By Gabriel Leif Bellman
As the human brain evolves to include senses-engaging Apple Watch communication and avatar only mood emoticons, it is important for those of us who practice in conflict resolution to build spaces where time stands still. Mediation requires actively sitting with disputes and outcomes on the day of mediation, which often feels very different than it did than the time when litigation was commenced. Two years in, and with global warming, neither side may care about the lake house anymore.
Whatever has led a person to hire a lawyer is usually not solved with an instantaneous information dump. Whatever fantasy each side had when they first sat down with an attorney is not as relevant as it seemed back then. This is why mediation is so successful: it practices being in “the moment” (mindfulness is the term Silicon Valley throws around).
The incredible speed at which we communicate, and even litigate, doesn’t often prioritize trying out new questions or letting go of previously held beliefs. As litigation proceeds through discovery, the 140 character opinions of the other side often calcify and become harder to shake. It’s no surprise why cases don’t settle before mediation: both sides are at war with ghosts of the other side’s past.
Attorneys are wise to reserve a longer chunk of time than they anticipate. The act of sitting with a problem while time is running can sometimes inspire a new solution. It may be that only the moment when we believe time has passed us by can start the process of letting go of the old harm that holds us in place.
The work of a mediator is in this last-moment, often before trial. Just as you wouldn’t want to map a minefield without noting the patterns in the settled dust, lawyers who rush through mediation might be engaging in battles outside of the war. Mediation makes sure your client’s needs now are the same as when they hired you, and not just the ones from four years ago that they still have up on dating profiles.
About the author
Gabriel Bellman is a San Francisco Mediator and Attorney. For years, he worked exclusively for MTV, Miramax, and Playboy. He is a member of BASF’s Mediation Services panel; more information about him and about BASF’s mediation program can be found at www.sfbar.org/mediation.