One issue that often bedevils a mediator is the role of legal counsel at the Mediation. The goal from the mediator’s perspective is to encourage the parties to find a settlement. A Mediation that does not arrive at a settlement, or does not at least set the stage for one by narrowing the dispute, must be considered a failure. Legal counsel may be part of the solution, but often times are part of the problem. Some litigation counsel are stuck in the belief that any concession by their client is a sign of weakness. Thus, if the dispute does not settle they and their client will be seen as weak. It is precisely because of this perception that counsel with this mindset ought to have the most invested in a successful process. The parties, with perhaps the exception of a mandatory mediation (even then it is not all that clear), are “at the table” to find a resolution for a variety of reasons; cost savings, husbanding of non-pecuniary resources, preserving of relationships, privacy and others. Counsel must identify with these goals and try to find a path to achieve them, not be imprisoned by their own ego because the resolution will necessarily be a collaborative effort, and not engineered by them. One way to get Counsel on board is to persuade them of the risk of not settling, not the reward of not doing so. This requires a mediator with experience; a strategic thinker and one with judgment who either has or can gain the confidence of all parties and their counsel.
The other challenge that I wish to address that often arises in mediation is where does the truth lies between the parties. This is where mediation and a trial or arbitration part company. Mediation is not a search for the truth like a trial. It is a search for a settlement. A skillful mediator must understand that and be able to subtly influence the parties so they are not invested in finding the truth, but rather in finding a resolution. The resolution may reflect, in some fashion, the respective versions of the truth, but that is not crucial. What it needs to reflect are the respective interests of the parties and how they have been able to rationalize those needs to achieve a settlement.