What Happens During A Settlement Conference?

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

Most lawsuits that are filed never end up going to trial. Frequently, this is because the matter is settled between the parties before the trial date is reached. A settlement conference is one of the most common tools for settling a dispute before trial.

What is a Settlement Conference?

In many jurisdictions, a settlement conference is required before any case can go to trial. The settlement conference is shorter and less expensive to conduct than a trial. Accordingly, it can be attractive to all involved to reach a settlement. A judge presides at the conference in their chambers or a private conference room. Settlement conferences are most often utilized in civil matters such as for child custody matters, personal injury lawsuits and contract disputes. They may also be used in criminal matters, though this happens less often.

Settlement Conference Attendees

The requirements for attending a settlement conference may vary by jurisdiction. However, both parties with their legal counsel are usually required to attend. In most cases, any parties or individuals who have the authority to potentially settle the matter are required to attend.

How a Settlement Conference is Conducted

The proceedings of a settlement conference can vary widely between jurisdictions and even between judges. Typically, both sides must inform the judge about the case in advance. This may include disclosing certain facts and evidence that supports that party's side of the case. This way, the judge is reasonably well apprised of the case before the conference occurs.

The conference may begin with the judge meeting with the counsel for both sides. Occasionally, the parties themselves are present at this initial meeting. Legal counsel for each side usually makes a brief presentation of the case. Then the judge meets with each side separately. This process can go on for several hours, and the judge may go back and forth between the parties several times in an effort to reach a settlement acceptable to all parties. If a settlement cannot be reached, then the parties must begin preparing for trial, although the judge may recommend a second settlement conference at a later date when more information is available.

Should a settlement agreement be reached, the judge asks the attorneys to prepare a memorandum that specifies the terms of the settlement. This formal settlement agreement will be signed by all parties. After it is signed and filed, the judge formally dismisses the lawsuit.

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