I delivered a Continuing Education Lecture this week on “The Ethics of Negotiation”. As always, I learned a lot from my audience, an impressive group of lawyers with an age range from mid-20’s to late 50’s. I struggled with the message to deliver because my research allows for a considerable amount of deceit in negotiations, which I’ve come to expect and accept. But this week, I was on alert for these deceptive strategies when I negotiated a transaction which I felt slightly morally reprehensible, or maybe just unfair. Without revealing any of the facts, the case involved an elderly woman who was evidently wealthy enough and sufficiently uncomfortable about the lawsuit against her to offer more money than a Plaintiff would have normally expected based upon the particular set of facts and legal obstacles involved. I brokered a deal where all were satisfied, or even delighted, but it had a certain thud in my own instinctive gut after it was over.
Does the mediator’s personal conscience matter? My conclusion was it does not. If I can’t step back and allow the parties to craft a deal in which all parties are comfortable, than my only move should be to withdraw or recuse in advance. I have done that on only one occasion when the factual scenario struck me as not only unfair, but echoed a personal experience with a lawsuit on similar grounds. Otherwise, I’m left to conclude that the mediator’s personal conscience has to be checked at the conference door. That’s why each party is represented by a lawyer, and I’m delighted to give them the responsibility of both evaluation and conscience over the results of their actions.
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