According to USCS Fed Rules Civ Proc R 16, in any action, the court may order the attorneys and any unrepresented parties to appear for one or more pretrial conferences for expediting disposition of the action, establishing early and continuing control, discouraging wasteful pretrial activities, improving the quality of the trial through more thorough preparation, and facilitating settlement.
Status conference is one type of pretrial conference which is held after all initial pleadings have been filed. Judges use status conference to establish a time frame for concluding all pretrial activities. At this phase, judges may set a tentative trial date.
In some jurisdictions, certain kinds of disputes must be referred to a third party that will try to facilitate a settlement. The judge may refer the case to arbitration or mediation program. Arbitration involves submitting the dispute to a neutral third party who renders a decision after hearing arguments and reviewing evidence. In mediation, a neutral third-party mediator assists the parties to reach a negotiated settlement.
Judges use pretrial conferences to encourage settling cases. Pretrial conferences enable the judge and the lawyers to review the evidence and clarify the issues in dispute. Courts may set an issue conference, if a case has not been settled. Usually in issue conference, the lawyers appear at hearing before a judge without clients and try to make agreements called “stipulations” on undisputed facts or points of law. The issue conference helps to shorten the actual trial time. The judge sets a date for the trial, if a settlement does not take place through pretrial conferences.