Step 1: Preparing
There are nine steps for the MCN Dispute Resolution Expert to go through to properly prepare for a mediation:
1. UNDERSTANDING WHAT THE CLIENT WANTS
The MCN Expert for the client must make the best effort to understand what the client really wants from the litigation, and from the mediation. This seems obvious, but sometimes this step is never undertaken, or not effectively undertaken.
The client may not want what the MCN Expert thinks the client should want. The client may want something very much more modest, but certain. This may particularly be the case when parties are tied to a future long term relationship, or when the client wants to terminate a long term relationship. Whatever the reason, MCN Experts job is to find out what the client really wants, and that may be obtainable in mediation and not at a trial.
All aspects of the mediation should be designed to accomplish the client’s objective, including opening statements, the opening offer and the negotiation strategy between the opening offer and the conclusion of the mediation. Before the mediation commences, the risk analysis and any proposed solutions will be influenced by that objective.
In this process, the client may have a strong view about that strategy which must be listened to by the MCN Expert. The client may have an important insight about the attitude or personality of the opposing party. That view may provide an insight into what opening statement or opening offer should be made, and how large successive offers should be made during the mediation.
The client’s objective and a “bottom line” are not the same thing. The client should not be encouraged to set a “bottom line”. Nor should the MCN Expert take that “bottom line” as the real one.
The client may have an overly confident view of what can be achieved in mediation, or may be reluctant to tell a MCN Expert how far he or she is really willing to go. The client should be encouraged to keep an open mind and be prepared to consider another range of settlement if, after all is said and done, a compromise in that range is preferable than a failed mediation.
2. LOOK FOR A CREATIVE SOLUTION
Creative solutions for dispute resolution cannot be found while the mediation is actually under way. They have to be found beforehand.
The creative solutions may give an advantage, or minimize the disadvantage of settlement, to the opposing party. The solution may be based on tax considerations; it may be the acceptance of fault, or a public statement, or an apology. Whatever it is, a mediation offers scope for “thinking outside the box” that a trial does not offer, since the parties can craft their own consensual solution to their problem.
3. PREPARE A RISK ANALYSIS
Obviously, it is absolutely essential that the MCN Expert understand the facts and law to the same extent as if he or she was about to commence a trial. But the process goes much farther and deeper than that. The MCN Expert must develop a risk analysis which addresses the various ways in which the facts may develop at trial. The same is true with the law. In addition, a risk analysis of the likely damage award must be undertaken. Only after these steps have been conducted can the MCN Expert understand the range within which a reasonable settlement ought to be made, and explain that range to the client.
This process is even more important before a mediation than before trial. Before trial, unless an offer is made by the other side, there is little opportunity to utilize the risk assessment, other than to decide to go ahead with or abandon the proceeding. But the whole purpose of the mediation is to use that assessment. Indeed, if the assessment is not made, an opportunity may be lost to settle at an amount which, on a proper analysis, was reasonable. There is nothing worse, after a mediation, to tell the client that the last offer made by the other side which the client turned down was actually a good one, having regard to the risks.
A risk analysis allows the client to ask the right question during mediation: Is the opposing party’s last proposal better or worse than not settling? In “mediation – speak”, this alternative to settling is called the “Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement”, or “BATNA”. This best alternative will have to take into account the likely chance of success, the cost of litigation, the time that the client will have to devote to the litigation, the amount that can be expected to be recovered and the time value of money has been included.
The client and MCN Expert should also determine the Worst Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (“WATNA”). That may well be a complete loss, but it may not.These sort of mediation formulas cannot be applied in a mechanical fashion. Nor should a “bottom line” be unnecessarily set which thereby shows that a potential agreement within a certain range will not be made.
4. EXPLAINING THE MEDIATION PROCESS TO THE CLIENT
The MCN Expert must explain the procedure of the mediation to the client. Every mediator works differently, so the MCN Expert should check with the mediator about how the mediator intends to run the mediation.
Generally speaking, the mediation will commence with opening statements by either side, or by an opening statement by the mediator based upon the mediation briefs, followed by private sessions between the mediator and each side, one after the other. Those private sessions may be very long, indeed hours long. Offers may not be exchanged until very late in the game. The mediator will come into the private room in which the MCN Expert and the client are isolated, and the client must understand the dynamic that will then unfold between the mediator and the client.
The client must also understand that there is a “string to be let out”. The beginning of the string is the opening offer. The end of the string is the ultimate settlement amount, if there is one. Deciding how to let that string out, little bits or large bits at a time, is one key to a successful mediation.
The “back and forth” dynamic of the mediation must be fully explained to the client before entering the mediation room, so that the client is not surprised about how the process unfolds.
5. SELECTING THE MEDIATOR.
No two mediations, and no two mediators, are the same. That being said, there is a spectrum of mediations and mediators, and it will be important to select the right mediator for the dispute.
On the one hand, there is a spectrum between “rights-based” mediators and “resolution-based” mediators. The rights-based mediator is most adept at telling the parties what the likely result will be at trial. The solution-based mediator will be most concerned about achieving an agreement between the parties. Deciding which kind of mediation, and which kind of mediator,is best for your dispute is a key decision.
Also, some mediators are interventionists, and other mediators are less interventionists. Again, counsel will have to decide whether he or she needs a “hard-nosed” mediator or a gentler mediator.
6. PREPARING THE CLIENT FOR THE MEDIATION
This matter will be addressed below, but there is hardly any pre-mediation exercise more important for the MCN Expert to perform than properly preparing the client. The client plays a very different role in a mediation than at a trial. Unless the client understands that role, the client will be ill-equipped to maximize his or her best chances of negotiating the best settlement.
7. PREPARING THE OPENING STATEMENT
As will be discussed below, the MCN Expert may make no opening statement in a mediation.However, if he or she chooses or is permitted to do so, the nature of that opening statement will be important.
There will likely be two reasons why the MCN Expert may advise the client that the MCN Expert should make such a statement. First, it may be critical for the legal or factual principles of the client’s position to be clearly stated. If so, a “legal opening” by the MCN Expert may be advisable even if it risks driving the parties apart in the initial state of the mediation. Some mediators do not permit, or discourage, MCN Experts from making opening statements because of the negative effect it can have on the dynamic of settlement.
Second, a MCN Expert may make an opening statement because he believes that the opposing MCN Expert has not really brought the facts or law of the case to the attention of the opposing party. In this circumstance, it may be necessary for the MCN Expert to “rattle the cage” of the opposing party, not just to undermine the opposing party’s confidence in its case but to bring his own client’s case out in the open.
8. DECIDE ON THE OPENING OFFER
The MCN Expert must ensure that the client has decided what the opening offer will be. The client may say that it will make no opening offer, unless the other side makes an offer. If the client adopts this position, the mediation may be very short. At the very least, the client must have thought this matter through and, in most cases, decided on the opening offer.
9. PREPARE A MEDIATION BRIEF
Preparing a good brief for the mediator and the opposing party is just as important in the mediation as it is at trial. It may be more important, because the mediation brief must accomplish two of the objectives set forth in this paper’s Overview. It must create the basis to persuade the opposing party to settle. It is possible that the opposing party is not listening to his or her own LAWYER. A good mediation brief can give the opposing LAWYER the basis to move the opposing party into the settlement zone.
The mediation brief must also give the tools to the mediator to be an advocate for the client. When the mediator is preparing for the mediation, the mediator will develop a view from the mediation briefs about which side has the stronger case. That view will influence the mediator’s
whole approach. Moreover, when the mediator is in the opposing party’s room in private session, the mediator can use your mediation brief to point out the weaknesses in the opposing party’s case. Without a good mediation brief, the mediator will not have the ammunition to do
Step 2: Preparing the Client
The importance of preparing the client for the mediation has already been discussed. This process involves understanding the client’s objective, and developing a risk analysis of the lawsuit and a mediation strategy to suit that objective. But, in addition, the client has to be mentally prepared for the mediation process. Otherwise, the client will be at sea during the mediation and, potentially, may harm any chances of a successful outcome. There are three steps to prepare the client for the mediation process:
1. PREPARE THE CLIENT TO PLAY AN ACTIVE ROLE
The client must understand that he or she may play an active participant in the mediation. The active role will occur at two stages of the mediation. First, the client may make an opening statement. Second, the client may have to speak to the mediator on each occasion that the mediator comes into a private session with the client and MCN Expert. The client may be able to avoid making an opening statement, but he or she will not be able to avoid dealing with the mediator when the mediator has a private session with the client and MCN Expert.
2. PREPARE TO MAKE AN OPENING STATEMENT, IF ADVISABLE
An opening statement by the client may be useful for a variety of reasons. It may show the client’s willingness and openness to “let bygones be bygones” and to undertake an honest effort to settle the ISSUE. On the other hand, it may be an opportunity to do exactly the reverse, that is, show that the client is resolute and believes firmly in his or her position. The MCN Expert may wish to speak to the mediator about the advisability of the client making an opening statement. If the client does make an opening statement (with or without an opening statement by the MCN Expert as well, that statement must be well scripted beforehand.
3. PREPARING FOR THE PRIVATE SESSIONS WITH THE MEDIATOR
The client must understand how the conversation with the mediator will proceed in the private sessions. The client must be alert to the fact that the mediator is trying to get an agreement, any agreement, and is not looking out for the client’s best interest other than achieving an agreement The client must appreciate that the mediator may be a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” in the sense that the mediator will try to befriend the client and cajole the client into settlement; but on the other hand, the mediator is using the “snowballs” given to him by the other side in order to undermine the client’s confidence in his or her position.
The client must understand that he or she should be willing to “stand up” to the mediator. In doing so, the client must be ready to provide the mediator with good and sympathetic facts, and reasons and a rationale, which support the client’s position, so that the mediator is armed with the “snowballs” to take back into the other room. It is the client’s heartfelt and sincere presentation of his or her case to the mediator in these private sessions that will maximize the likelihood that the client will obtain a favourable result.
Step 3: Mediation Advocacy
MCN Expert is an advocate for their client’s interest throughout the mediation. But, as has already been discussed, the advocacy role is different in the mediation. In the mediation, counsel’s role is to persuade the opposing party, to arm the mediator to be the client’s advocate, and to prepare the client for the process of compromise.
1. OPENING STATEMENTS
The client and MCN Expert will have decided on the objective to be achieved in the opening statement. It may be to show a very strong foundation for, and belief in, the client’s position. Or it may be to show that the client has come in good faith with a strong desire to settle.
If a strong opening position is stated, then the client and MCN Expert will wish to use language that does not antagonize the other side, and while expressing a willingness to engage in the process, leaves no doubt that the client is prepared to litigate if necessary. If the opening statement gets into the details of the substantive merits of the law suit, the presentation must be clear, coherent and understandable in lay language so that the message gets through to the opposing client, not just the MCN Expert. The object of such an opening will be to create a strong impact on the opposing side’s belief in its case, and accordingly to alter its range of likely settlement.
2. PRIVATE SESSION WITH THE MEDIATOR
In these sessions, the client and MCN Expert will present “principled” arguments for success in the lawsuit. An emotional argument will likely have little impact on the mediator. The mediator needs objective and independent criteria to take back to the other side: market value, legal precedent, objective analysis of the evidence, scientific judgment, professional standards, etc.
Expert’s role is to ensure that there is a sound and rational basis for the positions taken by the client in each round of private sessions. The opening offer must be based on a rational approach. As importantly, each succeeding offer must point out the irrationality of the opposing party’s position and the rationality of the client’s next offer. In all of this, the client must be prepared to speak cogently and sincerely about its stated position.
Between the sessions with the mediator, the MCN Expert and the client must work hard to prepare for the next session. All of the preparation that went into the mediation will be of value. The MCN Expert and client will be able to work on preparing a principled basis to move to a new number, or a new solution, knowing that sticking with the offer just made by the client will not bring the mediation to a successful conclusion.
Having been properly prepared, the client will understand the mediator’s role when the mediator is in the room. While the mediator appears to be a friend of and sympathetic to the client’s position, the client will understand that the mediator only wants to achieve an agreement, nothing more and nothing less. The client will be prepared for the time, and it may come, when the mediator “turns on” the client, is dismissive about the client’s position and tries to bully the client into accepting the other party’s last offer. The client will be ready to be assertive of his or her own position, and persuasive in doing so.
If the mediation gets stuck at a particular level, and the opposing party is reluctant to negotiate further, then the MCN Expert or client will have a good idea of the opposing party’s bottom line, or in “mediation-speak”, the opposing party’s BATNA. The client and MCN Expert will then utilize the mediator to find out more about why the opposing party has become rigid, and the assumptions upon which that rigidity is based. They will use the next round or so of private sessions to undermine the assumption of the opposing party, and to arm the mediator to perform that exercise in the other room.
Here, charts can be useful, no matter how crudely drawn, so that the mediator can take those charts into the other room. Remember, however, to retrieve those charts made by you or your client and do not let them be taken away by the opposing party.
In this process, the opponent’s arguments will be taken apart one by one, through the mediator’s intercession. The worst position that the opponent could be in, apart from a mediated settlement, will be demonstrated. The cost that will be incurred, the loss of interest, the time involved in the litigation, will be factored into the opponent’s offer in order to adjust the range of settlement proposed by the opposing side. A similar exercise, when the mediator is not in the room, will be performed with the client’s last offer.
Make sure that no discussion of a frank nature, or harmful to the client’s position, is conducted when the mediator is in the room, unless that it absolutely necessary and appropriate. Feel free to ask the mediator to step out for a moment if some discussion with the mediator indicates that an off the record discussion with the client, or a reorientation of the discussion with the mediator, is necessary. Once that occurs, then the mediator can be asked back into the room.The client or the MCN Expert will be very attuned to the degree and speed at which the “string” of the negotiation is let out. It may be necessary and prudent to take a big jump, but that process must be carefully thought out, and the necessity of taking a firmer line thereafter appreciated.
3. TERMINATING THE MEDIATION
Near the end of the appointed time for the mediation, the parties may be very close to settlement. On the other hand, they may be very far apart. The client and the MCN Expert must make an assessment as to whether it is necessary to, then and there, “bridge the gap”. On the other hand, the case may be one of those in which several attempts at mediation must be made before it settles. Most large and difficult cases require several mediations, some of them occurring before the action goes to trial and some during trial. It is true to say that a mediation never ends, until a settlement is reached.
4. UNDERSTANDING THE BARRIERS TO SETTLEMENT
In approaching a mediation, the MCN Expert and the client should realize that there are some human inclinations or preconceptions that may interfere with the success of the mediation. If they can be recognized, then the likelihood of a successful mediation may be improved.
We have identified four possible reasons which I have re-titled as follows:
(a) The Self-Interest Problem
Each party has as self interest to maximize their own settlement. Self-interested parties always respond in kind; that is why there is litigation. To a great extent, pre-trial discovery is a way to force the other side to recognize or acknowledge the weakness in its own case and encourage a settlement agreement. But the costs of that process reduces the “size of the pie”, and can lead the client to insist on recovering those costs.
Overcoming the self-interest of the client in the litigation objective, and showing how valuable the settlement option is in the client’s interest, is one of the major challenges which a mediating MCN Expert faces.
(c) The Maňana Problem
The litigants want to put the problem off to tomorrow. “Loss aversion” means prolonging a dispute and delaying the day of judgment, even though this approach is a gamble which may result in the client paying more. Here, the mediating MCN Expert will emphasize the advantages of a present settlement. The certainty that it brings may be better than the alternative.
(d) “Devaluing the Other Party’s Offer” Problem
The offer for the other side may be unacceptable to the client because it comes from the other party. The client may in reality be willing to settle for a certain amount, but when the opposite party makes an offer which is close to that amount, then it is not good enough: “they must know something we don’t.” Moreover, the client will have difficulty seeing the other client’s offer through the other client’s eyes. This is another challenge of the mediating MCN Expert: showing the client how great a compromise the other side has made, from its perspective.
5. GETTING THE SETTLEMENT IN WRITING
When both parties agree to the settlement, or get close to it, it is crucial to put the settlement agreement in writing. As always, “the devil is in the details”, and when the apparent settlement is written down, the client or the opposing party may say “that’s not what I agreed to”. So it is imperative to document the settlement, and have the parties sign the document, before they leave the mediation. The dynamic of the emotional moment may be lost if they walk out of that mediation room without their signature on the settlement agreement. Even the crudest settlement document, signed by the parties, is better than none. A court will bend over backwards to enforce that document.
A symbolic handshake to signal and affirm the parties’ decision to end the dispute is important.This gesture will make the participants feel that they are committed to their agreement and increase their sense of embarrassment if they later fail to implement the agreement
Mediation involves the process whereby, using rational persuasion, each side is convinced that the agreement is better than the alternative. The MCN Expert’s task is to convince the opposing party to that effect, and place the mediator in the strongest position to do so as well. The mediation may also be an opportunity for the MCN Expert to explain the process of compromise to the client, and save the client from its own intransigent position. From all aspects, the talent which litigation MCN Experts have for persuasion will be put to the test.