It is easy to make a judge smile – just say the words, “Settled, Your Honor.”
Contrary to popular opinion (and the content of TV lawyer programs), the main job of a judge is to resolve cases through settlement, not trial. Judges are principally engaged to assist attorneys and their clients in resolving disputes. That is why judges (or their staff) conduct pre-trial settlement conferences. And that is why during the initial court conference, litigants usually hear the judge ask, “Can this case be settled?”
It is a “win-win” for a judge if a case is resolved by settlement. There are too many cases on an average court docket to resolve them all by trial. Judges are under considerable pressure from court administrators to dispose of their calendar, as rapidly as possible.
Of course, not all cases can be resolved by negotiation. For example, litigants may wish to take advantage of a legal system which may benefit the financially secure party. In addition, litigants may wish to use the court system to extract “punishment” for real and perceived injuries. In some cases, the lack of access to alternative dispute resolution services may force litigants to trial. There are also cases in which the litigants honestly hold irreconcilable points of view, which must ultimately be decided by a trial judge and, sometimes, by the appellate process.
However, the vast majority of cases are capable of resolution prior to sustaining the considerable expense of preparing for and going to trial. With the assistance of counsel trained in negotiation techniques, it is possible to put a smile on a judge’s face.