The Closer

A Mediation Newsletter August 2010

A Seasoned Mediator: Experience vs. Expertise
by James Rainwater

What qualities make an accomplished mediator? Confidence, leadership, empathy, logic, creativity, open-mindedness, to name a few. When you consider the selection of your next mediator, you may wish to bear in mind these qualities, as well as experience and expertise. Is it better to choose general experience or narrowed expertise? It depends on your comfort level and that of your client. A hardened business owner may demand an "expert," whereas a timid divorce party may want someone who presents a broader understanding of the matter and its peripheral issues.

As more mediators spread out from their original areas of practice, it is a reasonable question to consider: How good a match are they to facilitate a certain matter you have pending? Some mediators become such specialists that their approaches may tend to be the same regardless of the type of case. Mediating a family law matter as a personal injury case would probably not yield very positive results - and vice versa.

Another concern is the possibility of an expert mediator employing the same techniques and falling into a rut of sorts. The comfort level for this mediator may work well, but it may not be the most beneficial for your client. The presumptions a veteran mediator has regarding the outcome of a case may present too much bias and not ensure complete neutrality. Your client deserves a reasonable assurance that, even though the mediator has conducted numerous similar matters, the mediator will not bring preconceived notions of how the case should resolve before the conference begins.

Some balance is needed. You should want experience and expertise but how much of each? I would suggest some of both. Yet, as mediation tends to be a fluid process, I believe the qualities of general experience usually outweigh select expertise. Someone who has mediated a wide array of matters will likely bring fresh perspective to the conference and less bias. I believe that clients are more prone to accept confident understanding than dispassionate control. In the final analysis, it is the client's wellbeing that matters most, and it is important to remember that before and during the mediation.

Rainwater Law