If you are sent to mediation by a court you may have no chance to select your mediator. (However, some courts, like New Jersey Superior Courts, randomly assign a mediator but allow the parties to choose someone else.) If you do have the opportunity to do so, talk with two or more mediators to get a sense of what they are like. Look for intelligence, experience and a style that you feel comfortable with. Of course your adversary has to agree. If a mediator has prior experience with your adversary do not assume that will work to your disadvantage—it may even help your case if your opponent feels comfortable with the mediator and able to maximize the process.
PREPARE THE CASE
You need to be on top of the facts and your client’s needs/demands and have some rough sense of the strength of your legal case. Sometimes counsel neglect this step, figuring that they will really learn the case before a deposition or a trial. If you come to the mediation poorly prepared, you may miss an opportunity to get a good resolution.
PREPARE YOUR CLIENT
A client who understands that s/he is entering into a negotiation process and that the mediator is a facilitator, not a fact-finder, will be better positioned to make the most of the process.
The client should also understand that you will not be making dramatic statements, taking the most extreme position possible or presenting a case as you would do at trial. The whole tone of the proceeding is different and the client should be prepared if s/he hasn’t participated in mediations before.
Encourage out-of-the-box thinking, even in pure money cases. There is generally something (even if only the pay-out schedule) at stake besides the bottom line. A goal of any mediator is to enlarge the pie or find more options to include in the settlement.
Some mediators like to hear from the parties as well as counsel—you can decide if that is wise in your case.
HOSTING THE MEDIATION
Some lawyers prefer to hold the mediation in their own offices, rather than their adversary’s or a neutral place. It saves travel time, lets you begin with a comfort level, etc. It probably has little effect on the outcome, but can make the experience more pleasant for you and your client. If you do this, be a good host— and don’t forget to order lunch (or dinner) if the session goes through the lunch hour. This can affect the outcome—hungry and cranky adversaries are less likely to stay with it to resolve the case.
LISTEN, REALLY LISTEN
Try to hear what opposing counsel or the principal is really saying and what underlies it. You don’t have to agree with anything but make a major effort to get it. In addition to making you seem polite and not irritating anyone, it could help you emerge with a better sense of where your adversary is coming from and what you will face at trial or in future settlement conversations if the mediation does not immediately resolve the issue.
Courtesy (more than just civility) counts for a lot to succeed at mediation, more than in the courtroom.
You or your client may believe that your adversary has gone beyond self-serving statements and is lying. Resist the temptation to point that out. Also resist explaining to the mediator how past excellent offers to settle were dismissed by your adversary or how s/he has made the whole process more complicated than need be. And so on. Attacks can be truly counterproductive and cause your client to lose an opportunity for a satisfying settlement.
USE CAUCUSES WELL
In many mediations you will spend a substantial amount of time in private sessions with the mediator (how substantial depends on the mediator’s approach and the facts and relationships in the case). You can, of course, meet with your client without the mediator and this can give you the chance to coach the client on using the process well if s/he seems to have lost sight of your preparation on this score.
The mediator is bound to keep confidential what you talk about, with very narrow exceptions. This can be an excellent opportunity to tell the mediator anything that you do not want out in the open—any hidden or complicating facts; your assessment of the case; true bottom line—and to ask him or her for an objective assessment of the case or any aspect thereof.
You can also sometimes make use of the mediator to help your client hear something that s/he wouldn’t hear from you (i.e., that the case is not a slam-dunk one sure to turn out exactly as hoped for).
BE CANDID WITH THE MEDIATOR
There is nothing to be gained and much to be lost from misrepresenting facts or positions to the mediator. S/he is there to help you reach a settlement that you want.
BATNA (Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement)
This is the mediator’s mantra—where will you be, what will happen if you don’t resolve this matter in mediation. It’s very worth your thinking about: the unpredictability (depending on how you assess your case); delay and costs (financial and psychic for the client) of litigating. Be realistic and help the client do so as well.
PREPARE TO DRAFT A SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT AT THE MEDIATION
Sometimes when an agreement is reached, a memo embodying the key points is drafted by the parties or the mediator. In other cases counsel want to finalize the settlement agreement on the spot to make sure that the meeting of minds is exactly that. It is wise to bring a copy of your standard language.
Whether the settlement agreement is completed at the mediation or not, offer to do the first draft—it gives you more control over the language.