The ‘just make this go away’ urge

Bump and grind of settlement talks are far from sexy

Opening Statement

Marc Karlinsky

Interim editor

October 2015

There’s probably a reason the great lawyer-themed TV shows don’t devote major plotlines to negotiating settlements. They’re certainly not as glamorous or “sexy” as a made-in-Hollywood jury trial.

There are no all-out winners or losers. There’s no surprise reveal at the end.

It’s two sides deciding they’d rather end the drama sooner rather than later. If you’re the side that owes money, you’d rather cut a check and move on. Say you’re the side that wants to be paid — you’d rather cash that check now than spend extra months or years fighting for a different one.

But that doesn’t make the art and science of settling any less fascinating. That’s the focus of this issue, as it is each October in Chicago Lawyer when settlements take center stage.

Our reporter Roy Strom took a look behind an entire business model based on that very “just make this go away” urge at the heart of many settlements in his story on the rise and fall of Prenda Law.

It’s a tale of lawyers who would collect the identities of Internet customers linked with illegal downloads of copyrighted porn. They’d give those people two options: Get sued for $150,000 and have your name linked with porn theft in public court records forever or settle for a few thousand and just make it go away.

For thousands of people, it was an easy choice. (And for the firm, likely an easy buck.)

And speaking of choices, we hope you like multiple-choice: there’s a quiz in here based on all the settlement data collected by our Law Bulletin Publishing Company comrades at the Jury Verdict Reporter.

At the time many of settlements in this issue were reached, I was manning the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin’s Daley Center bureau. I covered several of the settlements as stories for our sister newspaper when they were still fresh news. When you’re buried deep in complaints, responses and other filings in a few complex cases, it’s sometimes tough to see the broader settlement picture.

But Strom’s second feature looks at the state of settlements at the macro level, going beyond the information in table form. We hope the quiz and its collection of infographics — another new element for our settlements issue — confirm a lot of what trial lawyers are doing and seeing in court, but still has a finding or two that surprise you.

Of course, it wouldn’t be our settlements issue without the big list of JVR-reported settlements. Returning readers will notice our new table design, which we hope makes it easier to browse the chart and see how cases rank among others, which lawyers were involved in them and what the case details were.

This year’s report also includes data from “confidential settlements” — that is, ones where the lawyers agreed with each other not to disclose the names of the parties involved. In the interest of collecting as much broad-level data as it can, JVR honors those lawyers’ agreements by including info on the case type and amount without naming the specific names — but only after it corroborates the facts with other sources, including opposing counsel and, where possible, the public record.

It’s one more way we hope this year’s report provides a more complete picture of the year in settlements.