If you are involved in a legal dispute, you and the other party may decide you want to avoid court. This is a popular choice for spouses who wish to avoid a contentious divorce, parents who want to create a customized child custody and visitation schedule, and businesses that wish to avoid costly and public litigation. Mediation is popular for family law matters, but it is utilized in all other types of civil cases as well. There is no specific area of law or type of legal dispute that mediation is not appropriate for, although there are many factors in determining whether mediation is the right choice. Once you and the other party agree that mediation is the right course of action, then you are tasked with finding the best mediator for your case.
Tips on how to find the right mediator for your matter
Here are some steps you can take to find mediators in your area and determine which one is the best fit for your dispute:
- Ask your lawyer for recommendations.
If you want to find an experienced and well-recommended mediator in your area, ask your attorney. “The best source to identify appropriate mediator candidates are other counsel who have positive or less positive experiences to share about particular candidates,” says attorney and mediator Mark LeHocky of Mark LeHocky Mediation. “Positive word of mouth trumps all else in this field.”
- Ask for local recommendations.
The court system handling your case may have a recommended tool for finding mediators. Some courts have a list of available mediators experienced in your legal matter, such as divorce, child custody, or breach of contract disputes. This can be useful when you are working on a legal matter without representation.
- Look for a breadth of experience.
A mediator’s experience with your legal matter is important, but so is a wider breadth of experience. “People with real-life experience negotiating creative solutions as well as communicating effectively with an array of people with different interests are typically the most effective at mediation,” says LeHocky.
- Look for a mediator experienced in your legal matter.
Not just any mediator will be appropriate for your case. “Look for someone who is knowledgeable in the area of law that the dispute involves so that the mediator will be able to ask appropriate questions and bring the strengths and weaknesses of a case to the attention of the parties,” says Henry G. “Chip” Bachara of Bachara Construction Law Group. For instance, if you are dealing with a construction-related business dispute, you need a mediator familiar with construction law and industry standards. Or, if you need a mediator for a child custody dispute, you should review local mediators’ backgrounds for their experience with child custody matters.
- Review the mediators’ qualifications.
It is not enough to see if a mediator handles your type of dispute. You need to review their qualifications. Mediation is unregulated in many states, which means anyone can claim to be a mediator. You need to review the factors that differentiate well-educated and experienced mediators from those who lack formal education and training. Does a mediator advertise where they trained? Do they claim any certifications, and if so, by what organization? Are they also attorneys?
- Review the mediators’ resolution rate.
If you are going to hire a mediator, you want that individual to be effective at their job. If the mediator has a relatively low resolution rate on matters, it could mean they are not as effective at helping resolve issues as you need.
- Use online directories and resources.
Along with websites like Lawyer Directory, you can use mediation-specific professional resources like the American Arbitration Associations’ Mediator Search Tool. The American Arbitration Association is well known and trusted. Using online search tools can help you sort through thousands of options to find the most qualified legal representation in your area.
Keep an open mind
Mediation isn’t the best option for every case. Depending on your circumstances, you might find the traditional approach to resolving your legal disputes to be the most effective. You may find that a family lawyer who is skilled in both mediation and litigation could offer you something you didn’t know you needed. Regardless of the approach you end up choosing, it's essential to seek an attorney’s assistance in any legal matter—don't be fooled by boilerplate contracts promising time or money saved.
With the right legal mediator, all parties should leave negotiations feeling confident in the outcome and their respective role in the solution.