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Mediators' Midwest conference attracts top names

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Indiana Lawyer Focus

The Indiana Association of Mediators is thinking big and reaching beyond the state’s borders.

The association will host a heavy hitter in alternative dispute resolution in a few weeks, staging the Midwest Mediation Conference that will draw professionals from around the region for two days of intensive, interactive training. It’s the second annual conference by that name, but IAM has previously staged similar gatherings under different titles.

Mediators-4-15col.jpg Indiana Association of Mediators President Kim Van Valer, of Greenwood, (right) and past president Mary Hoeller, of Indianapolis, stand outside the venue for the upcoming Midwest Mediation Conference, which offers continuing education credit for attorneys, mediators and social workers.(IL photo/Eric Learned)

“We look nationally when we try to pick a speaker,” said IAM President Kim Van Valer of Van Valer Dispute Resolution in Greenwood. This year, the keynoter is Los Angeles-based mediator Lee Jay Berman, a pioneer in ADR who has handled more than 1,700 disputes and is founder and president of the American Institute of Mediation. Berman also is a co-host of “Talk It Over,” a radio program about dispute resolution.

Berman recently conducted mediation training in Australia, and he said the practice “can take on a local flavor, and can also find different hurdles in gaining acceptance.” 

He said the mediation market has surged in the past 15 years, and that’s presented its own challenges. “We have also had to get smarter about managing the mediation process in front of advocates, insurers and participants who have themselves been through hundreds of mediations.” 

Bringing in varying perspectives has been a hallmark of the group’s past sessions.

“The reason we call it the Midwest Mediation Conference is we send out (invitations) to mediators in surrounding areas,” said Immediate Past President Mary Hoeller, an Indianapolis mediator and attorney in private practice. Hoeller said past conferences have drawn attendees from Chicago, Louisville and as far away as Tennessee. The event also has gained a broad appeal because of the quality of presenters and focus on technique.

“These speakers are generally really, really expen-

sive,” Hoeller said. “For folks in the Midwest, the value for your money is incredible. People wouldn’t be able to afford to fly out there and take a session” from someone of Berman’s caliber. “As a group, we bring them here.”

Van Valer said out-of-state mediators who come to the Indianapolis sessions broaden and enrich the discussions. “Mediation is done in different ways depending on the region and those who are involved and who’s mediating it,” she said. “We get a lot of pretty original ideas.”

The conference typically brings together a few dozen ADR professionals for sessions that focus on technique. The format gives attendees opportunities to try out what they learn in role-playing scenarios. This year’s event offers up to 6.8 hours of continuing legal education credit and up to 12.8 hours of continuing mediator education credit and a host of other educational credit opportunities for attorneys, mediators and social workers.

“It’ll cover the gamut of mediation,” said IAM Treasurer Rick Wacker of Wacker Mediation in Trafalgar, whose practice primarily handles family matters and redress mediation for the United States Postal Service. “It’s designed for someone who’s been mediating awhile. It is an advanced training, and for anyone who’s had some negotiation and mediation experience, I think it will be beneficial.”

Wacker said the conference has had success in past years attracting leaders in ADR including Robert Benjamin of Portland, Ore., and Forrest “Woody” Mosten of Los Angeles.

How-to tips are valuable since the art of mediation deals with disputes in which parties usually are at the table voluntarily. “Neutrals” must keep their skills sharp and techniques fresh to be effective, Wacker said. He recalled a session from a past conference in which Benjamin offered one approach that could be effective in his mediation work.

wacker-rick-mug.jpg Wacker

“He used the illustration of a blank check,” Wacker said, asking opposing parties to write the amounts they felt were justified in a particular instance. “When someone is willing to walk away from the table,” Wacker said, “show them the check and ask them, ‘Do you really want to walk away from this?’”

Hoeller said the hands-on nature of the conference is helpful. “You tend to learn more when you’re actively involved in your learning process,” she said.

Wacker and Hoeller agreed that training in past years has helped them focus on when they need to jump into the discussion between parties and when they should back off.

“I’ve learned not to be afraid to have persons face-to-face in the same room, and keep them there as long as you can,” Hoeller said.

Van Valer said she’s learned techniques and models that can do more than resolve problems in family law situations – tools that attempt to transform relationships. But knowing when to use them is important. It helps to have parties who are interested in learning ways they can resolve problems themselves. She said a trend in mediation has been involving mental health professionals in the process where needed.

Along with attorneys, caseworkers also may benefit from the upcoming conference.

Mark Fairchild is executive director of the Indiana Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, which has had a partnership with IAM for years. “Lawyers and social workers are both prime groups to get training for the mediation process,” he said.

Mediation is becoming a first option in family law situations for a host of reasons. “What we’re seeing more commonly are families that are looking for something that doesn’t go through some kind of formal process,” Fairchild said. He said many families perceive mediation as a process that promotes unity, and they are apprehensive about participating in other legal processes, such as filing suit in court, that could be divisive.

He said the economy also has been a factor in the rise of mediation because many families can’t afford matters that might otherwise take time and expense in a more formal process. For those who turn to ADR, Fairchild said, the mindset typically is, “If we can sit down and be civil with one another, maybe we can work this out.”•
 

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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