Secrets to Settlements: How Neutrals at ADR Systems Settle Difficult Cases - ADR Systems

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With a settlement rate of 91%, our neutrals show that they have the skills to settle cases. Although this number is impressive, it does not mean that all cases are easy to settle. Sometimes, a difficult case comes along in which our neutrals must take a non-traditional approach as they facilitate negotiations, think inventively and go the extra mile to serve our clients. Here’s how they’ve done so in several notable instances.

Unique Breakout Rooms Arrangement

Several years ago, Hon. Stuart A. Nudelman, (Ret.) handled a complex commercial dispute involving claims of embezzlement within a municipality and multiple parties from insurance companies, government agencies and other organizations hailing from the United States, United Kingdom and other parts of Europe. Negotiations had stalled in part because of the sheer number of parties involved in the case and the challenges that come with communicating amongst them.

Judge Nudelman came up with a plan to break through the gridlock. He set up breakout rooms with multiple combinations of parties and reviewed specific portions of the proposed settlement with them. When one group agreed on terms, he brought in the next group and kept swapping groups until everyone agreed. The case took 17 ½ hours to resolve.

“With these cases, the key is to make sure that the parties are being honest with you about what they need to resolve the case,” said Judge Nudelman. “You should keep the mediation open as long as the parties are willing to continue negotiations. With this case, I developed the forum, structure and process they needed to help them get this matter settled.”

Multiple Sessions and Persistent Follow Up

Ideally, parties will settle by the end of a single day of mediation, but that does not happen all the time. The key to getting those cases to settle in subsequent sessions, according to Hon. Christopher E. Lawler, (Ret.), senior mediator and arbitrator at ADR Systems, is persistent follow-up.

When working on a wrongful death case involving a person who died in a vehicle accident while trying to help someone else get to safety, Judge Lawler maintained the lines of communication with the parties to keep them focused on the next step in their journey toward a resolution.

The case was uniquely challenging, Judge Lawler explained, because the defendant was an international company not familiar with Illinois law. They therefore offered settlement figures that were lower than they would have likely paid if the case went to trial based on Jury Verdict Reporter data. Judge Lawler would relay their offer to the plaintiff, knowing, inevitably, that it would not be enough. When the case did not settle in the first session, Judge Lawler proactively coordinated another session to keep the parties moving toward settlement. After some months, thanks to Judge Lawler’s persistence and ability to listen to both sides, the case was settled.

“A case doesn’t always end when the mediation ends,” said Judge Lawler. “It’s the job of the mediator to allow parties to take time to let the mediation sink in and let both sides reevaluate their position, if need be, and come together again in another session.”

Arbitration and Mediator’s Recommendation

Hon. Dennis J. Burke, (Ret.) once mediated a case between two attorneys involved in a business partnership dissolution. Though Judge Burke helped them work out the financial portion of their settlement agreement, interpersonal problems between the parties arose, complicating settlement negotiations. The two parties went from being amenable to most provisions to not agreeing on anything at all, each one blaming the other for their inability to agree. With the case stalled by personal grievances, Judge Burke had to devise a plan to make sure negotiations would continue.

To help the parties move out of the quagmire, Judge Burke recommended that each side agree to arbitration stating that if they didn’t settle by their last mediation session, he would arbitrate the case and rule on how the case should be settled. Though the parties still had animosity for each other, they had come to trust Judge Burke and were able to continue the mediation. On the final day of mediation, the parties remained at an absolute impasse. They agreed to ask for a mediator recommendation. A mediator’s settlement recommendation can be a specific dollar amount or a settlement range. In this case, Judge Burke’s recommendation was accepted by both sides and the parties agreed to settle.

“In these emotional circumstances after lengthy negotiations, it often helps to ask for a mediator’s recommendation on how the parties might settle,” said Judge Burke. “They, of course, do not have to take the recommendation, but if they do, it may benefit everyone. I know that even if the parties won’t listen to each other, they might listen to me.”

Whether it is devising a unique design for mediation negotiations, consistently following up with parties to continue to cultivate negotiations or moving negotiations to the finish line by either offering to arbitrate the matter or providing a mediator’s recommendation, neutrals at ADR Systems use innovation and good common sense to assist the parties in their quest for a mediation settlement. Our high settlement rate is the product of our neutrals’ hard work and abundant creativity.


Hon. Stuart A. Nudelman, (Ret.) is a senior mediator and arbitrator at ADR Systems, specializing in commercial, personal injury and professional malpractice matters, among many others. He is experienced in high-value, multiparty mediations, and has resolved more than 1,500 mediations and arbitrations throughout the United States. As a mediator, he settled the largest embezzlement case in US history in a marathon 17-hour mediation. Judge Nudelman is known for his ability to skillfully manage emotionally charged, complex cases.

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Hon. Christopher E. Lawler (Ret.) has more than 33 years of experience in personal injury and commercial matters as a respected litigator and sought-after pretrial judge. As a jurist, he pretried over 1,200 cases, handling some of the largest cases in Cook County history. Judge Lawler applies his legal knowledge and his experience from decades of community involvement to his mediations and arbitrations. His volunteer service has given him important insight into the needs of a wide variety of people, helping him to better facilitate the resolution of disputes.

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Hon. Dennis J. Burke, (Ret.) has expertise in both commercial and personal injury matters. Following a 23-year legal career, he spent 15 years in the Cook County Circuit Court Law Division. An early advocate of alternative dispute resolution, Judge Burke created a program to mediate complicated discovery disputes – a program that is still used in the Circuit Court today. Judge Burke is well known for his keen ability to build trusting relationships with all parties.

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ADR Systems, It’s Settled.®

Judge Burke is an excellent mediator.  He has one of the best demeanors of any judge I have appeared before in court.  He is also one of the most knowledgeable mediators as well.  His background provides him with an innate ability to spot the issues early on.  He works hard to get it done.  I would not hesitate for a second to use him again.

Mark Bazzanella, Esq.Mark Bazzanella Law Offices