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How to Persuade a Client to Reject a Settlement

Hypothetical: After putting countless hours into a case you know you can win, the other side ships over a dismal settlement demand or offer that you know is garbage, and to your dismay, your client, even after being told it's garbage, still wants to accept it (without even countering).

While the public may exclaim: "Cue the tiny violin!" for many lawyers, this is uncharted territory. For some lawyers, this is a big red flag. Below you'll find a few tips on what to do when a client wants to settle against your advice.

1. Confidentiality Reminder, Then Ask Why

Have a serious, one-on-one, sit down with your client and remind them that they can tell you almost anything confidentially. Explain your state's rules on confidentiality so that they can be assured that the info they divulge to you won't go beyond the four walls of your office.

You can advise the client that you are recommending not to accept the settlement, then give the client your reasons, and then tell them to give you their reasons why. The client may have unexpected reasons for just wanting to be done with the case, such as illness, family trouble, life changes, or maybe a change in their sense of justice. For business clients, a potential sale of the business, other more lucrative opportunities, or potential negative publicity, might be a motivating factor you won't know about until you ask.

2. Best Business Judgment

Often, clients get too wrapped up in that fantastical notion of justice. When that happens, attorneys have to ground their clients in the concept that the law, particularly in the civil courts, is not about justice, but rather it's all about the money. As such, if you're going to recommend against settlement, you can't rely on that sense of justice inspiring the client to fight on. Instead, you should draw up a cost/benefit analysis for your client (though, admittedly, your own cost/benefit analysis might look much different, but that's a different problem altogether). 

If you can't make your recommendation make dollars and sense, don't expect your client to go along with it.

3. Get More Time and Get More Discovery

If the client just won't listen to reason, you may be forced to take more drastic measures. While you may be ethically bound when it comes to accepting or rejecting the settlement, don't be afraid to push back on your client. You can request authority to request an extension on the deadline for a response to the offer or demand, and, upon getting an extension, request some discovery that might be able to convince your client that they should forge ahead.

If you're on an hourly basis, you can offer to waive the costs of the time it takes to get that discovery if the client still wishes to settle after reviewing the new evidence you obtained.

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