Tag Archives: mediation

Learn To Negotiate Like A Transactional Lawyer

negotiationI recently had lunch with  Mark Fingerman, a Los Angeles lawyer who has successfully transitioned from being a litigator to a full-time mediator. As I often do, when I get an opportunity to talk shop with mediators, I asked Mark some of his tips for successful negotiation. To my surprise, although Mark had been a litigator his entire career, his advice was to go a different direction entirely. “Litigators can increase the likelihood of success at mediation,” he said, “by acting more like transactional lawyers.”

This notion immediately made a lot of sense. After all, while it’s the mission of a transactional lawyer to get the best possible deal and terms for his client, their negotiations should very rarely result, as it so frequently does in the litigation context, in a stalemate. While a party to a lawsuit will sometimes view proceeding to trial as the best alternative to a negotiated agreement (aka “BATNA”), the job of transactional lawyer is generally to reach agreement and get the deal done.

While Mark’s advice made a lot of sense to me in the abstract, I started thinking what does this mean? What does it mean to negotiate less like a litigator and more like a transactional lawyer?

I followed up with Mark after our lunch, and suggested this might be fertile ground for a blog post. He was pleased for the opportunity to explain his statement in more detail, and also suggested that this very topic is one that he covers extensively in a CLE program he offers to law firms and bar associations called Mediation: Prepare to Succeed.† Here’s what Mark said:

“This involves, among other things: preparing for the mediation as a negotiation, including identifying the interests of the parties, settlement ballpark and necessary deal points; focusing at the mediation on reality and problem solving instead of advocacy and pressure; using the mediator to gain and communicate information useful to making a deal rather than trying to turn the mediator into a super advocate.” 

A major difference I see in Mark’s approach from the approach we typically take is his shunning of our common tendency to try to leverage the mediator to apply pressure on our opponent that we cannot otherwise apply. This is indeed a departure.

After all, we often draft extensive mediation briefs, with cites to specific exhibits, that are little different from the brief we might submit if the neutral were sitting as an arbitrator who would issue an award, and not a mediator engaged to facilitate settlement. In an earlier era, it was common to do a mini-presentation of the arguments and evidence we expect to present at trial. In sum, we attempt to persuade the mediator of the merits of our case, with the hope she will step into the next room, caucus with our opponent, and, acting as our “super advocate,” pound them into submission.

So, if there’s no pounding, what should go on? Just as Mark points out, the mediation becomes less about applying pressure and more about “focusing . . . on reality and problem solving.”

This is all good. But I still found myself wondering more about how transactional lawyers approach negotiations. So I consulted a book about lawyering from the perspective of a career transactional lawyer. In Lawyering: A Realistic Approach to Legal Practice, M&A specialist James C. Freund says this in his introduction to the discussion of negotiating a deal:

“Most of what takes place in the course of negotiations can be characterized as either attempting to get a leg up on your adversary or striking a compromise between your respective positions. I firmly believe that the key to effective negotiating lies in achieving a functional balance between these two seemingly inconsistent aspects. If all your efforts are directed toward gaining advantages over your adversary, you will undoubtedly come on too strong; and where the parties possess relatively equal bargaining power, with freedom to consummate the transaction or not, you may cause your client irreparable harm–such as losing the deal.” (Id. at 188 (emphasis added).)

Again, from a transactional lawyer’s perspective, the goal is not to pound the other side into submission or walk away with no deal. Instead, in the interest of getting the deal done, Freund counsels that we strive to achieve a balance between getting a leg up on our opponent and striking a compromise. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

†Mark Fingerman encourages anyone interested in this presentation to reach him by email at: mfingerman@adrservices.org.


When You’re Negotiating Against A More Powerful Opponent

683bb0e0a142476de0c3bb165379550cOne of my favorite books about negotiation is Getting To Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury. As the book jacket suggests, it really is “for everyone who has ever worried about what to do in a disagreement or dispute.”

Since I suspect that the majority–if not the vast majority–of negotiations are between parties of unequal bargaining power, I thought it might be interesting to dip into the book and see what Fisher and Ury recommend one do when he/she/it is negotiating against a more powerful opponent. One of the tools the authors advocate in this situation is for a negotiating party to formulate a Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). Just by knowing their BATNA a party becomes empowered in any negotiation.

The easiest way to get a feel for what the authors are talking about is by using their example:

“Consider a wealthy tourist who wants to buy a small brass pot for a modest price from a vendor at the Bombay railroad station. The vendor may be poor, but he is likely to know the market. If he does not sell the pot to this tourist, he can sell it to another. From his experience he can estimate when and for how much he could sell it to someone else. The tourist may be wealthy and ‘powerful,’ but in this negotiation he will be weak indeed unless he knows approximately how much it would cost and how difficult it would be to find a comparable pot elsewhere. He is almost certain either to miss his chance to buy such a pot or to pay too high a price. The tourist’s wealth in no way strengthens his negotiating power. If apparent, it weakens his ability to buy the pot at a low price. In order to convert that wealth into negotiating power, the tourist would have to apply it to learn about the price at which he could buy an equally or more attractive brass pot somewhere else.” (Id. at 107.)

Since I’ve visited the Bombay railroad station–it’s actually called the Victoria Terminus–this was an easy bargaining situation to picture. The authors just left out the part about the cows wandering along the platform. In any event, as they point out, “the relative negotiating power of two parties depends primarily upon how attractive to each is the option of not reaching agreement.” (Id. at 106.) If you can have a very attractive BATNA, your chips have greater value.

How do you strengthen your BATNA? The authors suggest this “requires three distinct operations: (1) inventing a list of actions you might conceivably take if no agreement is reached; (2) improving some of the more promising ideas and converting them into practical options; and (3) selecting, tentatively, the one option that seems best.” (Id. at 108.)

If we transition this discussion into a familiar setting, the pre-suit mediation of a hypothetical employment dispute, it may become easier to see how the whole BATNA thing might play an important role. Consider, for example, a single plaintiff who has a claim against her employer for gender discrimination. The parties engage in a mediation to see if the case can be resolved before she actually files a lawsuit. The individual employee might be anxious going into the mediation, since her employer is a large corporation with sophisticated lawyers at its disposal (at least they look sophisticated) and both she and her lawyer know it will cost a lot and be an uphill battle to pursue the case if the corporation is not inclined to settle. This sounds like an unequal bargaining position, doesn’t it? If they go in “cold” as it were, hinging their hopes on the corporation’s generosity, they’re likely to get steamrolled into agreeing to a settlement far below full value.

What can they do to enhance their BATNA and take away some of the corporate defendant’s power? Let’s apply the 3 step approach from Getting To Yes. First, the plaintiff and her lawyer “invent a list of actions” they might take if the dispute doesn’t resolve at mediation.  Here are some I invented for them:

  • Go ahead and file a lawsuit and serve aggressive discovery. (True, it’s not very original.)
  • Explore pursuing a class action instead of a single plaintiff case.
  • Aggressively investigate whether there are quality witnesses who will support plaintiff’s case.
  • Propose a second mediation session after the plaintiff has completed some (hopefully damaging) discovery.
  • Associate additional reputable counsel to help level the playing field.
  • Explore forum shopping options. Perhaps the corporation expects a lawsuit would be subject to mandatory arbitration, but the facts or current state of the law weakens the assumption that arbitration will be a suitable forum?

Step 2: “improving some of the more promising ideas and converting them into practical options.” I like the idea of a class action as a practical alternative option to a single plaintiff case. This is bound to put pressure on the corporation, as a class action carries both greater risk and greater expense. How to “improve” this idea? Do some investigation. Talk to plaintiff’s female colleagues. Even if their cases would not be particularly strong if pursued individually, they might have a chance in a class action situation.

Step 3: selecting which option seems best. Let’s assume there is some chance the plaintiff and her lawyer could organize and successfully pursue a class action (but would still prefer to settle her single plaintiff case at mediation), the question becomes whether to share your option with the opponent during the bargaining process. The authors say this:

“The desirability of disclosing your BATNA to the other side depends upon your assessment of the other side’s thinking. If your BATNA is extremely attractive–if you have another customer waiting in the next room–it is in your interest to let the other side know. . . However if your best alternative to a negotiated agreement is worse for you than they think, disclosing it will weaken rather than strengthen your hand.” (Id. at 109.)

Here you will need to make an honest assessment. Is the notion of converting the plaintiff’s case into a class action really just pie-in-the-sky? The corporation’s lawyers are naturally going to wonder, if the plaintiff reveals her class action alternative, why her lawyer isn’t pursuing that in the first place if there’s really a viable class. The corporation, knowing class certification can be a challenge which, if lost, tends to shake out meritless individual claims, might not be particularly cowed by the prospective of a weak class action.

On balance, I would probably not reveal this BATNA to the opposition, even if the plaintiff and her lawyer believe a class action is a viable alternative. What’s important is the actual balance of power, not just the corporation’s perception of the balance of power. Going into the mediation with the knowledge that she has a decent BATNA should give the plaintiff and her lawyer the resolve not to cave too easily.


I Don’t Always Do ADR . . .

993785_370610139728020_64149524_nBut when I do, I vastly prefer mediation to arbitration. Here are five reasons why:

1. The Split-The-Baby Problem.

I’ve had retired judges and other neutrals tell me they don’t like presiding over arbitrations because they invariably lose a future potential client: the lawyer for the losing side. There is one thing arbitrators will try to do to temper this inevitability: they may issue a “split the baby” award, giving an allegedly aggrieved plaintiff something even if he failed to prove his case or suffered no damages. While many will argue that a small “split the baby” award is far better than a runaway jury verdict, in cases involving fee-shifting statutes, such as employment discrimination litigation, the employer who might have won outright in front of a jury is forced to pay the “prevailing” plaintiff’s attorney’s fees (in addition to the arbitrator’s fees and costs).

2. Informality Is Not Necessarily A Good Thing.

It is often thought that arbitration is preferable to a bench or jury trial because the proceedings tend to be more informal. Informality might sound good, but it can be a problem if your arbitrator decides to relax the rules of evidence (which is typically within her discretion) and your opponent’s case hinges on an item of otherwise inadmissible evidence, such as a hearsay statement.

3. No Appellate Review.

What do you do if you lose the arbitration due to a clearly erroneous ruling by the arbitrator? Don’t look to any appellate court for relief. While it is true that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and other schemes may create a situation in which some appellate review is available, the circumstances and scope of review is inevitably limited compared with a state or federal appellate court.

4. Good Luck With That Summary Judgment Motion.

While it can be argued that certain courts are more or less likely to grant meritorious summary judgment motions, many will agree that obtaining summary judgment in a case pending before a private arbitrator may be the toughest sell of all. Without naming names, I suspect there are two reasons for this. First, an arbitrator who grants summary judgment is foregoing a significant income opportunity. While many first-rate neutrals are so fully booked they have no trouble filling time gaps created by a vacated arbitration hearing, this is not always the case. Second, a party who is deprived its right to a full evidentiary hearing because of a summary judgment will almost certainly feel shorted. Her lawyer is unlikely to hire the neutral again.

5. It’s Damn Costly.

Many practitioners feel as I do that arbitration is just too costly to be seriously considered as an alternative to resolving a dispute in state or federal court. In addition to the arbitrator’s hourly rate, which equals or exceeds that of most lawyers, many ADR providers tack on large administrative charges. Those of us that represent employers in employment litigation are stuck trying to explain to our clients why they must deposit, in advance, all of the arbitrator’s fees and costs.

I recognize these are pretty broad strokes. But in most instances, given the choice between a bench or jury trial and a binding arbitration, I’d prefer to stay in court and try to resolve the case through mediation.


Demystifying The Notion Of A “Mediator’s Proposal”

hhyygEvery lawyer whose practice includes mediating civil cases is bound at some point to come face to face with the concept of a “mediator’s Proposal,” also called a “mediator’s number.”

Here’s what happens: the parties have been mediating several hours or all day and they’ve reached a stalemate. For sake of example, let’s say that the plaintiff in an employment dispute has reduced her demand to $250,000, but signaled she does not intend to negotiate further without some radical movement by the defendant. At the same time, the defendant employer’s counsel has told the mediator they do not intend to come above $150,000.

At this juncture, the mediator could adjourn the mediation, particularly if she feels the parties have been negotiating in good faith and there are legitimate, insurmountable obstacles to settlement. However, if the mediator believes both sides genuinely would like to resolve the dispute, but just can’t reach a consensus, even after considerable arm-twisting, she may offer to give a “mediator’s number” as a theoretical last-ditch attempt to reach a settlement. (I say theoretical here because most hard-working mediators will continue the process even after the mediation session has adjourned through telephone calls to the lawyers and/or corporate representatives for both sides.)

The mediator meets together with all counsel, but not the parties or corporate representatives. She gives the parties a number at which she thinks the case should settle, recognizing it is going to be less than the plaintiff demands, but more than the defendant is presently willing to offer. In the hypothetical above, the mediator might give $210,000 as her “mediator’s number.” The attorneys consider the number and either recommend to their client that they take or reject the number. Any party that is willing to accept the number advises the mediator confidentially. In this way, if only one side is willing to accept the offer, the other side is not made aware of this fact, which would surely jeopardize the willing party’s ability to credibly negotiate for a more favorable number at some later time. However, if both (all) parties confidentially accept the “mediator’s number,” she advises counsel and a settlement is reached.

I’ve heard of another version of this, in which each party confidentially tells the mediator his/her/its “bottom line” number. If the parties are within a previously agreed upon percentage or dollar amount, the mediator then discloses this spread as a “bracket” and urges the parties to find a meeting place.

I’ve never had a dispute in which the mediator gave a “mediator’s proposal” and the case did not ultimately settle at or near that number. But that doesn’t mean a “mediator’s number” is a good idea in every case. First, if you get a clear impression that the mediator is not completely impartial, then you might get a number that is skewed in favor of your opponent. It’s not always easy to tell if the mediator is biased, since part of her job is to “sit on” both sides in order to get them to come to the table. What you might interpret as evidence of bias might actually be a mediator doing a damn good job.

Second, if you and/or your client are truly entrenched in your position, and you really do not want to pay much more than you’ve offered, a “mediator’s number” could have the adverse effect of giving your opposition some undeserved false hope that her case is worth more than it reasonably should be. Until proven otherwise, I generally expect neutrals, both mediators and arbitrators, to “split the baby” in every instance. Thus, in my example above, I think it is much more likely that the mediator will conjure a number somewhere in the middle between the parties’ respective positions, than that she would give a number that is especially favorable to the defense–even if she thinks the plaintiff’s case stinks. Remember, the mediator’s job is to get the case settled, not make sure the settlement is appropriate to the facts of the case.

Finally, the possibility of a “mediator’s proposal” illustrates a larger point concerning mediation. Just as attorneys come in varying sizes, shapes and skill sets, so do mediators. It pays to be picky when selecting your mediator. Do your homework. This does not mean holding out for a mediator that is bound to be on your side. On the contrary, it can be much more important to have a mediator whose opinions your opponent (and her client) are likely to credit. But you should hold out for someone you reasonably expect will work hard to settle the case.


Five Sound Negotiation Pointers

90I recently participated in a conference about negotiation. I left with a list of negotiation “pointers,” short strategies to help keep your eyes on the prize when negotiating. I’ll share five good ones here.

1. Set your goals ahead of time and come prepared with alternatives. You (should) know you will be making concessions in the negotiation process; try to think of what concessions are acceptable and where you’ll need to draw the line. In this planning, also anticipate your opponent’s points and develop responses.

2. Make sure the other side feels heard and understood. Then make sure they hear and understand you. If either party to a negotiation is not being heard, it’s not really a negotiation.

3. Don’t be dragged into an emotional response. Condescension, rudeness or bullying should be firmly met. Don’t back down–remind them that you came prepared to make a deal and that you thought they did too, then transition back to the points you want to discuss. Once your opponent realizes their tactics are not intimidating you, they will likely stop.

4. “Horse trade” when making concessions. Try to make concessions conditional on an equal or greater concession by them. Also, before making a concession, try to find out what additional concessions they will ask for before signing an agreement.

5. Don’t be afraid to invoke a “cooling off period.” If you reach an impasse, or are not sure what move to make next, consider asking your opponent to give you 24 hours to consider their last move. A corollary is not to be so eager to make a deal that you make concessions you will later regret.

And, remember, we’re all counting on you.


Six Top Neutrals Give Their Best Mediation Tips

lklklklI asked several top Southern California mediators I know personally or by reputation to share their best “tip” for success at mediation. In exchange for their labors, I promised the prestige and notoriety of being featured on this humble but aspiring blog. Several neutrals cheerfully responded and provided some great tips. The following are the best 6 responses I received:

Jeff Kichaven (http://www.jeffkichaven.com): “Prepare, prepare, prepare.  Get your brief to the mediator a week before the mediation.  Give the mediator time to read it, think about it, read it again, and call you to discuss it.  That phone call – 10 to 20 minutes at most – can be the most important time in the whole mediation process.   Be sure to discuss:  (1) What are your biggest challenges in the mediation?  (2)  What are your expectations of the mediator?  (3)  What should the mediator know about the personalities of the participants?  (4)  Is an Opening Joint Session a good idea?  And, (5), What should happen if you or the mediator think that the other has a “blind spot” or just doesn’t get something?  The answers can vary widely from case to case!  Once the mediator knows your thinking on these subjects, he can prepare for the “people issues” as thoroughly as he can prepare for the legal and factual issues.  The mediation will be specially designed to meet your needs, and the needs of your client, in this particular case.   This kind of preparation will help get the mediation off on the right foot, and almost always lead to greater client satisfaction with the result, with the process, and with your performance as counsel.”

Mark Loeterman (http://www.mlmediation.com): “Information translates into power, both in litigation and at mediation. The careful use of information is an integral part of your bargaining strategy. At the outset, it is important to plan what information you need to obtain from, and provide to, the other side so the parties can have a meaningful negotiation. Lawyers are guarded about the information they reveal. They fear giving up some advantage or losing the opportunity to surprise an unsuspecting witness. Here are some practical steps for handling information most effectively. First, solve the information gap. Ask the other side questions that are designed to buttress your position or better evaluate risks. Next, consider offering discreet information which shows strength and confidence in your case, such as an analysis of damages or a case citation that supports a decisive legal principle. On the other hand, negotiators must understand how they can protect their most important and sensitive information. If you want to learn how to perfect these “blocking” skills, simply watch a politician being interviewed. Adroit politicians use a range of techniques to avoid answering even probing questions. Information is a valuable commodity. Thoughtfully timing and presenting select pieces can yield significant concessions from your adversary. The mediator can arrange an exchange of information that is orderly and reciprocal, and can clarify the positions being taken, assuring that no party feels vulnerable and manipulated by a one-way disclosure.”

Michelle A. Reinglass (http://www.reinglassadr.com): “Some parties have difficulty giving up their lawsuit. If asked, “Are you ready to settle and put it behind you?” they may answer “yes”, but their actions belie that. The plaintiff may have difficult letting go of the one thing that has kept him/her going-the chance to get redemption, or revenge. The defendant may not want to let go because of the fear of looking weak, or setting precedent (despite promises of strict confidentiality with “teeth” for a breach). Fortunately most cases do settle, but for those that can’t, I follow them until the “end”, which is too often predictable. So, how can a party going to mediation wean themselves away from the lawsuit? First is getting reality checks about the merit, value & risks of their position. For most that will require “processing” to reach that understanding. Second, is seeing the positive picture of their life without the lawsuit as a major part of it, draining (more like “sucking out”) their energy and good health. It helps to focus on their positive goals beyond “revenge”, giving themselves their own redemption, not relying on someone else such as a judge or jury, to give it to them, which will often be disappointing; or focusing on getting a job, or performing better in their personal and business lives, or putting their energy back into running their business without employees distracted by depositions , “gossip”, or their own fears. I have often said that litigation is negative energy. I enjoy mediating for the opportunity to bring people and businesses back into the positive energy of life, rather than the drain of a lawsuit.”

Jan Frankel Schau (http://www.schaumediation.com): “Be prepared to be flexible. You can’t map out your strategy until you know what or who is driving the conflict, what path will work best for an exchange of communication and until the necessary emotion and anger and disappointment is expressed–to somebody–even if indirectly to the other side of the dispute.”

Mike O’Callahan (http://www.mocadr.com): “My single best tip for a successful mediation is for counsel to budget and make time and properly prepare for a pre-mediation call with the mediator. The call is independent for each party involved in the litigation and lets them know you have read their brief and you can question specific areas without the posturing that some lawyers feel they must do in front of their clients. Too many times counsel submit their briefs less than 5 days before and throw something together at the last-minute or they send a 160 page brief the night before the mediation. Either way the brief is not very useful. An opportunity missed to educate the mediator by counsel. The mediator has to be proactive and make sure the parties know there is a deadline for the briefs to be submitted that will allow the mediator time to review before the pre-mediation call. The call can then be used to determine what, if any, settlement discussions have taken place and the potential range of exposure for the parties before they walk in the door for the mediation. Also, it allows the mediator to ask for supplemental information before the mediation and focus on common ground to form a global resolution at the mediation.”

Hon. Michael A. Latin (ret.) (madjjk@hotmail.com): “The mediation, though designed to bring the parties together, is still part of an adversarial process. Therefore, appear fully armed and loaded with all of your ammunition. Bring all of your critical reports, documents, deposition transcripts, and even a critical witness if necessary. Remember, that while you have been living with this case for a year or more, the mediator has very little concrete information when the mediation begins. Often, the two sides give completely opposite versions of the state of the evidence on the same issue. One side may be more truthful than the other or there may be information gaps that prevent one or more parties from making a fair evaluation of their case. If the mediator doesn’t have anything tangible in front of him or her to evaluate the relative strengths of the parties’ positions or representations, resolution becomes problematic – particularly where one side is either incorrect or misrepresenting facts. Give the mediator the tools to flush out those issues during the mediation by bringing everything you have in your possession that may refute misrepresented or contested facts. This includes documents and information that has not yet been turned over. Your opponent cannot evaluate those things about which he or she is unaware. I have had several cases that have settled because one side, which had information about which the opponent was unaware, decided to share the information at mediation. Appear with all your ammunition!”

Even though you tuned in to hear from experienced mediators, I’ll add my own three cents. First, I completely agree with the suggestions that counsel take advantage of the opportunity to have a meaningful pre-mediation call with the neutral. This can be HUGE. Second, if there is a way to create and communicate to the opposition the illusion that you are fully prepared to start trial tomorrow, this can create leverage. (Obviously this is not possible in a pre-suit mediation, and difficult if there’s no joint session.) Third, unless and until you really know and trust the mediator (or settlement conference judge/magistrate), I would resist requests to prematurely share your final, bottom line offer or demand. The neutral’s top priority is to reach a compromise, not to act in your client’s best interests (that’s your job); unless you know from experience you can trust his or her promise to keep your final number confidential, I wouldn’t risk sharing it.


Is It Ever A Good Idea to Use a Transformative Mediator?

An article in the June issue of For the Defense offers guidance on selecting the best mediator for a particular case.  Among the different styles of mediator (evaluative, facilitate, hybrid), one that is often overlooked is a style denominated as the “transformative” mediator.  Why is this style disfavored?  I decided to dig a little deeper.

According to the oracle of all truth, Wikipedia, “the transformative approach . . . takes an essentially social/communicative view of human conflict, [in which]  . . . a conflict represents first and foremost a crisis in some human interaction—an interactional crisis with a somewhat common and predictable character. Specifically, the occurrence of conflict tends to destabilize the parties’ experience of both self and other, so that the parties interact in ways that are both more vulnerable and more self-absorbed than they did before the conflict. Further, these negative dynamics often feed into each other on all sides as the parties interact, in a vicious circle that intensifies each party’s sense of weakness and self-absorption. As a result, the interaction between the parties quickly degenerates and assumes a mutually destructive, alienating, and dehumanizing character.”*

This all very Heideggerian and existential, but will it settle cases?  Well, it seems that may not be the only goal.  “Success is measured not by settlement per se but by party shifts toward personal strength, interpersonal responsiveness and constructive interaction. As parties talk together and listen to each other, they build new understandings of themselves and their situation, critically examine the possibilities, and make their own decisions. Those decisions can include settlement agreements, but no one is coerced into any decision or agreement. The outcomes are entirely in the parties’ own hands and subject to their own choices. Effective mediator practice is focused on supporting empowerment and recognition shifts, by allowing and encouraging party deliberation and decision-making, and inter-party perspective-taking, in various ways.”*

There might be something to this.  In my experience mediating disputes that are particularly emotionally charged, attorneys can walk away quite satisfied with a clean, buttoned-up settlement, but the parties themselves come away feeling they “sold” their case too cheaply (or “bought” their peace at an unfair price).  Mediations that dispense too quickly with the “heart” of the dispute and rush into exchanging dollar figures based purely on estimates of damages or jury verdict potential can leave plaintiffs feeling like they haven’t been heard.  While a fat settlement can sound appealing, it usually won’t heal all wounds.  This is particularly true in catastrophic cases involving the loss of a loved one or legitimate sexual harassment suits where the plaintiff feels he or she was just “bought off,” or paid to shut up. 

Other cases can be difficult to settle where (1) there is no real money available to fund a satisfactory settlement; or (2) there are residual questions that need answers money can’t buy (“What caused the car to catch on fire?” or “Why wasn’t he fired long ago if others complained?”)  Taking the “usual” approach, focusing purely on dollars and cents, might not get the job done.  In these circumstances, it can be very healthy and helpful for the mediator to engage in the kind of counseling approach unique to transformative mediation.  I’ve also been involved in cases (some very serious) that went away with no exchange of money where the defendant’s counsel or a knowledgeable employee took the time to explain to grieving parties exactly what happened and how it happened.  Plaintiffs may want most of all just to vent frustration or anger.  A party that feels he/she has been finally “heard” can be more reasonable, making it possible to settle an otherwise impossible case to settle.

Transformative mediators certainly are not appropriate to every dispute.  For example, when I’ve accompanied very skilled or sophisticated client representatives to mediations, they look for ways to control the negotiation process, and can be incapable of suspending the factual or legal controversy long enough to permit a wounded plaintiff simply to be heard.  They want only to drive home the point that the plaintiff is wrong and she will lose at trial.  In this environment, neither the plaintiff nor the defendant will believe their needs are being met and compromise becomes unlikely.

Citing, Bush, R. A. B., & Pope, S. G. , “Changing the quality of conflict interaction: The principles and practice of transformative mediation,” Pepperdine Dispute Resolution Law Journal, 3(1), 67-96.


%d bloggers like this: