineffective pro se litigant on the other side, or more likely, a represented party who’s bleeding legal fees every day the case goes unsettled.
Your opponent’s lawyer tallies a new invoice each time you file and serve something in the case. What’s worse, the more legal support and complexity you can pile into your arguments, the higher the bill for your opponent.
You, on the other hand, can capably navigate the civil justice system without spending a dime on legal fees. That’s leverage.
That means the quickest route to favorable settlement is through legal arguments that are well researched and well written. If your filings appear to follow a well thought out strategy as well, you’ll be in the money soon.
In other words, the more skill you bring to bear in advocating for yourself, the more favorable the settlement you can demand.
Have you settled a case recently? Did your skills make a difference? Share in the comments below.
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