Monday, April 14, 2008

Why Mediation is Not a Pre-Trial Trial

The biggest impediment to a mediated settlement in commercial cases is the inability of parties to regard mediation for what it is, as opposed to a pretrial mini-trial.

Parties settle conflicts in mediations, they don't win mediations. Litigators who appear at mediations often don't sufficiently appreciate this, certainly not as much as their clients. Which is why I will probably start making even more certain that only those client representatives who have sufficient stature to think for themselves and authority to act for the client appear at mediations.

Mediations are not mini-trials because mediators are not judges or juries. Thankfully. Mediators do not stand in judgment, and they have no institutional or personal competence in deciding who should prevail in a conflict. Indeed, mediators generally shun the notion that any party should prevail in a conflict, as if conflict was sport.

To the extent mediators do their job, they help the parties themselves discover for themselves meaningful ways to accomplish their goals without undergoing the time, expense and risk of litigation. Litigators seek damages, and perhaps another judgment that they can list on their resume for the next time they pitch a general counsel for a beauty contest. Clients want to a reasonable, risk-adjusted settlement to a problem, so that their business can focus more on profit generation than liability containment.

While there are cases that go to the heart of the way a firm conducts business, even these cases are typically better settled than pursued to a win/lose result. Settlements often become ways for a business to create goodwill even as it eliminates a risk.

Mediators are in the goodwill generating business, and litigators often don't appreciate how much goodwill can be created out of conflict.

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