Whose opinion counts: should clients, not lawyers, be the ones to evaluate mediators?

Two respected thinkers in the mediation field, Leonard Riskin and Nancy Welsh, recently made available on the Social Science Research Network an advance copy of the law review article they co-authored, titled, “Is that All There is? The ‘Problem’ in Court-Oriented Mediation“. It takes a long, thoughtful look at the failure of court-connected mediation to fulfill its early promises and the extent to which it increasingly ignores the needs and interests of the clients at the heart of the case:

In particular, court-oriented mediation now reflects the dominance and preferences of lawyers and insurance claims adjusters. These repeat players understand the problem to be addressed in personal injury, employment, contract, medical malpractice and other ordinary civil non-family disputes as a matter of merits assessment and litigation risk analysis. Mediation is structured so that litigation issues predominate; other potential issues – personal, psychological, relational, communitarian – disappear.

While mediation may meet the expectations of the repeat players, it fails to honor those of the one-shot player — the client. Riskin and Welsh describe what this signified for one couple struggling with tragedy who had sued a hospital and a doctor for negligence in the medical care provided at the time of the birth of their son:

The mediation processes failed to consider the [couple’s] mediation-related core concerns. The procedural choices made by the lawyers and (apparently) not questioned by the mediators — that Donna and Tony would not attend or speak in most of the joint sessions, and that they would have no role in deciding upon procedures or subjects of discussion for the mediation — ignored their mediation-related core concerns of autonomy, status, and role…In stark contrast, the mediations were structured to address the core concerns of the repeat players, particularly the lawyers, both within and outside the mediation.

While I happened to be working my way through this article, a colleague of mine forwarded to me a link to Positively Neutral, a web site that provides feedback about mediators and other neutrals. The web site declares that it “provides attorneys with what they care about most: the opinions of other lawyers who have used a specific neutral or expert in their case”.

With Riskin’s and Welsh’s points uppermost in my mind, I had to ask, what about the clients?

                        author

Diane J. Levin

Diane Levin, J.D., is a mediator, dispute resolution trainer, negotiation coach, writer, and lawyer based in Marblehead, Massachusetts, who has instructed people from around the world in the art of talking it out. Since 1995 she has helped clients resolve disputes involving tort, employment, business, estate, family, and real property… MORE >

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