A "representative" is a person who stands, acts, or speaks for another. A representative can be a passive mouthpiece or a messenger for his/her principal, or can actively assist the principal to make a wise decision.
The vast majority of "personal" mediations and negotiations take place without a representative assisting in either preparation or attendance - eg. disputes between friends, club members, employees, spouses. Sometimes representatives assist in personal disputes. These may be friends, relatives, lawyers or union officials.
However, once a dispute involves a business, corporation, partnership, church, nation, employer, bank, insurance company, family, or any "group", then necessarily that group will be represented by an individual or by a number of individuals. The representative may be an in-house or outside lawyer, an employee, an accountant, a friend, a union official or an ambassador. Thus "representation" is very common and is done not only by a stereotypical "legally" trained representative.
When conflicts are referred to mediation from the courts, and there is money available, it is common for clients to be assisted by representatives with legal experience.
Advantages of Representation
The potential advantages for a disputant being represented at a mediation (or negotiation) are many. They include the following:
1. Two heads are better than one. When trying to make a wise decision, it is helpful to have a friend to bounce ideas off.
2. Intense conflict can cause a disputant to lose perspective. ("(S)he loses the forest for the trees."; "A lawyer who acts for himself/herself has a fool for a client." etc.)
3. An experienced and competent representative can:
- Reduce costs by preparing efficiently;
- Minimise adjournments of meetings because of disorganised preparation;
- Reduce over-reaction and walkouts by identifying what are "normal" events;
- Make suggestions about varying processes or taking breaks;
- Improve the physical environment for negotiation (eg. seating, time, food);
- Exercise excellent communication, listening and summarising skills when the disputant(s) lack these;
- Collaborate with the mediator to diagnose and intervene with a degree of objectivity;
- Give realistic advice on risks and costs outside the mediation room;
- Assist an inarticulate or disorganised person to summarise and be assertive;
- Use a variety of strategies to intervene when a client feels overwhelmed and too readily wants to give up;
- Make an informed decision when the mediator's strategies or process are more unhelpful than helpful.
4. Legal representatives are particularly skilled as drafters of agreements. They are accustomed to quickly drafting settlements which cover many predictable contingencies and loopholes.
5. The presence of an influential representative (eg lawyer, friend, accountant) avoids the clumsiness of trying to explain later to that person "what really happened" at the mediation. Instead they witness first hand the pain, concessions, to and fro which led to the agreement. If the influential "representative" or cheerleader is present at the meeting, it is more difficult for them later to be destabilising armchair critics.
6. Many mediators also want legal or accounting representatives to be present at preparation or joint meetings for personal marketing reasons. They want to show the representatives first hand what an excellent job is being done, so that the representatives send the mediator more work in the future.
Disadvantages of Representation
Predictably, there is a range of disadvantages where representatives, legal or otherwise, purport to assist in the preparation for or attendance at a mediation or negotiation. Many of these disadvantages echo the traditional critiques of the "helping" professions (eg. see G. Egan, The Skilled Helper, 5th ed, California: Brooks/Cole, 1994). Both clients and representatives should constantly consider these disadvantages when deciding to what extent any and which representative should assist in the preparation for and attendance at a mediation.
In the writer's experience as a mediator, a sophisticated group of lawyers has emerged over the last decade, who choose to prepare certain clients at length for a mediation but do not attend the mediation unless special circumstances exist. Conversely, there are other lawyer representatives who always attend. Some of the potential disadvantages of "involving" the representative of a disputant in the mediation process are as follows:
To repeat, the potential advantages and disadvantages of representation provide a sobering challenge, to clients and representatives, to reflect upon the degree of involvement of a representative which will be helpful in each mediation. A competent mediator will want to brainstorm possible answers to this important question with each representative.