Dennis Wasser, a partner at Wasser Cooperman & Carter, is one of the top divorce attorneys in town the go-to guy for Tom Cruise in his divorce from Nicole Kidman, as well as casino mogul Kirk Kerkorian in his divorce from Lisa Kerkorian. But not all high-profile clients generate that kind of buzz because many cases are settled out of the public eye, a move that Wasser said is usually preferable to a trial.

Rebecca Flass

Question: Why is it better to settle than to go to court?

Answer: If the parties and their attorneys and their accountants can settle the issues, they can structure reasonable tax consequences, reasonable protections. If the court rules, there are tax dangers, there are corporate dangers, there are partnership dangers. There are all kinds of legal problems and financial problems that can't be resolved just because a judge rules.

Q: What percentage of cases do you settle?

A: Our firm probably settles 90 percent of the cases. The ones that go to trial usually are long, complicated, detailed cases.

Q: At what point would you bring up the possibility of a settlement?

A: Always.

Q: If you were going to suggest a settlement to the other side, how do you initiate that conversation?

A: Since I don't like to waste a lot of time, there's a phone call. And it's a quick phone call with me. I don't have long phone calls.

Q: Is one side more likely than another to suggest a settlement?

A: It's more likely depending on who the lawyers are and who the parties are. But I'll know very quickly in a case because there are lawyers in this town that are really not good at settling. They're good at trying cases and what they want to do is articulate their client's position.

Q: Which lawyers are least likely to settle?

A: They know who they are.

Q: Beyond reputation, how do you know if the other party is willing to settle?

A: There are certain issues that almost have to be settled, they are so dangerous. Some people cannot afford to have a public trial meaning, they cannot afford to have the data about their lives or their businesses out there in public. That argues strongly for a settlement. There are some people who physically can't go through a trial. It's too hard on them. Those cases have to be settled. There are some cases that are so complex and would take so long to try that if the parties are logical and they can suppress the emotion, those cases must be settled. The cases that should be tried or that have to be tried are where there's really a difference in the case law and so both sides think they have the right position, or it's in a developing area, or there's so much emotion they have to go to court and tell their story. But it should be rare that cases are tried.


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