Sunday, January 30, 2011

Settling small

I was able to settle a handful of small value cases in the last week and each one had several things in common: (1) One of my crazy eccentric clients, (2) who has unreasonable expectations for what their case is worth and (3) an overly generous settlement offer from a naive insurance adjustor/defense counsel.

After repeating this process five times in four days, I’ve realized that I have developed a standard game plan:

As soon as I receive a settlement offer, I tell the claims handler or opposing counsel that I “have to talk to my client” before resolving this case. At this juncture, that statement is true. However, the client does not get a call from me at this point. I hang up the phone, pick my iPad, play Angry Birds for 15 minutes and then call the other side back. It’s at this point that I get more money than the case is worth.

Now it is finally time to call the client.

Clients think that because they suffered “contusions” and “strains” while spending three months treating with a fake doctor chiropractor, that they are entitled to early retirement. [As an aside, it’s these conversations where I typically hear my favorite line as a Plaintiff’s attorney: “But I could have died”]. The simple fact is that the client is going to be fine. It’s time to remind them of that.

The first step is to list every single problem with the case (you were drunk), the client (you weren’t hurt) and the cold hard reality that is litigation (juries are stewpid). Second, after thoroughly attacking every ounce of their soul, it is now time to remind them that they are on the hook for any costs expended in the course of this litigation. “And if we go to trial, we’re going to need expert witnesses and they cost thousands of dollars…an hour.”

After annihilating their expectations of a potential verdict while peppering them with the fiscal reality of not taking this settlement offer, it’s finally time. To lie to them. [Sort of.]

I deliver the opening settlement offer. I let them cry, moan, bitch, wail, feign outrage and just express themselves as they see fit about how small the offer actually is. Once the emotion passes, I remind them of all the things that we just talked about and tell them that this is the best that they are likely going to be able to do. Then I tell them to give me the authority to settle the case.

By the time this phone call ends, I make sure that they are genuinely excited and thrilled about the settlement that we are about to reach.

Once I have settlement authority, I pick up my iPad, play Angry Birds for 20 minutes and then call the client back. This phone call always goes the same way. I tell them it was a real battle and the other side threatened to take this all the way to a verdict but, I was able to make them see the strength our position and I got 50% [or more] money to settle this than was previously offered.

The response from the client is always the same thing:

“You couldn’t have gotten any more?”