The work of defence lawyers in civil litigation has been neglected by law and society studies. Research on personal injury cases, in particular, has usually focused on the alleged failure of legal systems to compensate plaintiffs as fully and as quickly as they believe proper. The defence lawyer is conventionally portrayed as a pettifogger in the classic sense, one who seeks points of detail on which to argue, delay and confuse issues until the plaintiff reduces their demands, dies, loses heart or otherwise goes away. Recent work has been widely taken as proposing that the most effective plaintiff response is to harry defendants in an aggressive and uncompromising fashion–so-called ‘hard bargaining’. This paper combines data from two studies of personal injury litigation carried out in the late 1980s and the mid 1990s to question this conclusion. Although the procedural environment has changed in England since the implementation of the Civil Justice Reforms in April 1999, it is argued that the general points on methodology and on the starting assumptions of socio-legal research remain valid.