Here in Savannah, I recently attended back-to-back mediations on two different cases. Two different sets of parents. Two different opposing counsels. Two very different mediations.
Mediation #1 went like many other mediations. The two opening statements couldn’t have been further apati in setting expectations, even though both attorneys knew well where the case needed to wind up. We both had a pretty good sense of what the judge assigned to the case would do under the fact pattern. We both knew the work that would need to be done in mediation to get our clients to that point without protracted litigation. That seemed to matter little to Opposing Counsel#!. He started the negotiations off with an offer that basically gave his client parent everything and left my client-parent little but the clothes on his back. We quickly wound up in separate rooms with the mediator going back and fo1ih between the two. A pretty typical mediation. Thankfully for the clients’ collective sanity, the fainily’s finances, and their future emotional well-being, we eventually got to where we needed to be, albeit with prolonged negotiations and wrangling. Opposing Counsel #1, by starting off at the extreme, putting his client at a disability by setting her expectations initially at an unsustainable level.
Mediation #2 went far differently. Both attorneys checked their egos at the door (that’s a very difficult thing for attorneys to do, by the way!). Both attorneys set reasonable expectations for their clients from the onset. As a result, the five of us (both attorneys, both client-parents, and the mediator) sat in the satne room for just over three hours and were able to discuss the issues, to disagree about some issues, and eventually craft at1 agreement that worked for all sides, and most importantly worked for the children. Both attorneys represented their clients well, both stood their ground on the issues that couldn’t be compromised on. But we were all able to sit together and have an honest and open discussion about the facts of this fatnily. It was really quite a remarkable experience, in no small part because it is unfortunately a rare occurrence in fainily law. I hope that I have many more of those over the coming years.
We blog often about our expectations of our profession, about what potential clients should be looking for, both out of their cases and from their attorneys. I have seen the good that can be accomplished when those expectations are met, the expectations we have of ourselves, of opposing counsel, and of our clients. It’s what we should be collectively striving for in all of our cases, not just the few and far between.