Posts Tagged ‘support people at mediation’

Mediation Message No. 30


I have mentioned before that the presence of supportive third persons at mediations can help youthful and inexperienced litigants deal with the novelty and uncertainty of the situation. I recall one instance where the mother of a plaintiff in his 40’s had common sense that her son clearly lacked. Such support also frees up attorneys to spend more time on the ever changing nature of the negotiations.

Nonetheless, attorneys must be careful that support people do not become an impediment to settlement, especially if they do not have a stake in the outcome. Two examples come to mind. In a business dispute, the plaintiff brought along his accountant who could only see the outcome in fiscal terms. Although the nuances of a future trial, including its evidentiary and legal subtleties, were beyond his comprehension, he held undue sway over the plaintiff. It was only after the plaintiff’s lawyer politely excused the accountant that reality was introduced to the discussions and the case could be settled. In another instance, the unassuming plaintiff was accompanied by a dominant friend who naively saw herself as knowledgeable regarding the facts, the law and the value of the case. After several hours of negotiations, it became necessary to advise this well-intentioned but overbearing individual that her observations were unnecessary. Shortly, thereafter, this case also settled.

The lesson of these two instances is that attorneys should welcome support people but, at the same time, make certain that those persons in this group who are not spouses, parents, relatives or business associates of the parties have a clear understanding of their limited role in the mediation process.

Copyright, Michael D. Marcus, January 2006