“How can I help you today?” is a great way to open up conversation between mediation clients. However, you should think of your initial mediation consultation as more than just a chance to learn about the clients’ case — it’s an important opportunity to provide substantive value to the clients and lay the groundwork for a successful mediation.
Clients Want Guidance from the Word Go
Most clients haven’t ever been in mediation before. They don’t know what to expect, which is reflected in the standard questions that come up in nearly every consultation. Instead of putting the burden on the clients to ask those questions, take the initiative of answering them by default in the course of a thorough, informative initial consultation. This will help the clients feel at ease, establish you as a trusted professional, and get the ball rolling toward a successful mediation.
Standardize Your Consultation
You likely have a list of topics in mind that you intend to cover in every initial consultation. Even if you know that list by heart, consider documenting those topics in a checklist that you keep in front of you during the consultation, to be absolutely sure you’ve touched on everything. While mediation is a client-centered process and we want the clients’ voices to dominate the conversation, the initial consultation is one time when your voice needs to be more prominent. It would not be wrong to treat your checklist as a script, with opportunities for the clients to ask questions as you go along.
Here is a list of topics that I personally consider the minimum requirements for a successful initial consultation:
Supplement with Handouts
That may seem like a long list, but with a standardized process, it’s easily covered in about 30 minutes. Much of the material can be provided in document form, which clients tend to really appreciate. For example, my standard packet of materials for divorce clients includes:
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen clients pull out these documents and refer back to them during the mediation process. They are a valuable resource for clients and cost nothing other than the paper they’re printed on. They also feed into the rule of reciprocity, which increases the likelihood they’ll choose to work with you beyond the initial consultation — a nice side benefit of simply being helpful to clients.
Do you have any topics or materials that you consider essential for the initial mediation consultation? Share them in the comments section!
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