During the first seat of my training contract at Russell-Cooke, I was very fortunate to be able to attend an in-person mediation with the trust and estate disputes team. Over the last two years, in person mediations have become very rare due to the pandemic and so I jumped at the opportunity to attend.

The mediation involved a dispute between two siblings as to the beneficial ownership of a property, the legal title of which was held in their mother’s name at the time of her death. Our client had come to Russell-Cooke for assistance almost three years before the mediation took place and so being able to negotiate a settlement on the day of mediation was of vital importance to him.

Preparation for mediation

The preparation required is no small feat and good preparation is key to a successful mediation. In order to negotiate effectively, you have to be as prepared as possible and have all the relevant information readily available to you on the day.

The preparation was well under way by the time I joined the team in September. Much of the preparation focused on the creation of the bundle, which should contain all material documents and correspondence. In the lead up to the mediation itself I attended a conference with counsel representing our client where strategy was discussed.

Ahead of the mediation I also assisted by obtaining comparable property prices in the same area as the property that was the subject of dispute, to be used as comparisons during negotiations.  

My role 

My role during the mediation was mainly to make a note of the discussions with our client throughout the day and keep track of the offers going back and forth between the parties.

Additionally, I was there to assist in supporting our client. The mediation was a stressful and tiring day for our client. Most of the day consisted of being in the same room and often long periods of time spent waiting for the mediator to return from discussions with the other side. Being able to hold conversations with the client outside of legal discussions was necessary to keep them calm and comfortable in what was undoubtedly a stressful environment for him. This was particularly important later in the day whilst the legal representatives on both sides discussed the terms of the mediation agreement as I spent a considerable period of time with the client.

Seeing first-hand the benefits of mediation

Having spent a lot of time at university studying the benefits of mediation and other types of alternative dispute resolution, it was rewarding to be able to see mediation in person. I was able to witness first-hand just how beneficial mediation can be, particularly within a family dispute.  

Interestingly, the discussions were not always in relation to money and the property. For instance, the other side asked our client to give them the family bible as a condition of the mediation agreement; making clear that this was an important condition for the other side on sentimental grounds and which could have operated as an obstacle to settlement. It is clear that whilst most of the day the negotiations focused on points of law, mediation as a process allows the parties to resolve matters of personal importance.

Once the negotiations had come to an end and the matter was settled, both of the parties agreed to meet to say good-bye and hugged each other before leaving on amicable terms. In a day which started with the parties wishing to have no contact throughout the day and having been embroiled in a dispute lasting a few years, to end the day with a hug seemed like the most positive result emotionally for our client.

Although the day was long and there were periods of stress when the parties appeared to be at deadlock, the benefits for our client, both emotionally and financially, made the long day worth it. I feel extremely lucky to have been able to attend an in person mediation in my first seat as a trainee and I hope to be part of more in the future.