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IBA: Making Choices in Mediation

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By John C. Trimble, Lewis Wagner, LLP

One of the true ironies associated with the popularity of mediation is that many parties are refusing to negotiate outside of mediation. This is unfortunate and wasteful. Smart lawyers realize that they can still settle a case without mediation, and they are reserving mediation for the tougher situations.

The most basic rule of choosing a case for mediation is that about any case can be mediated. About the only thing that will make a case unsuitable for mediation is if it is too small to justify the attorneys fees and mediator fees associated with the process. Even so, some small cases end up in mediation because the costs of going forward to trial are even greater than the cost of mediation.

trimble Trimble

One thing to remember in choosing cases for mediation is that there are no hard and fast guidelines as to what makes a case attractive for mediation. For example, some may take the position that a case cannot be mediated when there is a dispositive issue that is awaiting ruling by a trial judge. Even in such a case, the parties may be in a position to assess the possibility of the ruling going for or against them, and they may be willing to compromise based upon their assessment of the risk. Another example may be the case in which a party is afraid to settle because of the precedent that could be set by paying a claimant even one dollar. Such a case may be susceptible to settlement if a confidentiality agreement can be obtained. A third example may be the case in which the person prosecuting the claim is motivated by principle. The case may be settleable if the person’s needs can be met even if principle cannot necessarily be fully addressed.

The bottom line is that every situation that is going to cost a client money to try should be submitted to mediation if it cannot be settled beforehand.

Once the decision to seek mediation has been made attention turns to selecting a mediator. Deciding who to choose is an imprecise science. However, it is a step in the mediation process that must be taken very carefully. You must begin by weighing the temperament, knowledge, age, experience, and personality of your client, the opposing attorney, and the other party. It also helps to have some idea as to which of the parties or attorneys in the case will need the most persuasion in order for the case to settle. Depending upon the mix of these factors, there are some cases in which you need a mediator who has knowledge in the area of law that is the subject of the case. In other caes, you may need an older mediator; you may need an aggressive mediator; or, you may need a patient mediator.

If you choose a mediator from among a group of mediators who are known to be highly experienced, then you are probably not likely to need someone who has a great deal of specific experience in particular field of law. On the other hand, if you are handling a case in which your opposing counsel and opposing party do not know a great deal about a particular area of law, it sometimes helps to have a mediator who has some credibility in that area.

In choosing a mediator, it is advisable to call other attorneys who have used that mediator to find out his or her strengths and weaknesses. If other lawyers have had a good experience with the mediator, then you probably will too. The question is sometimes asked whether is its detrimental to a defendant to have a plaintiff’s attorney serve as a mediator or detrimental to a plaintiff to have a defense attorney serve as a mediator. The answer to that question boils down to who needs to be persuaded. For example, a plaintiff’s attorney serving as mediator may be more persuasive in getting a plaintiff attorney and plaintiff to compromise than a defense attorney would (and vice versa).

What you definitely don’t wish to do is to simply strike a name from a court-approved list without knowing something about the person you are choosing.•

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  1. If real money was spent on this study, what a shame. And if some air-head professor tries to use this to advance a career, pity the poor student. I am approaching a time that i (and others around me) should be vigilant. I don't think I'm anywhere near there yet, but seeing the subject I was looking forward to something I might use to look for some benchmarks. When finally finding my way to the hidden questionnaire all I could say to myself was...what a joke. Those are open and obvious signs of any impaired lawyer (or non-lawyer, for that matter), And if one needs a checklist to discern those tell-tale signs of impairment at any age, one shouldn't be practicing law. Another reason I don't regret dropping my ABA membership some number of years ago.

  2. The case should have been spiked. Give the kid a break. He can serve and maybe die for Uncle Sam and can't have a drink? Wow. And they won't even let him defend himself. What a gross lack of prosecutorial oversight and judgment. WOW

  3. I work with some older lawyers in the 70s, 80s, and they are sharp as tacks compared to the foggy minded, undisciplined, inexperienced, listless & aimless "youths" being churned out by the diploma mill law schools by the tens of thousands. A client is generally lucky to land a lawyer who has decided to stay in practice a long time. Young people shouldn't kid themselves. Experience is golden especially in something like law. When you start out as a new lawyer you are about as powerful as a babe in the cradle. Whereas the silver halo of age usually crowns someone who can strike like thunder.

  4. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

  5. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

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