Abraham Lincoln was a visionary, and nowhere was his vision more evident than when he said: "Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often the real loser _ in fees, expenses, and waste of time."
Mediation does just this. It shifts the emphasis of a dispute from problems and positions to issues and solutions.
Our society in its complexity and diversity has spawned a litigation explosion. Lawyers often are blamed for, and are sometimes the cause of, the delays that take place in our legal system. They are equally often at the forefront of seeking solutions, and mediation is a mechanism that is increasingly used.
Mediation provides a unique and creative use of conflict resolution skills in solving legal disputes, and presents an exciting opportunity for society, lawyers, judges and everyone involved with our system of justice, to make our justice system work properly, with efficiency and economy.
In mediation, disputes are resolved by using an impartial mediator to assist the parties in reaching a negotiated settlement. This is achieved by encouraging communication between the parties and helping both sides focus on what they really need in order to resolve their dispute.
The mediator objectively identifies the strengths, weaknesses and needs of each side of the dispute, allowing the parties to see both sides of the story, and to see new and different ways their goals can be achieved. In addition, the parties have the opportunity to vent frustrations to an impartial third party who can acknowledge and diffuse these frustrations without taking sides.
The mediator is not a judge or a decision-maker. The role of the mediator is to organize and conduct an orderly and focused settlement negotiation, the result of which can be a full settlement of the dispute, or at least a narrowing of the issues and movement closer toward settlement.
Mediation is economical because it is short, usually three to four hours, and the mediator's fee is split by the parties.
One of the greatest benefits of mediation, in addition to reduced expense and prompt handling and resolution of disputes, is the ability of the parties to control the outcome of the process. A settlement is achieved only when all parties agree to it.
Mediation successfully is changing the way legal disputes are being resolved. According to Gay Inskeep, director of the Sixth Judicial Circuit Mediation Program, approximately 60 percent of the cases being mediated in Court Ordered Mediation are being settled at the mediation conference. This means these cases are resolved and no longer in the court system.
An added benefit of the process is that it permits lawyers to explore and get reacquainted with roles that are sometimes lost in the thick of a hotly contested lawsuit: that of counselor and healer of legal injuries.
The goal of mediation is to encourage and build consensus and to emphasize and focus on common interests.
Such an emphasis in the midst of a heated dispute can create a most worthy and satisfying result: peace of mind.
Charles N. Castagna, a certified mediator and lawyer, lives in Clearwater.