As an experienced family solicitor I was more than a little surprised how different the skill set is for a mediator, when I trained with Resolution as a family mediator earlier this year.
After years of being expected to give out advice and, dare I say it, rather liking the sound of my own voice, the first and most obvious challenge is to keep quiet and make sure you are not giving any advice or even expressing a view. What a revelation it has been to become a better listener and I can already see the benefit of this in my daily work as a divorce and family solicitor. I am finding I am listening more closely to my clients and also to what the other solicitor may have to say.
One of the main reasons I wanted to add mediation to my service offering was the frustration I have always felt when a new client tells you that they are amicable and “almost there” with their spouse in sorting out financial matters or the arrangements for the children. They each instruct a solicitor and, even without any apparent animosity, they can start to drift apart or, worse, still become entrenched in an impossible position.
Mediation brings the couple together round a table right from the start and you can nip in the bud any misunderstandings or assumptions. I have found the first mediation meeting is often a revelation to both parties as when they each put up their number one concern on a flip chart it is often a surprise to their partner and not something the other even knew was an issue. Hearing what is most important or a deal breaker from the start is invaluable.
I have always been a fan of round table meetings with other solicitors and our clients, even when not in a formal collaborative process but I am now more keen than ever to keep the dialogue open and to keep clients talking to each other wherever possible. Communication is key to a good marriage – and a good divorce.
For many couples they feel mediation puts them in control of their own destiny with the responsibility firmly on them to find solutions that work for their family unit. The mediator is a facilitator, able to give helpful input and stop sessions which are supposed to sort things out descending into a slanging match.
Let’s make sure we don’t lose sight of the importance of clients hearing and understanding their partner’s point of view and being actively involved in finding the best way forward – whether that’s through mediation or when using a solicitor. Hiding behind solicitors’ letters is often all too easy for both clients and lawyers alike.
My Christmas message, with more than a nod to Strictly, is… KEEP TALKING!
Family solicitor, Leicestershire