Main Usefulness of Mediation Comparing Alternatives Nuts and Bolts Print



Practicalities become paramount once the benefits of mediation are clear and the parties are interested in exploring the possibilities further. These practicalities are particularly important for parties that are more familiar with litigation (or other options). Fortunately, the mediation process is quite benign and can readily be adjusted to suit the wishes of the parties.

Parties Control Style and Process. Not only do the parties control the outcome of the mediation, as discussed above, they also determine the mediation’s style and processes and can benefit from its flexibility. Choosing and agreeing on a suitable mediator is an important step that should be based on the needs of the parties and the fit with the mediator’s expertise and style. The parties can have significant input into the process and will be guided by the experience of the mediator in ways that increase the likelihood of reaching an efficient and satisfactory outcome. For example, meetings can be held at times and places to accommodate the parties, at the site of the dispute when helpful, or by telephone when necessary.

Mediation Process. The processes used in mediation vary according to the circumstances of the dispute and the style of the mediator. Typically, after some amount of background spadework to gather information and convene the parties, the mediation begins with all the participants together for a period of ground setting. Often, the mediator gives the parties an opportunity to make initial statements. From that point, the mediator may continue to work with the parties jointly or may separate the sides and have private meetings with each side as appropriate. While some mediators place great emphasis on shuttling between separated parties, often the greatest progress is made when the parties are able to hear directly from the other side what their goals and concerns are.

The mediator works with the parties to help them determine the best solution to their problems, rather than seeking to impose a solution from the outside. This ensures that the parties can live with the outcome, for there is no binding agreement until the parties reach an outcome that is satisfactory to them. When a satisfactory outcome is reached, the mediator can help with at least an outline of the agreement, which the parties generally will sign before leaving the mediation, although counsel may continue to smooth out the language and complete documentation of the settlement.

Timing of Mediation. A dispute can be mediated at almost any stage, although there tend to be stages at which it is more natural to turn to mediation, including the point before the complaint, after some discovery, prior to summary judgment motions, after summary judgment motions have been decided, prior to trial, and even after decision by the trial court but prior to the appeal. Of course, the earlier mediation can be employed, the greater the potential savings and benefits for the parties. It is worth emphasizing that the time prior to initiating litigation is a productive point at which to consider bringing in a mediator: many matters can be resolved through mediation soon after the initial dispute has arisen or demand letters have been sent. The overwhelming majority of litigated cases settle at some point, but those settlements are often the result of parties’ intense fear of losing control over the outcome, and commonly yield divide-the-baby settlements that are not optimum for either side. Mediating to more rationally resolve the dispute, often by expanding the analysis to consider the underlying goals and needs of the parties, is far superior to bandying about settlement numbers on the courthouse steps.

Choice of Neutral. While the neutrality of the mediator is fundamental, other attributes are also critical, including personality, temperament, and the parties’ ease in working with the mediator. One important substantive issue is whether the mediator favors a facilitative or evaluative style. That is, does the mediator work to facilitate the efforts of the parties to resolve the dispute based on their own determination of what is fair and proper, or does the mediator weigh in with a neutral evaluation of the situation based on the mediator’s own experience? Although retired judges often are viewed as naturals due to their judicial experience, they may in fact be better arbitrators than mediators. Some are so accustomed to deference or so highly value their own determinations that they are not able to roll up their sleeves and get deeply involved in helping the parties see their way to common ground. Finally, working with an independent mediator – who does not have the actual or perceived conflicts of a large firm – is also a plus.

When available, the best choice of neutral is a trained mediator who has subject matter expertise in the antitrust or commercial issues at hand. Selection of a mediator with subject matter expertise is desirable to keep the mediation process moving forward and ensure that it does not bog down from the need to give frequent explanations to the mediator. It would be unfortunate, for example, for the disputants to begin making progress only to lose the momentum when a mediator without adequate antitrust background pauses for a tutorial on the differences between per se and rule of reason analyses. At the same time, a neutral antitrust lawyer alone is not sufficient, because the value in mediation comes from a facilitator who has the training and skill to help parties circumvent the snags and squabbles that could prevent them from resolving their dispute.


Main Usefulness of Mediation Comparing Alternatives Nuts and Bolts Print