This fall I attended one of the outdoor concerts by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Symphony at the Hollywood Bowl. It was a spectacular affair—beginning with the wonderful sounds of classical music and ending with a fantastic light show. The concert featured a local university marching band as well as a guest appearance from a world renowned cellist. As I listened to the symphony perform various movements, I carefully observed the conductor. Each movement by the conductor was precisely timed. Every direction to various sections of the symphony had to be meticulously arranged to ensure that every note was played exactly on cue. And yet, at the end of the magnificent concert and beautiful light show, the smoke from the fireworks wafted through the air—leaving the audience sitting in a cloudy haze.
In many ways, litigation is like a symphony.
There are many “movements” or phases of litigation: the initial decision to file a lawsuit, pre-trial pleadings and motion, seemingly endless discovery, settlement negotiations, trial preparation, trial, post-trial motions, and possible appeals. Through the course of litigation, there may be the occasional “solo” when a defendant moves for summary judgment or when a plaintiff seeks review by an appellate court on a decision the lower court issued prior to a final judgment. There may also be times of prolonged “silence” as may be the case when a judge issues a stay of proceedings. Throughout the course of litigation, there are various moving pieces that must be organized and coordinated so that everything falls into place. And after years of litigation, sometimes the parties find themselves in a cloudy haze with their needs unmet and desires unsatisfied.
Often parties find the process of litigation unfulfilling. Whether the parties go to trial or reach a settlement has a lot to do with the “conductor” or the decision-makers.
Who is the Conductor in Litigation?
I think there are many viable answers to this question.
The judge in many ways dictates the course of the litigation. In compliance with various code sections and local rules, the judge sets deadlines and determines when hearings and trials will be set. The judge can order mediation or other proceedings to encourage settlement. If resolution is not reached, the judge will ultimately oversee a trial. A judge or a jury will then decide the final outcome of the hearing.
The client is inevitably a driving force in litigation. If the client is the plaintiff, then he or she has chosen to use litigation as a means to resolve the dispute. Although the attorney may offer litigation strategy and advice, it is ultimately the client’s choice to decide whether or not to settle.
Attorneys play a large role in the litigation “symphony.” The attorney must coordinate each step in each phase of litigation making sure to meet discovery cut-off dates, attending status conferences, filing motions for summary adjudication, and crafting a plan for trial.
The attorney listens carefully to the client’s story in order to clearly determine the set of facts. The attorney researches the relevant law and selects the appropriate arguments and defenses to raise. The attorney preps the client for depositions and for various proceedings. Attorneys also help their clients navigate the legal system. Offering advice and providing various options, the attorney guides the client through the decision making processes. It is the attorney’s role to present the client with the likely success or failure each path.
An attorney also plays a pivotal role in presenting a client with settlement options. The attorney’s knowledge of mediation and other settlement mechanism is therefore vital to whether or not settlement is reached. An attorney’s proclivity towards using the mediation process as a vehicle for settlement will ultimately impact whether a mediation is successful. An attorney can tell an uninformed client about the mediation process and inform the client of its many benefits. An attorney can prep the client for the session and encourage the client to participate fully and wholeheartedly—maximizing the likelihood of reaching resolution.
As an attorney, I see the litigation process through the eyes of a Lawyer. But, it seems to me that in orchestrating settlement, an attorney plays the role of conductor. Although it is ultimately the client’s voice that is heard, the attorney gives the client the instruments and tools and guides the client in how to use those instruments.