You became a member of CIArb in 2010. Tell us about your route to membership.
For 30 years immediately prior to 2010 I was a solicitor in private practice specialising in commercial real estate development, planning and construction, handling complex projects from inception to completion. In 2008, I decided that I wanted to move into a different field of expertise and discovered mediation. In the latter part of 2009, I trained at CIArb, under the expert tutelage of Jane Gunn and Aled Davies. The accreditation brought with it the right to become a member of the Institute.
What inspired you about mediation, which then led you to choose it as a career path?
As a commercial property solicitor and a partner in a City practice, I had acquired many “transferrable” skills, including managing risk, problem solving, listening, stamina and wisdom. I was often described as my clients’ trusted adviser. Whilst in private practice, ADR was becoming more and more used in resolving disputes, so, coming from a non-contentious legal background, mediation struck a chord. Before embarking on the course, I realised that I had some of the skills required to be a proficient mediator.
During my time with Jane and Aled, I found their approach inspirational and highly effective. This period also gave me the opportunity to reflect on my career to date, and what really motivated me. I found myself winding the clock back to my university days when I studied Linguistics and French.
My inspiration then was Naom Chomsky who propounded ground-breaking theories of universality of language. Languages have some common root concepts, whilst each one has its own traits. People have many common attributes (e.g. needs, interests, fears and concerns) and, at the same time, are individuals.
How would you describe yourself as a mediator?
I use the facilitative (and sometimes the transformative) model. As I no longer practise as a solicitor – indeed I am a full-time mediator – I have found that, whilst my legal knowledge is still there, it stays in the background, and that my mediation skills are very much to the fore.
I see my role as helping the parties to find their own solutions, acting, if you will, as a catalyst.
You cover a wide range of disputes from property to defamation. Do you think any dispute is capable of being mediated?
Perhaps a little background may assist. Towards the end of the CIArb course, there was much discussion about how one should market oneself. The majority view was that a mediator should specialise in the field of law with which he or she was familiar.
I made the decision not to follow this approach. After all, I had been accredited as a mediator, so these were the skills I would be adopting. I have now mediated a vast variety of mediations and I can honestly say that not one has been more challenging than another, based purely on the facts presented.
From time to time one comes across an acronym or an expression, which is unfamiliar, so my approach is simply to ask what it means or to look it up in advance of the mediation. Whilst the facts are of course relevant, the key issues in mediation are those beneath the surface.
There has been much debate as to whether major international conflicts may be resolved through mediation. My view is that, provided the parties are willing to try to settle their differences (and a mediator could perform a useful and effective role in assisting the parties to express such willingness), any dispute, disagreement or conflict may be settled through mediation.
I take great comfort from the fact that mediation has been used effectively in the world of restorative justice.
Your motto is ‘mediation makes sense’ can you elaborate on that?
This strapline arose from my clear conviction that the principal role of a mediator is to help parties to see sense and to put matters into perspective.
I well remember a slightly dismissive comment from a friend of mine when I said that I was training as a mediator and I explained what it meant and entailed. His immediate comment was “It is just common sense”.
This is absolutely true, but the challenge is that, when parties are in dispute, emotions take over and they lose most (if not all) of their common sense or rationality. It therefore makes sense for a mediated solution to be explored.
What do you think are the most important skills for mediators to hone in order to succeed in practice?
Active listening, the ability to summarise, reframe and empathise, curiosity, a lightness of touch, lateral thought and…preparation. I always read in detail any papers provided as, quite often, it is the throw-away line in an email or text, or a turn of phrase which can provide a clue to unlocking the issues.
Just as an aside and whilst a very high percentage of my mediations do settle, I do not consider that success should be measured by reference to settlement rates. There are extreme cases where it is absolutely clear that the dispute should not be settled, but rather that the parties may move forward, disagreeing well.
What advice would you give to qualified mediators looking to set up their own businesses?
Clearly I need to answer this question wearing a different hat, as mediators do not give advice!
All mediators are different. Some will want to be part of a team, some will want to go solo, some will have other professional activities, some will enjoy the academic side, some will prefer commercial, community, family or workplace mediation. The opportunities are limitless.
The best advice which I can give is for a qualified mediator to write and rigorously implement (and regularly review) a business plan. There are many templates available. As with any business, success will only come from hard work, a sense of humour and a modicum of good fortune.