Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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Most lawsuits end by settlement. Mediation is increasingly being relied upon as the court’s preferred mode for reaching a settlement. Therefore, instead of being thought of as an adjunct to the “normal” litigation process, mediation needs to be better integrated into the standard procedure for processing lawsuits. Let’s start with the courthouse itself. Since most cases are never going to be resolved by trial or any other sort of courtroom procedure, why do we even call it a courthouse? Why not call it, say, a dispute resolution center? Why start the process by filing a complaint? Would it not make more sense to initiate a dispute resolution proceeding by serving one’s adversary with a paper called something like a “notice […]

There seems to be a raging debate in the mediation community about the usefulness of joint mediation sessions vs. separate caucus sessions. Many mediators keep the parties and their attorneys in separate rooms almost from the outset. They do this to minimize animosity, and to avoid driving the parties further apart with hours of venting, accusations and counter-accusations. They do it because the parties and attorneys are often impatient to cut to the chase of negotiations, and feel no need to exchange information they already know too well. Other mediators believe there is a value in attempting to mend a broken relationship, or that the parties may need the cathartic experience of confronting each other and listening to each other […]

The resolution of conflict generally starts by looking backward. The parties bring their conflict to a neutral authority, whether a judge, arbitrator or mediator, providing the information necessary to allow someone to sort out who was right and who was wrong, who should pay and how much. Some practitioners in the mediation field are suggesting that mediation should be a more forward-looking process, and need not be as focused as it frequently is on the details of the conflict. When mediation instead asks the parties to think about how their lives might be better without the conflict, or about what aspects of their relationship are positive, then it can truly present an alternative way of resolving a dispute. I heard […]

Some mediators view the parties’ attorneys as an obstacle to achieving a settlement. I do not find that approach constructive. While attorneys may seem to have a vested interest in preventing settlement, more often the attorneys are just trying to get the best possible result for their clients. Attorneys also generally recognize that settlement is more likely to achieve the best result for their clients than taking on the risks and costs of trial. Most attorneys are pretty cautious, and most do not like to lose. That means that the attorneys are generally well aware that there is a good chance they will not be able to get as favorable a result at trial as their client is hoping for. […]

A lot of mediators will start off a mediation with the disclaimer that, unlike a judge, they have no power to decide the case. They are merely there to help facilitate a resolution. This strikes me as an unhelpful way to begin the proceedings. It seems better to remind the parties of all of the benefits of mediation that they cannot obtain in court. For example, mediation can provide an opportunity to make arguments directly to the opposing parties, as opposed to making arguments to a neutral party like a judge. Mediation also empowers the parties to craft their own solution to the dispute, rather than placing them at the mercy of a judge. Mediation makes parties the masters of […]