I recently had breakfast with my old friend and former neighbor, Greg Parent of Miles Mediation & Arbitration, and I asked him for some tips for mediation, given his serving as a mediator for the past several years (meaning he’s not only attended mediations as an attorney/advocate for both individuals and for insurers, but he’s served as a registered neutral for the past several years).
Since I hate keeping valuable information to myself, and it’s close to Christmas, I’m going to share his wisdom from our talk here, where all can read it and benefit from it, because altruism is fun. My interview with Greg Parent is below:
Me: Why’d you decide to mediate full-time?
Greg: I think I was born to mediate. I worked after college as a claims adjuster before law school and spent the majority of my legal career working as a defense attorney before becoming a plaintiff’s attorney for about three years. I always felt like something was missing.
Me: How does one become a mediator anyway?
Greg: I took the mediation course with Pat Siuta. I can’t recall the exact cost, but it took a full week of training plus one or two weekend days for the practicum which followed. Joe Murphey, a fellow senior neutral at Miles Mediation & Arbitration, reached out to me and pitched the idea of joining him on Team Murphey as a full-time neutral.
Me: What do you like most (and least) about mediating?
Greg: For “most,” I love my career choice. I feel fulfilled and challenged every single day. Mediation requires a perfect blend of my natural skill-set. In equal parts, you need to know the law, know people, and know how to analyze difficult problems. There is also the challenge of figuring out to how to communicate ideas and messages to different groups of people with different motivations when they are not necessarily pre-disposed to hearing ideas that are counter to their position. For “least,” last minute cancellations!
Me: How can I as an attorney do “well” at a mediation?
Greg: Preparation. Preparation. Preparation. For both sides, Plaintiff’s and Defense counsel, preparation is key.
Me: is there a difference in what the advocate for the injured worker should do vs. the insurer’s counsel?
Greg: Yes, for the plaintiff,
- Know your updated medical bills and have copies of the records.
- Have documentation and proof of any lost wage or future meds.
- Talk to your clients and know and understand their motivations.
For the defense,
- Investigate the file and know the medical records.
- Distinguish between prior or subsequent medical treatment by the Plaintiff
- Make sure your adjuster has the latest updated materials prior to mediation.
Me: And how do lawyers do “poorly” at mediation?
Greg: Being unprepared at mediation is a cardinal sin, but it can be corrected with how an attorney might avail themselves of the mediation process. There are a few notable situations, however, where attorneys can do poorly:
- Refusing to adequately review the new information learned at mediation.
- Not having the patience to exhaustively explore all avenues of resolution.
- Not communicating with the client.
As a neutral, my job is to bring both rooms the information they need to evaluate. I cannot control whether they accept it or appreciate the perils which may be revealed. I can often stand on my head to try and make a point, but I can’t always help one room or the other perceive a clear and present danger. My job, however, is to make sure that I articulate those various perspectives so I can rest assured each angle was at least addressed, if not fully explored.
Occasionally, people give up and take their ball and go home. I do not extend mediations unnecessarily, but I try not to let folks cut bait at the first or even second sign of turbulence. Those who do, despite my recommendations to the contrary, often leave potential resolutions on the table.
Although non-communication occurs in the defense room on occasion, more often than not, failure to adequately communicate with clients occurs in the plaintiff’s room. As a neutral, I will make sure to fill any gaps in communication, unless counsel prevents me from having the direct access necessary to ensure that messages are being conveyed. When that happens, my hands are tied.
Me: What are some “best practices” for mediation?
Greg: The best practices fall into three categories. Legal acumen and preparedness, professionalism and congeniality, flexibility and adaptability.
An attorney has to know the law and their case and they need to be prepared. Nothing breeds success like the confidence of knowing your case and projecting your abilities.
The notion of professionalism is still alive and well. People wax nostalgic about the good old days or being old school, but I see consummate pros every day. Being nice and cordial while being a zealous advocate is mutually exclusive. Especially if one side is asking the other side for money.
“Everyone has a plan until the get punched in the face.” That’s a famous Mike Tyson quote, but it’s often apt at a mediation. How an attorney reacts when her first plan of attack or defense fails can often signal the difference a successful mediation and an impasse.
Me: What about some “worst practices” you’ve seen at mediations?
Greg: The worst practices at mediation are the folks who marshal all of their efforts, tie up the time of several professionals, their clients, plus the neutral and then throw a figurative grenade on to the table that blows up all hope of having a productive day.
That can come from attacking the plaintiff, arriving with no new money, increasing the demand, or not bringing the actual plaintiff or an adjuster.
Me: Thanks for your time and insight today!