Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Dick Francis Solution

Long before I ever heard about Fisher and Ury’s Getting to Yes, I started reading Dick Francis’ mysteries. For those not familiar with his books, Francis, formerly a steeplechase jockey, develops his novels around British horse racing. His protagonists, rather than being super sleuths, are usually fairly normal, civilized people who are forced to deal with extraordinarily uncivilized situations; his villains are some of the most evil and malevolent specimens in literature. What struck me when I first started reading his books, was that their focus was primarily on how situations could be resolved to best serve the interests of the protagonists — even if the solutions did not always result in all the villains getting satisfactorily crunched.*

With this background, when I was first exposed to Getting to Yes, it was relatively easy for me to understand what the authors were getting at when they discussed the superiority of focusing on interests rather than positions.

When a person is injured due to another’s fault, often the first reaction is a desire to punish the offender. If I have been hurt because someone else was careless, I want the other guy to suffer as much as, or more than, I have. It is difficult for the lizard part of my brain to accept that the aim of the civil justice system is not punishment. Sometimes this initial reaction will fade with the passage of time, but not always and usually not completely. A plaintiff’s lawyer who expects a case to settle must work with his or her client to overcome this natural reaction.

"Revenge," the proverb says, "is a dish best served cold." But, in truth, it isn’t a dish at all. Revenge doesn’t put food on the table, replace lost income, or pay medical bills. Revenge doesn’t put your kids through college or provide for your retirement. And, largely because of liability insurance, the defendant will never feel the financial pain he or she has inflicted on you.

The sooner a plaintiff accepts the reality of the situation and is ready to make decisions based on what is best for him or her, as opposed to what is bad for the other guy — to accept the Dick Francis solution, in other words — the sooner a case is likely to settle and the plaintiff can move on with his or her life.

* Some examples are Risk (1978), Reflex (1981), Straight (1989) and To the Hilt (1996).

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