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Is mediation worth the points?

JD, University of Georgia School of Law

There is always the struggle in law school between those classes that you find to be fun and those that you think are going to actually help you become a better lawyer when you leave. I’m not sure how other law schools operate, but my school operated on a points system. You were awarded points based on the year and the number of credits that you had accumulated. With this strategy, you had to pick the classes that you coveted the most and—depending on the popularity of the courses—decide whether it was worth the points. Clinics, because of the hands on component and generally un-law school-like nature, always required an absurd amount of points. This is one concept of supply and demand that existed in law school that seems to carry over in the real world. Although it may vary to some degree based upon the type of law that you practice, generally, classes where you draft documents and interact with clients always prove to be an invaluable experience.

This brings me to the mediation clinic. I would like to say I took the mediation clinic because I wanted to be intellectually stimulated and hone my lawyer skills, but if I were honest I would say that I took the mediation clinic because it was fun. The word on the street was that this clinic was not the traditional law school class and the atmosphere lacked the dreaded Socratic Method. I was all in. It would also assist me in becoming a certified mediator, and if I took the second part of the class I would have the opportunity to work with real people. Not bad for one clinic, huh? I don’t, however, want to paint this clinic as a bird class. Easy and fun are not synonymous in this case. After all, this was still law school and the reading assignments were actually beefed up a bit, with long and involved classroom hours (no drifting to the internet—there were actual discussions) and a strict attendance requirement to meet the state standards for mediators.

So what do you actually learn in mediation? Mediation is no simple subject. There are various types and styles of mediation in addition to whatever personal flair each mediator may have. There are some serious debates as to what styles are actually best for mediation, whether they be facilitative, evaluative or transformative. In our clinic we focused on the facilitative style.

What is the facilitative style? Glad you asked. The facilitative style focuses on assisting the parties to find a mutually beneficial solution. It tends to focus on the parties coming to their own solution with little outside influence from attorneys or the mediator. There is no evaluation of the outcome by the mediator; this style is built on the premise that the mediator remains neutral.

All of the above skills can be useful when you begin to practice. You learn how to deescalate situations in mediation, which can be directly applied with upset and angry clients in practice. One of the main tasks of the mediator is to gather facts, summarize and outline the main issues. This may seem like an easy feat; however, when people are upset or in conflict or in a panic and being run by emotion it is difficult to get all the facts, get them in any type of order and find a way to summarize the issues. That is why it is important for the mediator to ask the right questions at the right time. There are some questions you ask with both parties and some you ask when the parties are by themselves, called a caucus. There are times when as a mediator you sense that the person wants to vent before even attempting to handle the issue. You as a mediator have to be aware of the tone, body language and perception of the other person and the person speaking.

Obviously I’m passionate about and believe in the benefits of mediation for society and the lawyer, and with that said I could go on for days about the intricacies of mediation. However, if I were to generalize mediation I would say it helps you to understand and work with all kinds of people. What better skill to have in a consumer and client driven profession. Whether your clients are the Wilkinson’s down the street or the fortune 500 company, you are going to have to interact with people who are difficult, who you possibly don’t like, and who don’t understand what you have to do to get your job done in spite of these things. Get to practicing!

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