Apart from a strong case, one of the best weapons you can have at your disposal in a litigation setting is an understanding of psychology. Whether you’re a plaintiff or a defendant, the best advice any experienced lawyer could give you is to understand how your opponent thinks. Knowing his or her motivations and expectations will help you determine how they are going to proceed. Would they consider a settlement? Are they likely to proceed rationally, or will they allow their emotions to cloud their judgment?
Knowing just a few things about your opponent can help you make some educated guesses on how likely he or she is going to be willing to pursue the case or settle it.
Employment: Knowing what your opponent does for a living is a key step to understanding how they will behave. For example, if he or she is an engineer, doctor, or (God forbid) a lawyer, they will be well educated. Educated litigants are more effective. To pursue any legal claim, either as a plaintiff or defendant, requires research skills, analytical skills, advocacy skills, and public speaking skills. These skills come more easily to a person with a higher level of education.
However, educated people will more likely view the matter more dispassionately than a truck driver or lifeguard, and are far more likely to consider a reasonable settlement. In contrast, uneducated people may view the matter differently. They may take it personally, and settlement discussions with them may not be as fruitful.
If your opponent is unemployed or retired, then you can assume that he or she has a great deal of free time on their hands, and will have time to research the law, file motions, and appear at hearings because they have nothing else to do. If you have a job, then you might consider a settlement only because you don’t have as much time to fight as your opponent does.
If your opponent runs their own small business, then you can assume that they have the freedom to go to court, but they will also more likely view the case in terms of dollars and cents. The less emotional they are, the better your chances of settling the case.
Finances. Our individual financial circumstances greatly affect the way we think. Wealthy people are less concerned with small sums, and often figure their time is more valuable. Some well-off people may actually think small claims court isn’t worth going to because it’s unseemly to argue over $1500 in front of a bunch of strangers. These generalizations work in your favor, but on the other hand, wealthy people usually have attorneys that handle legal matters on their behalf. If your local small claims court allows attorneys to appear, that may work against you. However, there are significant advantages to representing yourself against an attorney. In contrast, if your opponent is of lesser means, they are far more likely to fight tooth and nail over a few thousand dollars.
Personal Obligations. Is your opponent married or single? Does he or she have young children to take care of? A married person may be pressured by their spouse to either fight you or accept a settlement, but if your opponent is a single parent with young children, then they are far more likely to settle rather than face the prospect of hiring baby sitters.
Age. If your opponent is in his or her early 20’s, they’re probably just getting started in life, and may look upon things less seriously than someone in their mid thirties who has a career and a family. A younger opponent may also be more intimated at the prospect of appearing in court, as opposed to an older, more experienced litigant. If your opponent is young and inexperienced, you should make it clear to them that the impending court proceedings are going to be very unpleasant, and will have a drastic effect on their future prospects if they lose. Such people are more likely to accept a settlement when they view the case in that light.