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What’s Your Approach? Process v. Subject

From Clare Fowler’s Fairly Legal Blog

When I first began mediating, my mentor told me that a good mediator can mediate any type of case. The important thing was not familiarity with the subject of the mediation, but familiarity with the process of mediation itself.

Kate Reed in Fairly Legal certainly proves that. She can mediate entertainment, IP, hostage, violence, domestic violence, and relationship disputes.

But is it true? Is the best mediator the one who knows the process or the subject?

Imagine you’re in Manhattan and you have two options for taxicabs: “This cabbie really knows how to drive” or “This cabbie really knows the city.”

Personally, I probably wouldn’t choose either. Excellence in one area is simply not enough. I need someone who knows where I need to go and who knows how to get me there.

Kate Reed is clearly familiar with the mediation process, but for most of her cases she has no familiarity with the subject. I believe this is acceptable for a novice mediator, but not someone who is mediating at her level. In the beginning, most mediators try out different types of cases to determine what they are most familiar with. At a certain point, they began to gravitate more and more toward a certain niche. I believe this makes them a more valuable matter and more effective for their clients.

For instance, I have never mediated a divorce. I could probably fumble my way through it: my introductory statement, parties’ opening statements, brainstorm options, negotiate, agreement, and done. I would use the same process that I use for most mediations. But am I serving my clients if I am not helping them to consider additional issues that might affect them? Like what about holiday visitation schedules? And what about dividing the 401K? And all kinds of other issues that I am not aware of? Aren’t the clients paying me to help them think through some of these issues?

Familiarity with the process is how you earn your keep. Familiarity with the subject is how you earn confidence.

                        author

Clare Fowler

Clare Fowler is Executive Vice-President and Managing Editor at Mediate.com, 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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