When people approach me to discuss their options for resolving legal disputes, filing a lawsuit is often foremost in their minds. Human beings have a natural tendency to want justice. After all, why should you compromise if you are in the right?
However, there are many reasons why filing a lawsuit isn’t the answer to every dispute. In fact, in the vast majority of disputes, the parties would be better off settling than litigating.
One obvious reason for settlement is the tremendous cost of litigation. Still, litigants are frequently surprised to learn–often too late–that it can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to take a matter to trial. Unfortunately, when someone is adamant about fighting on principle, this fact often doesn’t fully register at the outset.
Another less obvious reason to explore compromise before litigating is the tremendous emotional strain that litigation introduces into your life. The plain fact is that litigation is adversarial, often occupies your time and attention for the better part of 2-3 years, and has a tendency to sap your energy, put you on an emotional roller coaster, and ultimately drain your emotional reserves.
Litigation is also fraught with risk. Contrary to popular opinion, there’s no such thing as slam-dunk case. No matter how strong your case may be, you will inevitably be faced with proof problems, including trying to recreate the past with imperfect evidence, fading memory, and limitations imposed by evidentiary rules. Also, your case will ultimately be decided by a third party who may not share your values, background, or world view. Furthermore, if you lose, there’s a chance you may have to pay not only damages but also the other party’s attorneys fees and costs.
Finally, even if you win, victory is often hollow. You rarely get everything you want, and even if you do, you may come to a sudden realization the desire for retribution and the feeling of being wronged don’t magically disappear just because a judge decides in your favor.
Of course, it takes two to tango, but settlement is an option that should never be ignored.