A mediation consultation can be an anxious time for clients. For most people, it is their first time in mediation and they simply do not know what to expect. In order to get the ball rolling towards a successful mediation, mediators should help their clients feel at ease. Clients feel burdened with all the questions they have about the process and most of these questions are similar to every other new clients questions. Mediators should take it upon themselves to answer these questions before the client even asks them.
As an experienced mediator, you should have a standardized consultation routine. It is very helpful to have a checklist of topics that you intend to cover in every initial consultation. However, do not treat your checklist as a script. Slowly go over everything and ask the clients if they have any questions along the way. While the clients should always be the center of the conversation, mediation consultation is the only time the mediator needs to dominate. Everyone will have their personalized initial consultation style, but there are a few topics that should be standard in every mediation consultation. We highlight these topics below.
Element #1: Gather Basic Information
The first step in your initial mediation consultation should be gathering basic information about your client. This includes their name, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses. It can also be helpful to get basic information about their children if they will be a part of the discussion or if you are not able to get a hold of the client.
Element #2: Explain Mediation
For many people, meeting you will be their first time participating in mediation. Therefore, it is very important to explain the process of mediation to them. At a minimum, you should explain the principles of neutrality, self-determination, and confidentiality policies. Be sure to answer any question they have about the process or about reaching a final decision.
Element #3: Mediation versus Law
It is not enough to only explain mediation because many clients think that the mediation and legal process are essentially the same. This is especially true when the mediator is also a lawyer. If a mediator is an attorney, he/she must clearly tell his clients that he/she will not be providing them with legal advice. He/she will only serve as their mediator. This point is often very confusing for clients and should be thoroughly discussed as this cannot be emphasized enough.
Element #4: Process of Mediation
Be sure to explain to your client about what happens during the process of mediation. Showing them a mock mediation or giving them handouts with information can be very helpful. Not only will this help the client feel at ease about the process, the mediator can also rest assured that his clients are well-informed about the process.
Element #5: Assign Homework
There are many things that need to be taken care of outside of mediation, such as filing paperwork. Be sure to tell clients to allocate enough time for these miscellaneous tasks as they may arise throughout the process. If you have any handouts with sample forms or any documents on what to do outside of mediation, provide those to your clients immediately.
Element #6: Explain high-level decisions
Make sure your clients are aware of the fact that they will need to make high-level decisions during the mediation process. While mediation is different from the law in several ways, it is similar to the legal system because a decision must be reached. If it is a divorce mediation, a mediator must tell his client to decide on custody and child support issues. Many clients need time to think about the consequences of going into mediation and telling them from the beginning about possible decisions they will have to make is a good idea. This will give them more time to think about their future decisions.
Element #7: Fees and Payments
Clients often ask questions about a mediator’s fees and payment policies, so mediators may answer this question during the beginning of a consultation. However, be sure your clients understand your fees and the options for repayment before the process begins.
Element #8: Signing Agreements
If the mediator and the clients feel ready to move on with the mediation process, the clients must sign an agreement to mediate and a fee agreement. The mediator can decide when they want to client to sign these forms, but it is recommended to provide the clients with some information about their case before you ask them to sign any agreements. Be sure your clients understand exactly what they are agreeing to.
Element #9: Answer Questions
This is another point that cannot be emphasized enough. Clients sometimes have questions that they are too nervous to ask. Mediators should stop to ask for any questions every few minutes. As a mediator, try to answer questions you have been asked in the past.
This may seem like a long list to follow, but it can be very useful for both the client and the mediator. Mediators can also make their job easier by having a standard packet of materials for their clients. For example, have all the information divorce clients will need in one packet. Clients can refer to these documents during the process. You can even include a list of “homework” assignments for the clients to complete. Providing clients with these documents also increases the chance the clients will work with you in the future because they see your organization and commitment to their case.
Source referenced: Mediate