The Dirty Little Secret of Legal Negotiation: Confidentiality Under Federal Rule 408 and Related State Laws

Richard C. Reuben
University of Missouri School of Law

September 4, 2014

University of Missouri School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2014-25

Abstract:

There is a widely held belief that legal negotiations are confidential in that communications made during those discussions may not be introduced in subsequent legal proceedings. However, this first major analysis of the primary vehicle responsible for providing this protection – Federal Rule 408 and related state laws – demonstrates how this is no longer true. Rather, relatively few legal negotiations today are covered by the rules, and the federal and state courts have carved out significant exceptions that render the rule a virtual nullity. This is especially problematic modern legal negotiation emphasizes significant disclosure of sensitive information. This article explains how we got to this point, and offers a theoretical framework for regulating alternative dispute resolution processes like legal negotiation that ultimately resolves the problem by shifting the Rule 408 categorical analysis to a simple two-part test: whether the settlement discussion evidence is necessary to prevent undue hardship, and whether it is otherwise unavailable. While current Rule 408 analysis generally leads to the admission of legal negotiation evidence, the proposed analysis provides a principled and pragmatic approach for balancing the fundamental tension between the confidentiality needs of legal negotiation the information needs of public adjudication.

The Dirty Little Secret of Legal Negotiation- Confidentiality Under Federal Rule 408 and Related State Laws

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