Like most legal questions, the answer is generally it depends. My practice concentrates on two primary areas of law: family law (divorces, child custody) and personal injury law (automobile accidents, slip & falls). Settling the case means different things in each discipline but generally it refers to resolving the issue without have the court make the ultimate decision. The court may help along the way by steering the parties to mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution. But if the parties can reach an agreement without the judge having to issue a binding court order, then it is usually in their best interests to do so.
I settled several personal injury cases this week alone. In each situation the key to getting a fair offer is to work the case up as if you were prepared to go to trial. In doing so, you can be assured that the opposing party and/or their representative is well aware of that preparation and can make an honest representation to their client. I also take an extremely professional and courteous approach with the opposing attorney or adjuster because you are going to do business with these folks down the road again for sure. While I may not get the best deal in this case, I am laying the foundation for getting a better deal in the next because they know and can trust me.
But in the end, it has to make sense for the client. Take the time to educate them and really explain the tradeoffs in detail. They understand far more than many attorneys give them credit. And frankly, at this point it is not rocket science. Settling their case now might not get them all they want, but it does get them some or most of what they want sooner, with less emotional trauma, and in a more dignified setting. And they control the terms rather than being at the whim of the court. For many personal injury victims or family law disputes, this sense of control is a liberating experience that can work to resolve the case quicker, cheaper, and more efficiently.