So if mediation follows no set procedure, results in no assured outcome, and cannot compel parties to agree unless those parties wish to do so, what advantages are there to mediation?
- Mediation is relatively inexpensive. Seeing a case through trial is an expensive proposition.
- Mediation is relatively swift. There is no dearth of mediators ready and willing to assist parties whose goal is to try to settle a matter. A quick web search will result in hundreds of mediators and mediation websites, some specializing in certain types of cases and some more experienced and able than others. Mediation does not run by a clogged court schedule and sessions can be easily scheduled any time at the mutual convenience of the parties and the mediator, and can take place in a variety of locations.
- Mediation is relatively simple. There are no complex procedural or evidentiary rules which must be followed. While most would agree that a general rule of fairness applies, the maximum penalty a party can impose for foul play is to walk away from the mediation and take his chances in court.
- Mediation allows the parties to revise and adjust the scope of their conflict. In a trial, initial pleadings and rules of procedure limit the issues which a party can raise. In mediation, as circumstances change so can the topics up for discussion. This increased flexibility makes it easier for negotiators to act as problem-solvers instead of adversaries.
- Mediation allows for flexible solutions and settlements. The relief available in court is usually based on pecuniary damages, and equitable relief is hard to come by. In mediation, however, the parties can agree to a settlement requiring, or restraining, action by one party which was not originally envisioned as something beneficial to the other party.
- Settlements reached in mediation are more agreeable to both parties than court judgments. Because any settlement arrived at through negotiation is necessarily agreed to voluntarily by both parties, obligations under the agreement are more likely to be fulfilled than obligations imposed by a court.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but at least presents a framework in which we can consider the advantages of mediation. In addition, there is a similar list which can be constructed in which we can start to consider some of the typically mentioned disadvantages of mediation.
- Mediation does not always result in a settlement agreement. Parties might spend their time and money in mediation only to find that they must have their case settled for them by a court. Opting for mediation, therefore, presents something of a risk. Further, if mediation fails, much of a party’s “ammunition” might have already been exposed to the opposing party, thereby becoming far less useful in the ensuing trial.
- Mediation lacks the procedural and constitutional protections guaranteed by the federal and state courts. The lack of formality in mediation could be a benefit, as noted above, or a detriment. Mediation between parties of disparate levels of sophistication and power, and who have disparate amounts of resources available, might result in an inequitable settlement as the less-well positioned party is overwhelmed and unprotected.
- Legal precedent cannot be set in mediation. Many discrimination cases, among others, are brought with the intention of not only securing satisfaction for the named plaintiff, but also with the hope of setting a new legal precedent which will have a broader social impact. These cases are only “successful” if a high court (usually the United States Supreme Court) hands down a favorable decision on the main issue. Mediation is therefore not beneficial for such cases.
- Mediation has no formal discovery process. If one of the parties to a dispute cannot fully address the case without first receiving information from the other party, there is no way to compel disclosure of such information. The party seeking disclosure must rely instead on the other party’s good faith, which may or may not be enough.
So is mediation a good thing? Should you mediate a matter rather than litigate? The answers to these questions depend on which of the various advantages and disadvantages of mediation apply in any given case.