Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Mediation and Conflict Resolution Can Save Money, Time and Sometimes Heartache

One of the things that I have the privilege of doing during the summer months I'm in the West is mediate in small claims court in the county where I reside. Many years ago, I spent a winter in Albuquerque/Santa Fe, New Mexico training as a mediator --- mediating in the courts and and teaching peer mediation skills to middle/high school students in that area. We sometimes trained negative gang leaders and observed how this training often turned them into positive leaders. It was a great learning experience for me in many ways.

Today, I have some thoughts on mediation---what it can and can't achieve---and what a valuable resource it can be at the right time, in the right place, for people who have conflicts that must, sooner or later, be resolved. Make no mistake, mediation is not a panacea, however, in numerous instances, it can be used with great efficacy for solving real problems.

In Teton County and the court here, mediation is strictly voluntary. Approximately 40-50% of litigants choose to mediate with us (The Center for Resolution), and of those, almost 70% settle their cases outside of the courtroom. It helps to have judges who support and encourage this process. Many people who decide to mediate their case are completely befuddled when they enter the mediation room with us--we usually mediate in pairs and often allow observers in the room---but come out of the 2-3 hour process simply amazed at what they were able to accomplish.

While not all disputes can or should be mediated, many are well worth the effort, and can save litigants or potential litigants huge amounts of time, in the form of lawyers fees. Over the years, I have mediated many kinds of contracts, landlord/tenants, homeowners associations and medical disputes.

While there are many issues that need to go to court, I have to say many things should be mediated as a first response to trouble. Homeowner associations (where thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, are often spent on lawyers fees to resolve neighborhood squabbles) should require mediation before litigation.

The next time you make a contract with someone, make sure you require mediation for any and all misunderstandings, before anyone hires a lawyer. Incidentally, I have found that lawyers often make the poorest mediators, because they're trained to be advocates for one side or another and also to be combative.

Mediation requires neutrality and the ability to keep the process on track so that the participants can ideally work out their own solutions without the judge doing it for them.

If you're looking for a mediator, I suggest getting someone middle aged with plenty of life experience and a practical perspective. I find young mediators too idealistic and often bleeding hearts who can't be neutral or firm. And don't get a radical feminist to mediate anything. There are far too many out there with axes to grind.

1 comment:

Pam said...

Good for you Web! Is there anything you can't do or don't do? LOL