In this article we will explain what happens at a pretrial settlement conference in Illinois. We will answer the questions, “what is a pretrial settlement conference?”, “at what stage in a case does a pretrial settlement conference occur?”, “what is the purpose of a pretrial settlement conference?”, and “what is the difference between a pretrial settlement conference and mediation?” We will also explain what to expect from a pretrial settlement conference.
A pretrial settlement conference is a meeting between parties to a litigation case, their attorneys, and the judge during which the judge works to assist the parties in settling the case rather than going to trial?
Pretrial settlement conferences can occur at various stages of litigation. Most commonly they are held shortly before the trial after all discovery and motion practice has been completed. However, either party can request a pretrial settlement conference or the judge can order a pretrial settlement conference at any point in the case.
Typically, the parties wait until after written discovery has been completed to conduct the settlement conference, because settlement is typically more fruitful once both parties’ positions are known and all of the facts are on the table. However, settlement conferences can be scheduled even earlier in the case if the case seems likely to settle earlier.
Pretrial settlement conferences occur at the courthouse. Generally, all parties and their attorneys are required to attend. However, in some circumstances judges may allow parties to be available by phone rather than attending in person.
The judge will typically begin by hearing each party’s attorney’s statement of the case. This is typically done in the judge’s chambers. Some judges will meet with both attorneys together, others prefer to meet with each attorney separately. Sometimes the parties will come back to chambers with their attorneys. At this stage in the conference, the attorneys will explain their position as well as the facts that they think will cause them to be successful at trial. They will also lay out what an acceptable settlement would look like.
Once the judge has heard each attorney’s position, he or she will generally speak separately to each party with the party’s attorney present. The judge will usually point out the weaknesses in the case of the party to whom he or she is speaking in an attempt to discourage that party from going to trial. The judge will often tell each party what he or she believes to be a reasonable settlement and find out if either party is willing to move from their original settlement positions.
If neither party is willing to change their settlement position after speaking to the judge, the judge will typically terminate the conference. So long as the parties are negotiating in good faith, the judge will continue to speak to each individually in alternating turns until a settlement is reached or until the parties reach an impasse.
Pretrial settlement conferences increase the chance of settling a case for several reasons:
Pretrial settlement conferences are very similar to mediation. In both situations, a third party is meeting with the parties and their attorneys in an attempt to facilitate settlement.
The primary difference between pretrial settlement conferences and mediation are:
For these reasons, pretrial settlement conferences are usually attempted first followed by mediation if the pretrial settlement conference is unsuccessful.
For more on mediation, check out our article: Illinois Family Mediation Explained.