Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Friday, March 05, 2004

A big, complicated, multiparty case that I've been working on for eight years settled on the eve of trial yesterday. Our position was vindicated, which was nice, and it settled at about what we had always said was the right price, which was satisfying, but what was really interesting about the whole thing to me was that I think it settled, finally, because over the course of the years the lawyers who were on the case changed, until there was finally the right combination of personalities in the room to allow for a discussion of the matter that was more or less free from the sort of posturing, and chest thumping and heel digging in that had gone on before. The people in the room finally started listening to what was being said, instead of holding fast to their opinions about the case. And, of course, if it hadn't settled when it settled we were going to be picking a jury. Sometimes that's what you want, but when the stakes are as high as they were here, and the outcome is as uncertain, everyone becomes very focused-- and that's when a deal can get done. It's really a question of ripeness-- and not just for the lawyers. The plaintiffs in this matter-- the people that is, the clients-- had lived with the case for so long that it had become a part of the fabric of their everyday lives. They went to bed with it every night, talked about it a family gatherings, brooded over it on car trips. It was about to come to an end, one way or another, and they were confronted with the idea of what the world would be like once this case was over. They started focusing too.

I relate a lot of what we do to "The Maltese Falcon", and this reminds a bit of that. When Spade is reunited with Gutman and the others for the final negotiation the fat man gives him an envelope with ten thousand dollars inside. Spade counts the money, then says, "We were talking about more money than this."

"Yes, sir, we were," Gutman agreed, "but we were talking then. This is actual money, genuine coin of the realm, sir. With a dollar of this you can buy more than with ten dollars of talk."

Every negotiation I've ever been involved in, every deal I've ever made has always come down to that.

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