Sunday, November 21, 2010

Is "Settling" a Dirty Word?

I pride myself on settling cases. Most of the time, somewhere near the beginning of the mediation hearing, I explain to the parties that what we're after is a "compromise", not a win. Most of the time, they're satisfied with the outcome: it ends the lawsuit and usually resembles what is legally "right" or at least justifiable financially. And yet, when you "google" the word "settlements" you get a lot of images of uninvited housing developments in lands whose ownership is still under dispute. Does "settlement" also mean something like "staking out your claim"? Or consider the "settling" that takes place in so many homes in Southern California. That one causes cracks in our ceilings and walls after earthquakes have caused our foundation to tremble over so many years. Is that a good thing? What about "debt settlement"? That one gives relief to the debtor, so probably is analogous to the kind of settling I do for parties before me. And consider "settling down" as in making peace with your current situation. It appears to be subject to one's interpretation in ways that make my job that much more challenging. Do I dare to urge the parties to "settle" their lawsuit or is it useful to consider other terminology in light of the various meanings attached to the word?


Joe Markowitz said...

I agree that "settlement" has a lot of negative connotations, and there is no getting around it. It's because when you "settle," that implies that you are getting less than you are ideally entitled to. And who wants that? In popular culture, fighting is always glorified, and settling implies defeat. Look at a movie like "The Verdict," where it was suggested that settlement was like making a deal with the devil, even though the Paul Newman character could easily have lost the case at trial, and even though his own clients wanted him to settle.

I'm not sure what words to suggest instead, but I prefer talking about resolving or ending the conflict, rather than settling.

Joe Markowitz said...

Another example that should have occurred to me yesterday is all of the advertising we are exposed to. How many times do we see slogans like "Expect the best, don't settle for anything less"? In advertising speak, "settle" means to get something that is second rate, or something that you don't really want. It's no wonder people are resistant to settlement!