As you probably already know, mediation is a non-binding process involving a neutral party who tries to resolve a dispute by working with the parties to negotiate a settlement. In most lawsuits, the parties agree to voluntarily mediate their case at some point (or the court will require the parties to attend mediation prior to trial). Sometimes, it makes sense to attend early-case mediation with the goal of resolving a dispute before the parties have incurred significant legal fees (especially if those fees might be better directed toward a settlement payment).
In my experience, mediation offers at least four primary benefits. Some are obvious, some less so, but here are the ones most worth noting:
- You could resolve the dispute at resolution. This is certainly the best-case benefit and the major reason to mediate. But what other benefits does mediation provide if the dispute does not settle?
- You will hear a neutral third party’s impression of the dispute. What does the mediator think of your case? What does the mediator think of the opposing side’s case? What are your strengths? Weaknesses? It is always helpful to get the impression of someone who is hearing the facts and the parties’ arguments for the first time and giving you honest feedback. A mediator might also think of ways to reach a resolution that the parties had not considered, or had a chance to meaningfully discuss, prior to the mediation process.
- You almost always learn something about the other side that you did not already know. For example, the other side will almost always tell you (directly or through the mediator) what they believe are their most compelling arguments or best facts. Or you might learn what the other side really wants, or what major obstacles are preventing a resolution.
- If you attend mediation, but the case does not settle, then you are not left to wonder “what if” and whether there was an opportunity to resolve the dispute. Instead, you will know that you have no choice but to continue the fight.
While mediation might not always be successful, almost every mediation is worthwhile – especially if you consider some of the less obvious benefits the process offers.