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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. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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