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The term “Settlement Conference” can mean one of two things: A judicially hosted settlement conference or an informal settlement conference.
Judicially Hosted Settlement Conference
A judicially hosted settlement conference is a form of alternative dispute resolution, and operates in a similar manner as mediation but is held before a senior judge. The parties attend with their attorneys and plead their cases and positions before the senior judge. Unlike a mediation, often the senior judge expresses their opinion on the unresolved issues and often provides insight to the risks that each party will face should trial go forward. The parties are under no obligation to accept the recommendations of the senior judge and may choose not to settle and continue forward to trial. A partial settlement may be reached at this time which will streamline the issues for trial.
Informal Settlement Conference
An informal settlement conference is a form of alternative dispute resolution where the attorneys facilitate settlement discussions between the parties with no third party neutral present. The parties gather at an agreed upon location with their attorneys and discuss the issues of the case in an attempt to resolve their differences outside of a formal mediation, arbitration, hearing or trial. There is no standard that needs to be met; and, therefore, if the parties are too far apart on specific issues, a settlement does not have to occur.