April 2012 Bar Bulletin
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April 2012 Bar Bulletin

Why Mediation Still Matters

By Harry Goldman

 

When I joined the WAMS mediator panel in 1986, the concept of mediation in civil litigation was a fairly new idea. It has been my privilege to have participated in the growth of what is now a key component in the litigation process.

Many lawyers were initially hesitant or openly hostile to mediation, as it was perceived by some as usurping the role of counsel. Part of my job was to explain to my colleagues that mediation was actually a useful settlement tool that could be employed by representatives of both plaintiffs and defendants to educate clients about the risks of trial and complexities of litigation.

The intervening years have seen a gratifying evolution in attitudes toward mediation, as we now have court-ordered mediation in many jurisdictions. Courts such as the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington have implemented specific reporting procedures by the mediator to federal judges.

Business contracts commonly require mediation prior to instituting litigation. Mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution are frequently taught in law schools. ADR seminars are regularly presented throughout the country; for example, the University of Washington conducts an annual ADR conference that draws an international audience.

If mediation is so firmly established in 2012 as part of the framework of litigation, why would I choose to discuss its relevance and importance now? I believe that mediation is beneficial on many different levels, regardless of the outcome. Of course, everyone wants his or her dispute to resolve, but parties often gain valuable information and a perspective that may not have been present beforehand in that small percentage of cases that do not settle.

In a similar vein, users of the mediation process have come to assume that the mediator will succeed in achieving a settlement in every case. This is a reasonable goal as the parties are paying a considerable price for the service and coming to the table to settle the case.

When the mediator is a trained professional, the participants have a right to expect that he or she will use experience and skill to craft a settlement of the dispute. It is important for all participants to remember, however, that mediation is a collaborative process that requires everyone to exercise his or her best efforts if a resolution is to be achieved. Success is defined not only by the result but also by how it is accomplished.

In order to achieve success, the mediator needs the assistance of everyone involved in the process. First and foremost, each participant, whether it is the client, the attorney, an insurance claim representative or any other decision maker, must be willing to commit to the effort. If someone is present only because the mediation has been court ordered, the likelihood of success drops.


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