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Fairly Legal: Positives And Negatives

From Clare Fowler’s Fairly Legal Blog

First–if you’re a mediator–you know that most people think the mediation profession is a misspelled form of meditation. Simply put: the average TV watcher is just not that familiar with what mediation is.

Most common response when I tell people I’m a mediator (after their eyes have glazed over): “So, you like do community service for the courts?”

Unfortunately, that’s not far from the truth. Except for the roughly 2% that make a living as a mediator, everyone else has a day job which is occasionally supplemented by a mediation. Or the desire to bring peace to the world is satisfied by mediating a few days a month at a local community mediation center, while the desire to pay the mortgage is satisfied by working in HR at some local company.

Bottom line: people don’t know what mediation is and so they don’t know what great benefits they could get by hiring a mediator. So mediators are in effect doing community service for the courts, instead of using their incredible talents as their full-time job.

Second, Sarah Shahi is hot. I mean, seriously, she was a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader. She is going to do a much better job attracting interest to the field than I ever could. Mediation is still a misunderstood field where most people think mediators chant during the meetings and wear tie-dye. And don’t get me wrong–I do love tie-dye. But I also like that USA is bringing an element of professionalism, intelligence, and a little je ne sais quoi to the field of mediation.

The main thing to remember is: a show like Fairly Legal brings the word “mediation” up in conversation. It brings the word “mediation” up in Google searches. And when the next argument gets out of hand, I pray that it brings the word “hire” up to a local mediator.

So, Fairly Legal got a lot of stuff right.

But there are a couple of things worth mentioning that are a tad inaccurate.

The most glaring, scandalous misrepresentation is that every mediator does not own a pair of 4? Christian Louboutins (however, if anyone out there has an extra pair and would like to send them my way, feel free).

The less obvious misrepresentations:

1) Few mediators work for a law firm. Most sit at home with their computer and their phone for large parts of the day, writing up mediation agreements, returning emails, scheduling mediation sessions, and so on. I can see how that would not make for the most exciting show, but that’s the truth.

2) The mediators that do work for a law firm often still have to spend a good chunk of their time doing “lawyer-stuff.” It’s only the larger law firms that can afford a full-time mediator on staff.

3) Did I mention the shoes?

4) Alas, most mediators do not have easy access to things like traffic cams and can only rely on the parties’ testimonies. To dig down to the truth of the matter, a mediator must rely on her intuition and her ability to gain the participant’s trust.

5) Mediation takes time. People just can’t let go of their beliefs easily. Even the most talented and experienced mediator needs to have multiple conversations with people to understand their history and values. Once they understand their values, then they can begin to satisfy the same interests with different offers. People aren’t going to turn on a dime and accept brand new offers. So, instead of trying to solve 4 cases in one episode, why not delve deeper into one case?

6) In Fairly Legal, Kate seemed to get most of her power from leverage. Well, blackmail, in essence. A nasty photo that someone wants hidden. A staged outburst that revealed a hidden feeling. This was all very dramatic, but it left one core value out of the conversation: integrity. Mediation works because mediators help people to be better. People do bad things, sure, and a judge can make them pay for that. A mediator can help them learn how to say they are sorry and make the bad things good. This is where a mediator really gets her power, by helping people to take responsibility for their actions and grow up.

7) Shoes. I want her shoes.

The clients in the show so far have all come through the judicial system first. They sought representation with Reed and Reed, or they filed a suit in court. I hope that the show evolves so that clients begin to seek out a mediator’s help as a first step, rather than as a last resort.


Clare Fowler

Clare Fowler is Executive Vice-President and Managing Editor at, as well as a mediator and trainer. Clare received her Master's of Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at the Pepperdine University School of Law and her Doctorate in Organizational Leadership, focused on reducing workplace conflicts, from Pepperdine… MORE >

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