This is my first Family Mediation Week as a new mediator having completed my training in December 2021. I have thrown myself into the brilliant webinars, discussions and insight from other mediators and professionals throughout the week. It has also given me a chance to reflect on the benefits of mediation from my perspective as a solicitor, and why I chose to train as a mediator myself.
The benefits of mediation from my perspective as a solicitor
My practice as a solicitor is focused on trying to help my clients reach an agreement themselves without the need for court. As part of this, I have supported many of my clients by advising in the background of the mediation process. I still believe that it is important for everyone going through a divorce to have a solicitor to assist them through the process if at all possible, providing them with advice as negotiations progress and ultimately helping them to fight their corner when necessary. That being said, in many cases the whole process simply doesn’t need to go through solicitors, with lengthy financial disclosure and proposal letters being written back and forth, which can lead to the process becoming costly and drawn out.
This is where mediation comes in. I often have clients who are able to have discussions with their partner or spouse to reach agreements that work for their family, whether this is about arrangements for their children, financial matters or other aspects, but who just need some help with those conversations. That doesn’t need a solicitor writing letters. It needs mediation.
A mediator is an impartial third person who can offer invaluable assistance to couples to communicate with one another and reach their own agreed and informed decisions. Mediation is of course a voluntary process and so, providing that everyone commits and engages in the process, the clients can come to decisions that:
- they have made themselves, which gives them a great sense of control over the outcomes, recognising that separation is most often a distressing time for the family as a whole
- have the ability to be flexible and creative such that the outcome is suitable for their own unique family situation
- in turn, can mean that the outcome reached is more enduring and minimises potential future disputes or litigation and
- where children are involved, assists them to preserve some amiability within the co-parenting relationship going forward
Mediation is also confidential (save for some very limited exceptions). That means that a mediation process provides a space in which clients can explore options together, ruling them in or out of consideration, and their conversations are all “without prejudice” until such time as they reach an agreement, having had the opportunity to take legal advice. This effectively means that any proposals put forward during mediation cannot be referred to in court proceedings and, if people try to mediate but it doesn’t work, the court will not be told what proposals were made and why the mediation wasn’t successful. This effectively gives clients the ability and freedom to express views and explore ideas that they may not otherwise do.
Mediation may of course not be appropriate in all circumstances, but I do think that solicitors should consider this and discuss it with clients as an option in all matters. There are many forms of mediation that have developed over time to support clients in the process where historically it would have been ruled out. This includes shuttle mediation, where the clients may not feel comfortable sitting in the same room (or screen) so they can be in different rooms with the mediator going back and forth to facilitate discussions. Hybrid mediation is also becoming increasingly popular, where mediators are able to hold confidences. Clients can also bring their solicitors into the mediation process for additional support and advice. Mediation can therefore be adapted for each individual family situation, taking into account different personalities, circumstances and other dynamics that may be at play, so that mediation can be safe as well as effective as possible.
As a solicitor, I may also be more involved during the process to support my client where needed, for example, I can speak with my clients before or after each mediation session and consider proposals that they are contemplating within the process, or even attend a shuttle mediation session with them for immediate support if needed.
The hope with any mediation process is of course that the clients are able to come to some agreed proposals in mediation, which are put together in a summary which they can then take to their solicitors. Back to my role as a solicitor, getting these summary documents from clients is wonderful, with the knowledge that my client has had invaluable constructive discussions with their partner, come to some agreements between them and have something that is truly workable for them as a family. My role in this context is then to advise my client on the proposals that they have reached (there are often some that need a little bit more thought or detail!) and, all being well, translate their agreement into the necessary court documentation.
Mediation can be an extremely time and cost-effective way to resolve matters, which of course is a significant priority for the majority, if not all, clients. As a solicitor, with a mediated outcome, I can be safe in the knowledge that my client has worked with their former partner to reach a lasting outcome that they both agree is workable for them and their family.
Training as a mediator
Alongside my practice as a solicitor and supporting my clients through mediation, I have spent the last two years assisting mediators at Russell-Cooke. This started from helping out with some of the analysis of financial documents that had been exchanged in a particular mediation matter. I really enjoyed the different perspective of working with mediation clients, where the information needed to be presented neutrally, as well as putting aside any preconceptions of ‘what would the court do?’, and rather knowing that the outcome would be guided by these clients’ particular wishes and objectives.
I started to assist more with this type of work, and the work on those cases was invaluable to help me to build up an experience and understanding of how the process works and has certainly helped nuance my approach as a solicitor. Over time, I wanted to get more and more involved with this type of work and began to assist a lot more heavily with the mediators at Russell-Cooke. As I developed my skills and experience in the forum of mediation, I was encouraged that this was something that I wanted to pursue and decided to train as a mediator myself.
During the latter half of 2021, I completed my mediation training with the Family Mediators Association. This was an intensive eight-day course over a few months, during which I had to write an essay, complete a long piece of coursework and do countless role-plays as I learned the ins and outs of mediation in practice. I must admit, it being a long time since I was at university, it was quite daunting to be going back to this type of learning environment, but it was actually extremely enjoyable, particularly it being about a topic I am extremely passionate about. I was pleased to get to know the other trainees on the course, who came from all different types of backgrounds in their careers, some legal others more therapeutic, and we found that we learned a lot from each other, as well as the key skills from the trainers themselves.
I am delighted to now be a qualified mediator and look forward to helping couples and families with the new skills that I have acquired. I am very pleased to be joining the team of expert mediators at Russell-Cooke, as well as the world of mediation generally. Indeed, during Family Mediation Week I have discovered that there is a great community of mediators, and we can support and learn from each other. In particular, like me, there is an increasing number of mediators qualifying more early on in their practice, which I think is a fantastic addition to the mediation community and hope that this continues as the mediation profession grows.
Mediation and my practice going forward
As a solicitor, I always have an eye to reaching out of court resolutions for my clients wherever possible, not just to keep their costs down but to resolve matters as amicably as possible.
By referring many of my own clients to mediation and working alongside the other mediators at Russell-Cooke, I have seen first-hand how this process can be invaluable for separating families, minimising the anxiety and distress that parties so often experience. This is often because they are able to participate and take greater control of the process. Mediation can in particular be an invaluable forum for separating parents to communicate about the arrangements for their children, thus managing the transition for the whole family and supporting parents in the start of their co-parenting relationship which will last long after the legal professionals have closed their files.
Now as a mediator, I hope to be able to help clients in the same way. My aim is to help clients to navigate their way through these difficult and challenging changes in their family situations, and to empower them to make their own decisions and reach workable and lasting outcomes.
I am pleased to see that mediation, amongst other forms of dispute resolution, is becoming increasingly popular and awareness about alternative dispute resolution continues to grow. I hope that the future of family law continues to develop in this direction, and that litigation is only required in exceptional circumstances.
If you have any queries about mediation and whether this may be appropriate for your circumstances, please do speak to your solicitor about this. We now have an offering of eight mediators at Russell-Cooke with a wide range of expertise – please see our page here for details.