Involved in a dispute and wondering "When is mediation appropriate?" Mediation is a more cost-effective and efficient method of resolving disputes without having to take the other party to court. Unlike in an arbitration hearing, the mediator has no authority to issue a legally binding decision on the dispute. They can suggest possible solutions that will be agreeable to both parties, but cannot force either party to accept such a settlement. Mediation can be used to resolve disputes of almost any kind, including employment issues, product liability, real estate transactions, domestic relations, tort claims, and business conflicts.
Mediation has a number of advantages over taking a case all the way to court. Because a mediator is used instead of each party hiring an attorney, legal costs are significantly reduced. In addition to being less expensive, mediation is also a much faster way to resolve a dispute. Court proceedings can drag out for months, even years, while the parties assemble evidence and make their arguments. For time sensitive issues that crop up in business, employment, or real estate cases, it may be far more effective to send the parties to mediation for a quick settlement.
The use of a neutral third-party mediator allows for more open negotiations because the mediator can discuss settlement options in private. This way the mediator is able to informally meet with the each party without disclosing the other party's final negotiating position. Mediation is especially useful in cases where the two parties will continue their association after the dispute is resolved. The neutral mediator acts as a buffer between the parties to reduce the animosity that can be caused by financial or legal disputes.
To start off the mediation process, all parties and their attorneys convene in a joint meeting. The parties then sign the Agreement to Mediate and the mediator will introduce the basics of the dispute to all in attendance. Each party is then allowed to present an informal opening statement of about 10-20 minutes. These initial statements are primarily intended to provide an overview of the case for the mediator. After this joint meeting, the mediator will have individual meetings, or caucuses, with the parties. The mediator will discuss settlement options, along with the costs and benefits of taking the case to trial if no settlement can be reached. During the course of the mediation, there may be a number of private meetings or the mediator may request another joint meeting will all the participants.