Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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The wise client approaches the initial consultation with a lawyer with some ideas of what the client is trying to accomplish and with some perspective on his or her own situation. For such clients, the lawyer should be prepared to explain carefully how the process is likely to unfold, and help the client better understand their options. A lawyer can be confident that a wise client will listen carefully and trust the lawyer’s advice. But not all clients are wise. The simple client, for example, will come in for an initial consultation feeling aggrieved and agitated but uncertain what they are trying to accomplish or how to go about it. For example, an individual might believe they have been fired […]

A couple of recent experiences as a consumer of mediation services have made me wonder whether the practice is living up to its full potential. In one case, when the mediator and opposing counsel started talking about what was going to happen at trial, I told them that there was no way the case was going to trial. They already knew I had done my best to avoid engaging in motion practice, discovery or other forms of litigation activity, and they also knew that the cost of taking the case to trial would almost certainly exceed the amount in controversy, and that my clients probably couldn’t afford it. Therefore I didn’t see much point in talking about what was likely […]

In my last post on the topic of how we initiate conflict resolution, I talked about how lawyers frame disputes in a way that may leave out some of the most important concerns of the parties. But the blame for turning a multi-faceted conflict into a contest over legal issues does not lie solely with narrow-minded or selfish lawyers. The parties also bear some responsibility for viewing their dispute in that way. Most new or potential clients walk into a lawyer’s office looking for vindication. They want to talk about the merits right away. They want to know which side is right, and which side is at fault. Since most clients are pre-disposed to believe they are in the right, […]

Mediators often describe the process they lead as antithetical to the traditional justice system. I do it myself, sometimes explaining to the participants in a mediation that we do things in mediation the opposite way from court. For example, I might point out that in a courtroom, the judge is the most important person, and arguments in court are directed at the judge; while in mediation the parties are most important, and arguments are directed at each other. Mediators also sometimes try to persuade parties that the process is much better than litigation. Litigation is “bad” because it’s expensive; or because it’s adversarial; or because it produces far from perfect results. Mediation is “good” because it’s consensual; or because it’s […]

I’ve heard a number of evangelists of the mediation world, most recently Lee Jay Berman in a talk SCMA sponsored this week in San Diego, talk about the seemingly limitless future of the mediation process. That future seems to depend on the public finally becoming more aware of the possibilities of mediation to resolve not only conflicts that have already worked their way through the court system, but also conflicts that have never even made it to court, or that might be unsuitable for court. But right now the public still seems only vaguely aware of mediation’s possibilities. People might have heard of resolving a divorce or other civil dispute out of court, but might still think that mediation is […]