What Happens During a Mediated Settlement Conference?
Mediated settlement is different from other forms of dispute resolution. Conferences are not hearings or trials to determine who wins or who loses. Rather, they are facilitated discussions during which parties search for mutually acceptable solutions to their conflict. Although less formal than a trial or hearing, mediation is still a legal proceeding conducted with decorum and guided by rules.
The mediator will begin the conference by meeting with you, the other party or parties to the case, and your attorneys. The mediator will explain the ground rules for the discussions and will likely ask the attorneys to describe the case from their respective point of view. The mediator will likely separate the group and meet with each party and his or her attorney individually in what is known as a “caucus.” A caucus provides the opportunity for a mediator to speak frankly and it gives the parties an opportunity to share information in confidence with the mediator.
It is import to remember that the mediator’s ultimate goal is to help the parties resolve the dispute themselves. Unlike a judge or jury, a mediator does not make decisions for the parties. In an effort to help parties reach an agreement, a mediator will work to open channels of communication, to inject reason into the discussion, and to help each side see the dispute through the eyes of the other. The mediator will also explore with each side the strengths and weaknesses of their case, discuss the benefits of settling, suggest options for the parties to consider, and carry offers and counteroffers between the parties.
If the parties reach an agreement, their terms will be put down in writing and signed and their case will eventually be dismissed. It is import to recognize, though, that even when an agreement is not reached, mediation can still be helpful. Lines of communication may be opened and momentum toward resolution generated. Cases occasionally go on to settle later.
Mediation is an opportunity to resolve your dispute in a way acceptable to you while at the same time avoiding protracted litigation and a trial. Cases do not always settle and some must be heard by a judge or jury. But, when mediation is successful, parties save time and money, avoid stress, and have the satisfaction of knowing they were able to work things out themselves.