The City of Angels, Los Angeles, is one of the most mature and sophisticated mediation markets in the country. These days, unfortunately, Los Angeles is also becoming the leader for mediation services provided without joint sessions. Why is this a problem? A joint session is one of the most distinguishing hallmarks of mediation because it separates mediation from other methods of ADR. At a joint session mediation meeting, the parties and their attorneys are given a chance to present the merits of their case and argue for their position. It allows for the two parties to attempt to understand one another and a mediator hopes that the joint session will result in better solutions for all parties involved. Not only does a joint session result in better understanding for both parties, it can also lead to more valuable information about the case itself.
More and more mediators are stepping away from joint sessions when conducting their mediations. This has become a very controversial issue among mediators and those who are concerned about saving the field of mediation. Geoff Sharp fears that this new trend in Los Angeles will eventually spread to the rest of the nation. Specifically, his fear is that the mediator’s job is only reduced to coming up with proposals. Jan Schau agrees with Sharp and has first hand experience with the new trend. As a mediator herself, Schau says she has written proposals where she writes out all of the terms and sets a value that she thinks each side may agree to. Generally, a mediator’s proposal is written when the parties have reached an impasse and can be seen as a last resort. However, mediators in Los Angeles are writing proposals before the parties ever get to speak to each other. Schau says although she was hired as a mediator, she was volunteered to write the proposals.
Victoria Pynchon has been following the issue since 2009 and agrees that has been a dangerous decline in the number of joint sessions conducted by mediators and attorneys. When Pynchon asks mediators about why they are starting to avoid joint sessions, the most cited reason is that everyone wants to “avoid a polarizing set of zealously adversarial presentations.” However, Sharp believes joint sessions are ending as a result of mediator laziness. He argues that it is easier for mediators to work alone. Bringing the parties together and getting them to have a meaningful conversation about the issue at hand may be more effective than torching the joint session altogether, but it definitely makes the mediators job simpler. With mediation beginning to look more and more like a judicial settlement conference, it is crucial to identify the merits of a joint session and help in the effort to save the field of mediation.