Early neutral evaluation is a non-adversarial process used by parties to a lawsuit to obtain an unbiased assessment of various elements of their dispute, or the dispute as a whole, as a predicate to potential settlement. The process is entirely transparent; all parties receive Deborah’s entire legal analysis as a means to spur resolution.
The early neutral evaluation process is very flexible and can be customized in various ways. For this reason, the first step that Deborah takes is to hold a telephone conference with all counsel to determine whether the process will involve oral or written submissions (or both), the extent to which there will be presentation of evidence in person or through witness statements, and the procedure for submitting key documents. The scope of the process also can be discussed. For example, if there is a particular legal issue that is getting in the way of productive settlement talks, Deborah may suggest that her evaluation focus on that issue.
At a later date, after the parties have prepared and presented their core evidentiary and legal positions, Deborah typically poses a number of questions for purposes of clarification or exploration and to bring closure to the presentation process.
Deborah’s end product is either an oral or written evaluation that discusses the strengths and weaknesses of the parties’ positions, how the trial court is apt to rule, and an estimation of how the parties may fare on appeal. After the parties receive Deborah’s evaluation, they may choose to mediate the case with Deborah (or another neutral), or try to reach settlement independently.
The positives associated with early neutral evaluation include:
- Gaining access to a detailed, balanced preview of how the case may be seen by the courts from Deborah’s vantage point as a former Texas Supreme Court Justice;
- Facilitating a reality check that allows parties to develop an early and broad understanding of the dispute and its risks;
- Heading off the hardened positions or heightened expectations that can mark litigation; and
- Opening up the potential for extensive savings in litigation costs.
In high-risk, particularly contentious, or potentially precedent-setting matters, parties may desire that a panel of neutrals provide individual analyses for the sake of comparison. Deborah is available to serve on such panels and to make recommendations for additional panelists.
Early neutral evaluations are confidential and non-binding.