When I tell someone that I am a mediator, they often ask, “Are you an attorney?” I find this question very interesting, especially because mediation was meant to be an alternative to the courtroom and legal system. That is why it is a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). Most attorneys are hard working individuals who want to help people solve their problems, however, they are working within a field that prevents communication between disputing parties.
Legal training teaches attorneys how to efficiently construct a case, put together facts, weigh the facts against previous court rulings, and then develop a case theme to persuade a judge or jury that their client’s view of the situation is correct. Outside of a very specific type of training called collaborative law, the legal system is not set up for communication, conversation, or dialogue. In fact, once a client hires an attorney, they are often advised not to speak to the other side, which is a smart legal maneuver.
Dr. Z’s goal is NOT to replace litigation or condescend attorneys but to educate and encourage people that there are multiple options for solving a conflict. There are many effective attorney-mediators, but there are others who act more like attorneys than neutral mediators. This is not appropriate for clients who want and need to communicate with one another.
In Dr. Z’s research on mediation, attorneys have stated, “I didn’t know that was what your client wanted.” This is because they work in such an adversarial system. It is not an insult to attorneys but rather an objective fact about the nature of their industry. Cross examination, depositions, discovery, and the physical structure of a courtroom all convey an oppositional approach to solving issues. A legal solution to conflict can also get very expensive very quickly.
Dr. Z suggests that there are at least three parts to any major disagreement: personal identity, operational decisions (how to move forward), and legal constraints. He always encourages his clients to seek legal counsel but reminds them that there are other parts of the conflict that mediation can better address. In short, he dispels common myths that people hold about the courtroom, such as judges allowing each person to “tell their side of the story” for as long as they please. In courtrooms, attorneys do the talking and clients do the listening.
Dr. Z is an Assistant Professor of Speech Communication at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville who understands the complexities involved with how people create and share meanings. His research sheds light on the difficulties associated with the process of conflict communication. He is a communication process expert who knows how to connect with people and make them feel comfortable. He does NOT provide legal advice but does facilitate effective conversations so that people can move on with their lives. In conjunction with legal counsel, the style of mediation at MCS paints a holistic picture of a conflict and disposes of any potential misunderstandings.