• The Party
• The Lawyer (solicitor, barrister, judge)
• The Mediator
• The providers
• The CMC
It is said that mediation is a party-focused process. It is the party who is at the centre. It is their problem, their solution, their process. This is the opportunity for the party to really have a day in court – a far better day than being in a real court. Here a party can say what they want, with all the feeling and conviction that they have, the only restriction being time (ie no more than twenty minutes) and courtesy (ie non-abusive) – and that it is free of bloodshed. Unfortunately the theory rarely works in practise. Too often the party is put in the background, sometimes by choice, and others speak (and negotiate) on their behalf. Which is a tragedy, for mediation provides the opportunity for each of the parties to tell their story – their story (not someone else’s version) – to the other side(s) and to then hear the other side(s) version of the same story. Done well it can help parties change position and provide reasons for them to become flexible in their approach to a solution.
So why does it happen so rarely? Firstly, it may be too early in the process. A party is inevitably cautious of the process (it is, after all, usually the first and only time that they experience mediation). They don’t want to say something that will be used against they in the future, or which may upset their lawyer. Too often a party, when invited to speak after their lawyer has made an opening statement, will say “no, my lawyer has said it all”. They haven’t! The lawyer has given the legal argument – there is a much more powerful one to be said by the party – it is their money (payer or receiver), their emotions, their life. Which is why many good Mediators have a fairly lengthy opening session, to give time for a party to settle down, feel confident about the process and then be stirred into speaking.
Similarly, the party should be the one to negotiate the deal. It is their problem, and their solution. Everyone else should be in support but the deal should be theirs. At the very least, the parties should be the ones to seal the deal, to agree the final details and shake hands. They need to own the outcome – that is why mediated deals stick.
Given the above, that mediation is a party-focused process, the lawyer is cast in a supportive role. The theory goes that the lawyer takes more and more of a back seat as the party leads the pathway to solution. For the solicitor, this means preparing the party, encouraging them to take a full part in the process, advising on legal merits, undertaking and reviewing risk analysis and supporting her/his party in their quest for a solution. This may be a challenge for someone who is normally a problem-solver and a fighter for the best deal.
For a Barrister this is even more of a challenge. Instinctively a leader, spokesperson and assumed negotiator, most find it difficult to allow others (preferably the party) to lead and for them to be advisor, supporter and encourager. Indeed, it may be difficult to justify a barrister’s fee in such circumstances! The worst thing that a barrister can do is muffle the party, grandstand the opening session and highjack the deal. Better not to attend at all.
“Non-lawyers make the best Mediators”
It is ironic that, for a party-focussed process where legal arguments fall quickly away and settlement occurs through commercial negotiation, lawyer-Mediators get most of the work. It should be common sense to most people that a mediator with a business background (who is used to the everyday pressures of running a business; to whom commercial negotiation is the stuff of life; who understands the importance of cash flow and who recognises the importance of spending time on wealth-creation and relationship-building rather than on paper-searches, witness statements and giving evidence in court) – that business-grounded person is of much greater value to the mediation process that someone who understands and practices the law.Read More