IBA: 'Shut Up Already' and Four Other Top Tips for a Successful Family Law Mediation

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By Elisabeth Edwards and Holly Wanzer of Jocham Harden Dimick Jackson LLP

Have you gone a little light on mediation preparation lately? It’s time to jump start your mediation mojo with some tips about how to get in, get settled and get out of the way.

Know your own case. This is sure to elicit a giant “No Kidding”, but it is amazing how many attorneys waltz into mediation with only a vague idea of the case. Mediators love, love, love the attorneys who take mediation as seriously as trial. They know every issue and their client’s position on each. They can articulate best and worst case scenarios, so they see the “middle ground” where settlement will likely occur. They know what their client’s hot-button issues are so they are not wasting time arguing over Aunt Mary’s World’s Fair spoon collection when their client just wants the blender. Be as ready to present the marital estate and child support calculations in mediation as you would be in court. (P.S. The prepared have fewer ten-hour marathons and more “it’s only 4:00 p.m. and we’re done…” days).

Prepare your mediator with the right information. The mediator has the pleasure of facing that sticky, icky issue in your case that is preventing it from settling. In order to settle, you are going to have to talk about it and all its ugliness. You do your client a giant favor by ’fessing up before mediation. Is it infidelity, gambling debts, passive-aggressive, narcissistic, overly emotional parties? Spill it. Please. (Even if the problem is your client). Hours of mediation can be saved if you craft a useful Confidential Mediation Statement instead of a 20-page dissertation of the relevant case law. The mediator does not need to read a treatise, but would appreciate the information which impacts how he will present information in each room. What is more beneficial is a list of the pending issues, including your client’s starting place and bottom line, and an explanation of the dynamics of the case. If you know that your client needs some “tough love” as to what is reasonable, or that one party will be extremely emotional, tell the mediator. Finally, is there a pending offer? Articulate it in your statement. You’ve just jumpstarted the mediation.

Prepare your client. Talk with your client prior to mediation to let her know the best and worst case scenarios if she goes to court. Explain that at mediation she will get neither. Mediation is compromise, and the client will need to do some horse-trading to end up with an agreement. Your client also needs to understand while it’s possible she will go to court and get her “best day”, there is tremendous value to ending the risk that she will get her “worst day”. Not to mention that a big win in court can result in a Notice of Appeal and the start of an expensive Round 2 in the appellate court.

Don’t draw a giant, grandstanding line in the sand. Nothing is more frustrating than the attorney who refuses to make counteroffers (“we stand on our last offer even though we’ve only been here two hours”). Mediation is not Theatre of the Law for your client’s entertainment. It is a serious attempt to find a solution. Saying no without suggesting another option or storming out prematurely in protest is a waste of your client’s time and money. If you don’t even give it a go, you may never know that the other side was just posturing and was prepared to meet your terms. There is a time to inform the mediator that your client is making a “final offer”, but that time is rarely 10:30 a.m.

Shut up already! Your job is more advisor than mouthpiece. Kindly shut up and let the client talk. Chip in your advice when needed, but don’t take over. The mediator will need your help with reality testing. While your mediator cannot opine as to what Judge So-and-So would do, the mediator can ask YOU to opine. Also, please remember who the boss is (and it ain’t you). There are a million reasons that have nothing to do with legal precedent that might make your client inclined to settle a case about his kids and his stuff. Even if you think a better outcome is possible at trial, the decision is your client’s. Advise the client if you don’t recommend the deal; then get out of the way and draft a CYA letter when you return to the office.•


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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.