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Where Is The Best Place To Hold A Mediation?

Image of a well used wooden picnic table in the park

{4 minutes to read} So, where is the best place to hold a mediation?  These days that question is a variation on the question, What should one wear to a mediation? (Answer: Anything from the waist up but be sure to keep your pajama bottoms on). 

I raise this question of locale because of two recent divorce mediations where the answer was: outside in a park or other semi-public place.  In each of these mediations one spouse walked around outside in a park that was sparsely populated.  In one, the other spouse also ended up going outside to talk.  Neither mediation suffered from this.  Indeed, they may have benefited since the outdoor participants felt comfortable, and both mediations were successful.

We have here yet another example of how the new, post-pandemic world (not that the pandemic is over) may evolve.  It also highlights how mediation can resolve disputes in ways that cannot happen in the courthouse.  While I haven’t reviewed the data, my guess is that few, if any, judges have suggested to the parties that they all take a walk and discuss how the case might be settled.  I have on occasion sent the attorneys out for a walk when I thought it likely the two of them, without others listening or being tempted to throw in their two cents, could iron out the matter.

Attorneys still seem to like to be inside during mediations, though everyone has become more casual in their dress.  Does the more casual attire help foster settlement?  I’m not sure, but even inside settings tend to be more casual – attorneys are not usually in a formal conference room but in their office, and that includes a home office.  Those settings can provide the opportunity for conversations not directly related to a case, but ones that help create connections.  “What’s that painting behind you?” or “What’s that [fill in the blank] on your desk [or shelf]?”  These conversations can often lead to creating trust between the mediator and counsel, so four hours later, or a week later, when some progress has been made toward a resolution, the attorney is working with a mediator they have come to know and even trust.

Intro to Mediation courses often address the issue of “How to Set Up the Room.”  Where is the best place for the mediator to sit?  Should a party or the party’s attorney be closer to the mediator?  Should the mediator be the person closest to the door (and is the reason to be closest to the door to make it difficult for others to leave or so the mediator can make a quick exit if someone pulls out a gun)?  I am not saying seating arrangements are irrelevant.  Which cousins are best suited to sit together at Table 9 to avoid a spat during the reception is worth considering.  Then you can avoid the need for a post reception mediation.  

But if things do fall apart, for whatever reason, keep an open mind as to the appropriate location for the mediation.  Here’s a good rule of thumb: Whatever makes people comfortable probably works best.

Gary Shaffer Gary Shaffer
Shaffer Mediation

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An honors graduate of Harvard University and the Cardozo Law School of Yeshiva University, where he also served on the Law Review, Gary brings more than 30 years of litigation and negotiation experience to his practice as a mediator. He has successfully negotiated and mediated resolutions in family matters, employment cases, commercial disputes, personal injury cases, and major civil rights matters.

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