Mediation firm champions comfort

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Carol Terzo proudly states that visitors will find no traditional office furniture at The Mediation Option. At this alternative dispute resolution firm on the north side of Indianapolis, even the dry-erase boards – made of bamboo – are designed to feel homey and inviting.

During a mediation, “There can be a lot of down time,” Terzo said as she pointed out a room where guests can watch TV, relax, or play Guitar Hero. It’s this laid-back atmosphere that Terzo and her associates say distinguish them from other mediators in Indiana.

Trading spaces

mediation group The Mediation Option’s attorneys, from left, Elodie Meuser, Carol Terzo, Lori Anne Perryman, and Noah Schafer, in one of the firm’s mediation rooms. (Not pictured is Emily Bubb). (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Last year, Terzo began to long for a change of scenery. She had worked for the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office for 22 years, presiding over many civil and family law cases in her roles as a commissioner, a master commissioner, and a senior judge. And she remembered an ADR course she had taken two decades earlier – perhaps the second such class offered in the state, she recalled.

“I thought it was such a wonderful thing to do,” she said about mediation.

So she decided she would open her own ADR office. She mentioned the idea to Lori Anne Perryman, an attorney working in the child support division of the prosecutor’s office. She told Perryman about her idea on a Monday, and by Tuesday, Perryman had decided that when Terzo left, she would go with her.

Perryman had worked for 10 years in the child support division and was known for her success in the collection of unpaid child support. But the job was demanding. “It’s hard not to take that work home with you,” she said.

Also a prosecutor in the child support division, Perryman’s friend Elodie Meuser liked Terzo’s dream of opening an ADR firm. “I was looking for something different,” she said. “I was tired of fighting – I felt like everyone thought I was the enemy.”

The three women decided they would begin looking for a space for an ADR office, finally settling on their location at 93rd and Meridian streets because they liked its proximity to Interstate 465.

Meanwhile, Noah Schafer, an attorney in the prosecutor’s office homicide unit, heard rumors that his colleagues were leaving to start an ADR firm. “I still thought maybe it was a half-baked idea,” he said. But once he talked to them and realized how much research they had done, he figured he should take a chance, and he joined them at TMO.

The four attorneys rounded out the staff with the addition of Emily Bubb, a registered family law mediator. Bubb is not an attorney, but Terzo thinks that’s an advantage – not all clients want to talk to an attorney.

“As you look at us, we all have various strengths and weaknesses,” said Terzo, who calls herself “the token old person.”

Every Friday, the group meets to discuss upcoming mediations and who is best-suited to talk to the parties involved. Terzo said they prefer two mediators to work on a case, a technique known as co-mediation, which she said is new to Indiana.

Some people may be more comfortable talking to a woman, a man, a non-attorney; but most importantly, Terzo said, clients seem to appreciate working with two people. The mediators may not always agree on the best resolution, and as they amicably discuss possible alternatives, clients can witness compromise in action.

ADR v. litigation

People save money by settling disputes out of court. But the less-tangible benefits of ADR may be equally satisfying for TMO’s clients and staff.

“Litigation has kind of a cookie-cutter resolution,” Schafer said, with outcomes of disputes being limited by the constraints of the court system. Perryman added that even when cases are settled in court, the parties involved are often left wanting something more.

“People didn’t have this complete sense of closure,” she said of the many cases she handled for the prosecutor’s office. “They really wanted to express these other things.”

Perryman said that being able to express themselves brings people a sense of relief, and if people can’t say what they want to say, sometimes, “It just festers, and the conflict never goes away.”

Terzo said it’s interesting to watch body language during mediation. Clients who are tense, with their arms drawn close to their body, may – by the end of mediation – be stretched out comfortably on the couch. Mediators can see the relief their clients feel.

All of the TMO attorneys say mediation works for most types of cases, even victim-offender cases. “Except murder,” Schafer interjected. And because of their background in the prosecutor’s office, Perryman says they are familiar with the tension that can arise from complicated personal disputes. If people should be kept apart, each party can be in different rooms, with the mediators literally going back and forth to reach a resolution.

Terzo said she thinks the cozy, inviting environment may help alleviate those interpersonal tensions, noting that even the tough-guy cable TV installers “oohed” and “aahed” when they saw the space.

Despite their best efforts, some issues cannot be resolved – or at least not completely.

In one case, a time constraint resulted in an incomplete mediation. Mediators resolved all but a few issues.

Budget-conscious clients may hope to achieve a lot in a minimal amount of time. Terzo recalled one mediation in which the clients wanted to resolve their conflict in one hour. While the TMO staff nodded in agreement about that being a short time in which to achieve results, Terzo said they were able to do it. The clients were so satisfied, they came back for further mediation.

Even when mediators can’t completely resolve a dispute, Schafer said, “It’s never a waste of time.” Often, one of the greatest benefits of mediation is simply being able to communicate. “They get to see how to talk to each other,” Terzo said.

Building a client base

Some clients find their way to TMO through the Internet, and many come through referrals.

Meuser said if judges have a case in court that they think could be resolved through mediation, they will provide the involved parties with the names of three mediators.

“I’ve been amazed so far,” Terzo said of the volume of clients they have had since opening in January. Schafer said the demand for their services demonstrates the necessity for mediation firms.

TMO’s clients sometimes attend mediation on their own, and people with active or pending court cases may bring along their attorneys.

Perryman said busy attorneys appreciate being able to remediate. Meuser recalled that at the prosecutor’s office she was unable to spend as much time with clients as she would have liked, which is one reason she enjoys her work at TMO – the time she spends talking to people.

Schafer said people in general may wrongly believe that attorneys deliberately drag out their work to increase billable hours. Quite the opposite, he says, “I think attorneys are happy when things get resolved quickly.”

“We make attorneys look good,” he said. “Especially when an attorney comes with a client to the office, and the client gets to see (his/her attorney) advocate for them in a way they can’t in court.”•


  • Satisfied Client
    I have used TMO, and specifically Mr. Schafer, to mediate dissolution of marriage proceedings and have been very satisfied with the outcome and the professional approach!
  • Good Job Guys
    Great attorneys that will do well in this specialty. Keep up the good work!!!

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  1. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  2. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  3. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  4. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

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