Making The Most of Half-Day Mediations

Making The Most of Half-Day Mediations

Half-day mediations last for only a few hours, but if that time is used wisely you can accomplish a lot for your file while spending less money on mediation fees. It’s no wonder why they’re becoming more and more popular. 

From my experience and in conversations with counsel, these sessions work best for more straight forward files with a limited amount of unresolved issues, and when counsel takes certain steps ahead of the mediation. 

In this blog post, I provide some tips for making half-day mediations productive and time well-spent.

Tip #1: Understand Which Cases Are Right For Half-day Mediations

From a time and financial investment perspective, a half-day mediation makes a lot of sense – but only in cases where the stage is already set for real progress. When a two-party dispute has few issues at play – mainly damages – resolution is often possible in a half-day mediation.

These sessions are also useful in disputes where parties have already started discussing settlement and want to bridge the gap as it relates to specifics.

Finally, I’ve also seen half-day mediation bring two parties who see a file very differently to a better understanding of one another’s viewpoint. If it sets the tone for a settlement in the near future, a half-day is well worth the investment.

Tip #2: Preparation Is Critical

You may have heard the old adage: “success occurs when opportunity meets preparation.” It is especially true when you only have three hours to work with.

Being ready to go right at start time is crucial for a few reasons. Of course, there are time constraints in a half-day session. But coming unprepared also sends a negative message to the other party. If one party is ill-prepared, the other side may take it as a slight and voice concern that the party is not at mediation to settle. A mediation always benefits when starting on a positive note; it helps establish rapport and mutual good faith.

Tip #3: Itemize/Make A Checklist Of Housekeeping Duties

To avoid interruptions in half-day mediation, I recommend making a checklist of what needs to be  completed in advance. Be sure to cover:

  • Settlement Authority: Don’t leave home without it. If a party with more authority or a role in deciding a settlement is unable to attend the mediation, make sure they are available and accessible through other means, such as a conference or video call.
  • Updated Records and Documents: Any changes in documentation should be made available to parties at least one month in advance of mediation to give each side time to secure the necessary settlement authority.
  • Updated Disbursement List With Supporting Documentation: You know you will be asked for it,  so have it at the ready.
  • Settlement Documentation Ready For Execution: While a settlement isn’t always reached at a mediation, it is good to approach half-day mediations in good faith and with an optimistic attitude. Have the necessary documents at hand.

Tip #4: Prepare Your Client Early, Too 

Well before starting the half-day mediation, be sure your clients understand what the process is, what the process is not, and the role of the mediator. Earlier on the day of the mediation it’s also a good idea to meet clients to go over key facts. 

Be sure the client understands: 

  • A mediation is not another discovery or their trial. 
  • The role of a mediator is to be neutral. 
  • The goal of a mediation is to convince the other side of the strengths of your position, not the mediator. (Although having well-articulated, fact-supported arguments will do just that and help the mediator reason with the other side.) 
  • There is often a big difference between the monetary amount being asked for in a claim, the opening amount in negotiations and the final settlement figure. In a half-day mediation, it helps enormously if the parties come with a realistic range of settlement at the start to ensure an appropriate amount of time between offers. 
  • A settlement almost always requires both sides compromising on numbers.

Tip #5: Keep Openings Concise And Expressed In A Way That Is Consistent With Your Objective For The Mediation

You want to lay out a full picture of your case, but the most effective openings I’ve heard don’t repeat your case highlights and strengths, which are already outlined in your Mediation Memorandum. Rather, they address the other side’s strengths and issues with your case. This type of opening not only shows empathy and understanding for the opposing party and helps build rapport between the parties, but it also meets the challenges of your case head on and hopefully gives the other side something to think about. This kind of opening sets the right tone and communicates a willingness to compromise. 

Agreements are much easier to reach when the other side believes you are approaching the mediation with the right attitude, have heard what they have to say and are willing to take their perspective into account. 

Tip #6: Adjust Your Negotiating Numbers

I mentioned this in Tip 4, but it bears further consideration. Opening offers in mediation need a rethink when the session is half a day. If you go in with a sky-high or super low first figure, it can come across as inflammatory and/or insulting given the timeframe. It may make the other side believe settlement is out of reach. On too many occasions I have seen an opening offer that was higher or lower than where a party had been in their settlement discussions prior to mediation. In the absence of any significant new information coming to light, this tactic tends to start things off in the wrong direction.

My advice? Stick to the zone of your best-case scenario you would get later to in a full-day mediation. That makes a settlement far more likely versus walking away before the three hours is over due to an insulted party. 

Tip #7: Don’t Rush The Process And Keep An Open Mind

Yes, when you only have a half day, time is of the essence. But don’t watch the clock like a hawk or allow yourself to feel rushed. Let the process play out with an open mind. Perhaps there is a problem with your case that hasn’t occurred to you. Or, maybe the file has some new issues that need to be explored. 

If you think some more time is needed to reach your goal in a half-day session, and both parties are agreeable, stay longer or work with your mediator over the phone/email after the mediation.

Oftentimes, if you follow these tips, you’ll discover a half-day session is exactly what was needed. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marshall Schnapp, Toronto Mediator

Marshall Schnapp, BA, JD, LLM (ADR) has been resolving disputes for over 10 years as a mediator and has extensive experience in adjudication as well. Clients consistently recommend Marshall for his upbeat, tenacious attitude, and the skills he has honed helping resolve thousands of matters. Get in touch with Marshall by email at marshall@schnappmediation.com or by telephone (647) 250-7216 today to set up a consultation, and see why he is the right mediator for your next file. For booking availability, please visit https://schnappmediation.com/booking/ or contact Lacey Day at admin@schnappmediation.com or (647) 250-7216.