Settlement Perspectives

Thoughts on how to resolve disputes and get your deal done.


2 PerspectivesNovember 14, 2008

One Secret the Two Million Miler Club Has Taught Me

I’ll never forget a presentation by the Chief Litigation Counsel of a well-known tool company who complained about how long it takes to learn whether a newly-alleged product defect is really unsafe or not.  He told us that the first lawsuit outlining the defect takes time to serve, the charges take time to digest, and interrogatories and depositions can take months to complete before he can get to an answer.  All these delays prevent him from learning whether his product is really dangerous.

There is a better way.  As I write this I’m in seat 20B.  Perhaps he should be sitting next to me.

$24 Can Buy a Lot These Days

A few years ago one of my clients called to tell me a lawsuit was on the way.  After several years of efforts to unwind a joint venture, my client and my client’s partner had broken off negotiations.  The other side would wait no longer to get their money out of the deal, and five minutes with the file told me why.  

As I reviewed the file on the joint venture I saw demand letters, emails and position papers that did a great job of outlining each party’s position, but none that began to solve the problem.  Shortly thereafter I called the other side and asked for a meeting.  “The time for meetings is behind us.  Get the problem solved or we’ll enforce our rights” was what I got back.  I knew that, sometimes, just changing the negotiators can help break an impasse, and it might work here.  I explained to the other side that if they needed to sue I couldn’t stop them, but I was new to the problem and I’d buy them breakfast at the McLean Family Restaurant if they wanted to talk while they got their papers ready.

Breakfast was $24, but our efforts to attack the problem rather than each other that morning made it well worth the investment.  The case never became a case, and — with a lot of help from the other side — we unwound our joint venture shortly thereafter.  We even created new value for everybody in the process, but that’ll have to wait for another post.

What Do You Get if It Doesn’t Work?

When I started Settlement Perspectives I mentioned in my first post a face-to-face settlement meeting in Chicago where I explained to the other side my client’s position and why the case needed to settle.  For whatever reason the other side gave me a number that translated into a polite “no thank you.”  I had burned two days to prepare for, to get to, and to get home from that meeting, and I was no closer to settlement than when I started.  So was it a bust?  Not at all.  From that point forward my client and I knew that we had done everything possible to settle the case, and it wasn’t going to happen.  The other side’s number was too high, and we would never get there.  Sometimes that’s a good thing to know.

So What Have I Learned?

My team often ribs me that “boots on the ground” is my answer to most problems — that I believe we should sit down with the other side and look them in the eye to get the problem resolved — and they’re right.  I have written sarcastically about the glamour of business travel before, but would we have avoided a lawsuit in my joint venture case with another lawyer letter?  Would my client have had the confidence to invest millions in that trial in Chicago if I had had an unsuccessful settlement call?

The secret?  I have said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again:  Sometimes you just have to be there.  Come on, my tool-selling friend.  Seat 20A is open.

Categories: Communication,Negotiation,Settlement,Tactics

2 Perspectives:

VickieThursday, November 20, 2008 7:26 pm

Ah, my friend the in-house litigation counsel! You are the perfect . . . and I mean PERFECT corporate legal practitioner of the art of dispute resolution. I read your posts and have to pinch myself. AM I DREAMING? Do you really exist? Could you please replicate yourself a thousand thousand times?

John DeGrooteThursday, November 20, 2008 10:53 pm

Vickie, that’s very nice of you to say — thank you. And I would have responded earlier, but I was on a flight home from Chicago . . ..


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Settlement Perspectives
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of John DeGroote.

I created this site to help clients and their counsel navigate the challenges that inevitably result from disputes, settlement efforts, impasse, and negotiation in general. The perspectives I bring are based on my experience, summarized in this abbreviated bio. If you have any questions or thoughts about this site, or an issue you’d like to see addressed, please email me at:


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