Lessons from Mediators’ Stories
10 Pages Posted: 16 Feb 2013 Last revised: 3 Sep 2013
This article is part of a symposium discussing the book, Stories Mediators Tell, edited by Eric Galton and Lela Love. The book consists of accounts of 31 actual mediations, followed by reflections of each mediator-author. Some of the chapters tell of extraordinary cases and others are more routine.
The mediators’ stories are full of parables not only for mediators but also for lawyers and other dispute resolution professionals. This article highlights three related lessons illustrated by the mediators’ stories. First, parties often have important interests in addition to maximizing their financial results. Professionals who assume that cases are “only about the money” may not serve their clients as well as they should. A second, related, lesson is that it is very important for professionals to listen effectively. Many professionals listen poorly because of professional habits and assumptions that they need to know only legally-relevant facts, which are similar to facts in other cases that they have handled. This obviously can lead to missed opportunities to advance clients’ interests and incompetent service. Third, the lawyer’s role can help clients but can also interfere with good service. Lawyers provide valuable services by helping clients understand the legal system and diligently advocating their interests. Lawyers’ roles as advocates can, however, undermine their work for their clients if they over-identify with their clients or develop personal antagonisms with the counterpart lawyers. Thinking like a lawyer can help lawyers solve clients’ problems but also can blind lawyers to options satisfying their clients’ interests.
The lessons in this essay are familiar to dispute resolution professionals who have reflected on their work. Even so, these stories provide important insights that are worth repeating, especially because many lawyers and mediators feel pressures to routinize their work. With a continuing focus on providing high-quality service, dispute resolution professionals can be creative in satisfying clients’ most important interests and gain great professional gratification. This short article may be a useful reading assignment for various law school courses.
Keywords: lawyer, mediator, interests, listening, mindset, assumptions, routine, apology, conflict
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