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Settlement Advice: Avoid the Assembly Line

From John DeGroote’s Settlement Perspectives

The other day I wrote a post about trust. It was a simple post, really. I recounted a story about a recent tire purchase where I asked for four new tires, and my service rep convinced me I only needed three. I trust her more now than I did before, and to most this would hardly be a controversial result. It took a lawyer at Legal OnRamp to turn this ordinary lesson in trust into much more.

An Unexpected Lesson at Legal OnRamp

Soon after publishing my post I stumbled across a reply on Legal OnRamp, where posts from Settlement Perspectives also appear. The reply was from someone I’ve never met, but that didn’t slow him down:

Go back and think this over. You got hosed. But, at least you left feeling great.

Fortunately, my critic supplied a bit of analysis to support his thesis that my dealer somehow “hosed” me by telling me I needed fewer tires than I was prepared to buy:

You probably bought an OEM spec tire for the Lexus to replace the ones you have on there. And from a dealer you paid full rate. Which has a premium over a specialty tire store of about 20%. If you do your research, or work with a good guy at the specialty tire store you could get a tire that was every bit as good, if not in fact BETTER, than the OEM spec unit for considerably less. And driven out the door with four new tires for the price of three….or just three for the above mentioned strategy.

For those of you who are Legal OnRamp members, the rest of the reply can be found here, but even if you aren’t, you get the picture.

And so how does this random soliloquy on tire purchases tie in to settlement negotiations?

Settlement Advice: Avoid the Assembly Line

The unexpected lesson lies in the advice I was given — advice that might apply to somebody, but clearly not me. Jeswald Salacuse wrote about how to give advice in The Art of Advice; it says a few things that apply here, including:

The advisor [often] comes to see a client as a specific type of problem rather than as a unique individual in a particular circumstance with a special set of needs, resources, and desires. Through sheer routine, the advisor becomes like an assembly line worker who attaches the same component to each auto chassis that passes his way.

My wife often reminds me that a solution in search of a problem doesn’t help much, and apparently Mr. Salacuse agrees.  But let’s go back to the tire advice that arrived in my inbox that day. According to the reply I was to “do [my] research” or “work with a good guy at the specialty tire store” and, apparently, bypass my dealership in order to buy tires at a discount.  My critic assumed that the amount of money leaving my wallet was the only important thing to me.  But there were other equally important factors in my equation:

  • I have 3 kids, none of whom live near a specialty tire store;
  • I have a job, which isn’t near a tire store, either; and
  • My dealer has a car loaner service that gets me through the service bay and back on the road in under 5 minutes.

Somehow, the Tire Mart wouldn’t solve my problem — even if their tires are a little cheaper.

Parting Advice from Jeswald Salacuse

I’m not done with Mr. Salacuse’s book yet, but there are more tips in there that we’d all be well-served to remember, like:

Good advice must always meet your client’s needs and circumstances, and your client is usually the best source of that information.

Yes, I added the emphasis to that sentence, and for a reason — settlement advice starts with the client. Before you tell your client that 80 cents on the dollar is a great deal because it’s a better deal than you’re used to, and before you advise that $5,000 is nothing to pay for this sort of claim, ask your client a few more questions. You’ll be glad you did.


John DeGroote

John serves as a mediator and arbitrator in complex business, technology, and intellectual property matters involving parties and interests around the country and beyond — often before litigation is filed. Prior to his service as a mediator and arbitrator, John served as the lead settlement negotiator in hundreds of cases,… MORE >

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