No. 5 of the Top 10 Horrible, Terrible, No Good Mistakes Lawyers Make in Mediations
This post is a continuation of the 10 most horrible, terrible, no good, “bang your head against the door” mistakes that I have seen lawyers make before, during and after mediations in which I was the mediator. As stated in previous posts, it takes more than throwing together a mediation statement at the last second and showing up at the mediation. Doing it right requires the same kind of due diligence and work that goes into preparing for a key deposition or even trial. Great “mediation” lawyering is essential and is the best way to get to an acceptable deal.
Number 5: Not Letting the Client and Mediator Talk
Most mediators want to hear and talk directly with the client – not the attorney – since she is ultimately going to make the decision at the end of day. Counsel, you have to jettison your ego. Do not try to cut off this vital communication. Your client may need to get something off his chest, and he finally has someone other than his lawyer at whom to vent. Mediators are paid to take it, and these direct conversations with the client are is immensely helpful for the mediator to determine the key factors to getting to a deal. Remember these are settlement discussions, and “what happens in mediation…stays in mediation.” The mediator needs to know the temperatures in all caucus rooms and many times “non-legal” factors that are not available in court determine if a deal can be done.
Many years ago, I resolved an age discrimination claim by talking directly to the client. She just wanted to move to another city to be near her grandchildren but had no money to do so. The final deal included a year’s prepaid rent and a used car. The lawyers were not happy, but they are not a mediator’s client: the client is the Deal.
A mediator must establish a position of trust and confidence (and frankly likability) with the key client decision makers so that, when it is time to “fish or cut bait,” the clients will listen to what the Mediator has to say. That cannot happen when the lawyer does all of the talking, and the client just sits there mute like a house plant. Good mediators will not let that happen, even if that means hauling the lawyer out of the caucus room and having a stern discussion.
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