Earlier this week, the Northern District announced a court-wide Early Settlement Conference Program focused on reducing costs for litigants where there is potential for early settlement. The program was generated by the Northern District magistrate judges, in particular Judge Denlow. The plan provides that at the outset of a case, a judge can send plaintiff via ECF a "Notice to Plaintiff’s Counsel of Early Settlement Program." That Notice will require plaintiff’s counsel to conduct defendant’s counsel within fourteen days of receiving the Notice if defense counsel has been identified or within fourteen days of defense counsel filing an appearance, if not. If all parties are interested in a judicial settlement conference, they will file a "Request for Early Settlement Conference." The Request will cause a settlement conference to be scheduled before either the judge or an assigned magistrate judge. Additionally, the parties can file a Request on their own without first receiving a Notice from a judge, if all parties want a judicial settlement conference.
It is great to see that the Northern District is creating a formal process for requesting early settlement conferences. For the most part, my experience suggest that this program just formalizes the Northern District’s standard practices. But it is still very valuable, especially for litigants that are not as familiar with Northern District custom and practice.