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Pre-Trial Discovery Decreases Likelihood of Settlement

by Victoria Pynchon
February 2009

From Settle It Now Negotiation Blog

Victoria Pynchon

From the Department of Counter-Intution we learn that our general assumption about pre-trial discovery -- that the open exchange of information will help align the expectations of disputants and increase efficiency by facilitating settlement /1 -- is probably inaccurate.

In When Ignorance is Bliss:  Information, Fairness, and Bargaining Efficiency, George Loewenstein, Department of Social and Decision Sciences and Don A. Moore, Graduate School of Industrial Administration, at Carnegie Mellon University, tell us that when "information . . . is complex or ambiguous enough to allow for different interpretations" by opposing counsel,

[s]elf-serving interpretations of fairness encourage biased estimations of the probability of prevailing in court and lead people to hold out too long, fight too hard, and settle too slowly.

Simply put, because we interpret incoming information as confirming -- and often strengthening -  our existing views, the "convergence" of adversarial views pre-trial discovery proponents hoped for, does not occur.  Rather, discovery tends to increase the parties' belief in the rectitude of their analysis, thereby proportionally decreasing the potential for settlement.  As Loewenstein and Moore explained:

In studies examining the self-serving bias, the magnitude of the bias was an extremely strong predictor of impasse, and two different manipulations that eliminated the bias led to close to 100 percent settlement compared to an impasse rate of about 25 percent in the absence of such debiasing.

The full article is well worth reading even though much of it is burdened with academese.

Because we attorneys pride ourselves on being able to "see the other side," here's an article entitled Confirmation Bias in Complex Analyses about a study in which intelligence analysts were provided with an analytic tool to help them overcome confirmation bias.  The tool -- Analysis of Competing Hypotheses -- was an

hypothesis testing matrix,” where the rows represent the evidence, the columns the hypotheses under consideration, and the cells the extent to which each piece of evidence is consistent or inconsistent with each hypothesis. The goals of the ACH matrix [were meant] to overcome the memory limitations affecting one’s ability to keep multiple data and hypotheses in mind, and to break the tendency to focus on developing a single coherent story for explaining the evidence—a tendency which [other researchers] hypothesized create[d] predecision distortions (and presumably the confirmation bias).

ACH [was] hypothesized to offset confirmation bias by ensuring that analysts actively rate evidence against multiple hypotheses and reminding analysts to focus on disconfirming evidence.

Absent the template, the process sounds a lot like that we attorneys use to test our theories and evaluate those of our opponents'.  Alas ACH provided the least amount to help to those study participants with professional analytic experience.  As the authors report, "ACH had no impact at all" on the professional analysts' tendency to give greater weight to the evidence that supported their theories and less to that which disconfirmed them.

What to do?  I'll attempt to find an answer before writing my next post.

______________________

Loewenstein and Moore quote Richard Posner on this expectation as follows: 

a full exchange of information…is likely to facilitate settlement by enabling each party to form a more accurate, and generally therefore a more convergent, estimate of the likely outcome of the case.

Richard A. Posner (1986:525) Economic Analysis of Law (3rd ed. Little, Brown 1986)

Biography


Attorney-mediator Victoria Pynchon is a panelist with ADR Services, Inc. Ms. Pynchon was awarded her LL.M Degree in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute in May of 2006, after 25 years of complex commercial litigation practice, with sub-specialties in intellectual property, securities fraud, antitrust, insurance coverage, consumer class actions and all types of business torts and contract disputes.  During her two years of full-time neutral practice, she has co-mediated both mandatory and voluntary settlement conferences with Los Angeles Superior Court Judges Alexander Williams, III and Victoria Chaney.  As a result of her work with Judge Chaney in the Complex Court at Central Civil West, Ms. Pynchon has gained significant experience mediating construction defect litigation.  Ms. Pynchon received her J.D., Order of the Coif, from the U.C. Davis School of Law. 



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Website: www.settlenow.com

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