The Closer

A Mediation Newsletter August 2013

The Mediation Space
by James Rainwater

While settlement talks can occur nearly anywhere, what is the optimal venue for mediation? Over the years, I have mediated in a variety of places - conference rooms, judges' chambers, storage rooms, secluded hallways, outdoors, etc. The two key elements necessary for mediation are privacy and minimal distraction. Clients and attorneys need to feel their words are kept confidential, and the mediator needs to reduce all possible factors that may disrupt the process.

I recently watched an old movie called "Payment on Demand" with Bette Davis. Filmed in 1951, it is a story involving marital infidelity and crude social climbing. The lead characters finally divorce and meet with their attorneys for a settlement conference. The thing I found interesting was the manner by which the attorneys conducted themselves. Long before the advent of recognized alternative dispute resolution, these attorneys conducted the conference with great civility and patience.

I also found the setting for the discussions to be comfortable and professional. Though the conference was at the wife's attorney's office, there was ample space to resolve the matter. The conference room offered appropriate privacy from the family members who waited for the conclusion, and there were few distractions.

That scenario today may not be as practical. In the age of mediation - mandated and voluntary - the settlement conference probably needs more than what one attorney's office may afford. Though mediation can be conducted at a coffee shop or a busy office, I believe a completely neutral and quiet site is ideal. This may be a reason why dispute resolution centers tend to have successful rates of resolution.

To be sure, cooperative personalities and strong leadership are crucial elements. Yet, a suitable venue can have an equal impact on the success or failure of the settlement conference. With a number of variables that can derail discussions constantly swirling around the conference, there should be one constant: A mediation space that is free from bias or distraction.

Rainwater Law