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What Lawyers are Looking for from Mediators

Thanks to Colm Brannigan for posing this question to the LinkedIn Legal Community:  What Qualities Do Counsel Look for in a Mediator?

We’ve already posted — here — the answer of L.A. Sheppard Mullin attorney Jim Burgess.

Below, we give you the thorough and insightful answer of Vermont attorney, mediator and arbitrator Richard Cassidy of Hoff Curtis.

From Richard’s response you can tell that he understands mediation theory and practice from every angle you want a mediator to know.

So if you practice in Vermont and are looking to settle a commercial case (he also does labor and personal injury) you probably couldn’t do much better than to give Richard a call.

So herewith and all that, we give you Ricahrd Cassidy’s thoughts on what qualities lawyers are looking for in mediators:

From my perspective, it’s important to analyze what you want from the mediation and attune your selection to your needs and goals.

Choice of Mediator — “Someone Who Will Have Credibility with my Opponents”

In selecting a mediator, I am often most in need of someone who will have credibility with my opponents. I do my best to understand the strengths and weaknesses of my case before I get to mediation. Hopefully, there is little a third party can teach me about my own case. Of course, it is human to be imperfect and so sometimes there is more to learn at mediation than I would prefer. So good judgment is important.

Case Assessment

But assuming that enough work has been done to properly assess the case before mediation, I am often hoping to use the mediator’s knowledge and credibility to help persuade my opponents to see things more my way. In such cases, I am happy to agree on whomever my opponent wants, so long as they have the basic skills.

A Mediator My Client Will Respect:  “Seeing a Neutral Learn About the Case and Then Point Out Important Weaknesses Can Be Very Powerful”

Sometimes, however, client control is a real issue. You wonder why some clients hire you and ignore your advice, but it happens. Seeing a neutral learn about the case and then point out important weaknesses can be very powerful for clients who do easily accept a realistic evaluation of their prospects. So, on such occasions I am looking for a mediator my client will respect.

The Basics:  Interpersonal Skill, Patience, Persistence, Stamina and Optimism

Of course, there are basics that one almost always wants. Good interpersonal skills are essential. An understanding of the mediation process and technique is critical. I look for lots of patience, persistence, stamina and optimism. (I have seen many a mediator throw away a real chance of settlement by trying to move too fast or quitting too early. As a mediator, I do not quit until at least one party insists that I do so). Timing is often important. In most of my cases, knowledge of the litigation process is very important because it gives the mediator the ability to point out the problems of the “best” alternative to a negotiated settlement.

Substantive Knowledge

Knowledge of the substance and dynamics of the particular subject area is very important. For example, I do lots of work as an advocate and as a mediator in employment litigation. Many plaintiffs and many plaintiffs’ lawyers don’t understand up front how hard the process is going to be for them, and how bad the statistics are for the employee. A mediator who can genuinely show empathy for the plaintiff’s plight and deliver the bad news when it’s called for is what is needed.

Co-Mediating with Experts

Sometimes, in more esoteric subject areas, substantive knowledge can be hard to find. As a mediator I have successfully occasionally co-mediated with experts (not necessarily mediators) in fields that are outside of my usual range, such as in patent cases.

Evaluator or Facilitator?

On the facilitative/evaluative question, I usually want a mix. It is almost always a mistake for the mediator to try to impose his or her view of the right the resolution on the parties. But for cases in litigation or headed there, I find that a mediator who is unwilling to express any view of the case is usually not very helpful. I understand that, particularly in domestic relations matters, many mediators are unwilling to do any evaluation at all. I understand that if the real goal of the process is not to resolve the specific issues then holding the parties attention but to transform their communication so that they can resolve things themselves in the future, evaluation can be a road block. Ordinarily, however, in my cases (civil litigation, mostly employment, commercial, construction, or personal injury disputes) someone usually needs the kind of reality check that a few well timed evaluative comments can provide.


Victoria Pynchon

Attorney-mediator Victoria Pynchon is a panelist with ADR Services, Inc. Ms. Pynchon was awarded her LL.M Degree in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute in May of 2006, after 25 years of complex commercial litigation practice, with sub-specialties in intellectual property, securities fraud, antitrust, insurance coverage, consumer class actions and all… MORE >

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