Why I became a mediator
To understand some of the reasons why I chose to stop being a solicitor and to become a mediator instead may help explain why mediation is worth a try.
I ‘saw the light’ in 2004, as a result of one case and at the very first mediation I attended as a solicitor.
My client had been in a partnership dispute for about 3 years by that time. There were both professional and personal issues. He had already spent a lot on legal fees, and so had his opponent. Everyone was seeking advice from barristers. Court proceedings had being going on for a year or two. There had been some attempts to settle the dispute, but none had got very far.
I found it difficult, as a solicitor, to be both the client’s ‘weapon’ and his ‘negotiator’ at one and the same time – and yet that was what was required.
It was a judge at the court who suggested mediation. No one was very keen, but both parties felt they had to give it a go. I know my client thought it was just a waste of time and money, and his opponent probably thought the same. For my own part, I thought mediation seemed like a good idea in theory, but doubted very much that it would work in this particular case. I am sure a lot of people feel the same was about mediation: there isn’t much you can criticise about the process, it just won’t work in your case, your client’s case, or whatever….
The dispute was pretty complex by this stage, so we agreed to an 8 hour mediation in London (some distance from where the parties lived), and all turned up on the day with very little hope and not knowing what to expect. And there were a lot of us there: each client had a friend, a solicitor and a barrister, and the mediator had a trainee with her.
I can sum up the bad things about the mediation, which were as follows:-
• Having to spend so long in a small room with my client, his friend and a barrister (the mediation ended up lasting 12 hours!)
• The fear I felt when my client had to meet and talk to his opponent face to face
• The worry that my client would become more and more angry as the day progressed.
But the good things far outnumbered these. Here is a list, in no particular order:-
• My client became calmer and calmer as the day progressed, if a little tired
• My client was tearful when he met and talked to his opponent, but seemed to change his perspective after that
• The 12 hours gave me a chance to understand my client better and to understand what it was he really wanted, and what motivated him
• My role was clearer: I was a negotiator only: perhaps a forceful one, but no longer a weapon in a battle
• We all learnt a lot more about the opponent’s case (although this was confidential)
• I think my client learnt and understood a lot more about his own case and the options he faced
• My client had a chance to ‘have his say’ and get things out of his system
• The mediator helped with all of the above, although I found it odd that she knew what was going on in the other private room, and we did not. This gave her an air of mystery, and it gave the process a feeling of suspense and urgency.
I am sure anyone reading this will be keen to know whether the case settled at the mediation. In actual fact, it didn’t! But I left determined to train as a mediator, and my client left in good spirits and confirming that he had nevertheless found the mediation process helpful.
For the next few weeks, everyone stayed in a ‘mediation’ frame of mind. More information was exchanged, and 3 weeks later, the case did settle. I am absolutely certain this settlement would never have been reached without the benefit of mediation, and certainly not at that stage. Legal costs would have been much higher by the time the case was resolved, and this would probably have affected both my client and his opponent.
This mediation changed my understanding of justice, my role as a solicitor and my own skills. It altered the course of my career.
For my client, it enabled him to settle and then set aside a dispute which had consumed much of his time and financial resources, and which would have continued to do so. He could move on with his life, which had reached a stalemate, in a far more positive frame of mind. He had had his say, and felt he had also been engaged in a process which was fair and balanced.
ADR Accredited Mediator & Independent Assessor, BA (Hons) Oxon, Psychology BSc (Hons)