When I first set out to write this piece, it was meant to be a follow up to my previous analysis of the USA Network's “Fairly Legal” TV Drama, Fairly Legal – Fairly Accurate? However, it seems like almost everything I wanted to express in my follow up was already written by my colleagues. Since the show is returning to the TV screens on March 16, 2012 for its second season, I will instead focus on what I think is the fundamental issue in the TV series and what separates a real mediation experience from the one portrayed by Kate Reed.
Emotional involvement is the idea that each party in a conflict has some personal feelings concerning the dispute. As mediators we are taught to remain neutral, thus fundamentally non-emotionally involved. However, the TV series portrays a mediator being so emotional about the disputes she handles that all ethics and dispute resolution practices go out the window. Kate Reed wears many hats, a mediator, a lawyer, a detective and sometimes even a defendant. With her trusty assistant, she is able to not only solve disputes, but as she puts it, “Solve your problems.” So the question becomes, is she too emotionally involved in her cases, and more importantly, will our next mediation client expect us to step in front of a moving vehicle as it happened in one of the episodes?
Speaking strictly about myself, I will say that in some cases I do find it difficult to stand on the sideline and remain neutral while seeing one of the sides getting steamrolled. The way I handle these situations is by implementing every negotiation technique I know in order to generate the most fair settlement possible through communication. On the other hand Kate Reed simply whistles loudly, tells one of the parties that she will do everything she can to seek justice, and finds a clever scheme to settle the case. On the surface, sounds great, but this brings me back to my initial concern with show - unrealistic expectations from mediation participants in the real world.
Controlling expectations is one of the main mediators' tasks and doing so while remaining un-emotionally involved in the dispute allows the neutral to gain a different perspective on the issue. The parties want an alternative view, a view from someone not entangled with the drama of the disagreement. In every episode the protagonist tries to find a win-win solution, but in doing so she also makes it very apparent which side she favors more. On a recent mediation I had the defendant told me that I sound like I am working for them and that made me very uncomfortable. All I was trying to accomplish was a detailed explanation of plaintiff's position, but in doing so I must have gotten emotionally involved favoring the plaintiff's side of the disagreement a tad more. Not very professional, I know, but we are all human and despite my momentary weakness and lapse in judgment I am happy to report that the case settled. A win-win.The way I see it, Fairly Legal is a very entertaining television program, but that is probably it. Perhaps if Kate Reed was overly neutral it would make the show entertaining only to mediators, this way it appeals to all. Regardless of where the writers of the show take it next (hopefully with some mediator consultations), in my eyes, her emotional involvement is the main reason for some over-the-top resolutions, unorthodox tactics and an entertaining hour of television.