Tips for Building Trust between your Client and your Mediator
As a mediator, I enjoy working with attorneys and their clients to create positive relationships that in turn lead to settlements. Along the way, there are certain things you can do as the case attorney to aid in that process—particularly when it comes to creating a trusting and personable connection between your client and the mediator. From my own experience, I can definitely say that a client that trusts in the mediation process and is comfortable with the mediator is a client that is more likely to follow your lead as their attorney—which means you are more likely to reach a settlement!
1. Reach out to your mediator early.
As soon as you can, set aside time with your mediator to discuss the facts of the case. Show your mediator that you understand the key strengths and weaknesses of your case. You can call and chat or send a written pre-mediation report. No matter what format you choose the important thing here is to reach out and to do it early in the process.
2. If your mediator reaches out to you, be sure to respond.
Keep the lines of communication open! There are myriad reasons we may want to speak with you. For instance, the other side may have already reached out and we would like to hear your side in advance of mediation day as well.
3. Make introducing your client and the mediator to one another a priority.
When your mediator and client get to know each other before the actual mediation—whether via the phone, video conference or even the day-in-the-life video you intend to show for your opening statement—it means the mediator will understand the needs of your client better. It also helps your client become more comfortable with the mediator, so do not hesitate to send your client the moderator’s bio and photo. The goal should be to eliminate as much surprise as possible, which means the morning of mediation should not be a meeting between strangers.
4. Your client answers to someone—make sure your mediator knows who they are.
Remember that whether they are the plaintiff or the defendant, keep in mind whom your client needs to satisfy—and what satisfaction means to them. Sharing your insights on this with your mediator helps us to deepen our understanding of what a reasonable settlement might look like.
5. Share your straightforward opinion of your client with the mediator.
Trust in confidentiality and tell your mediator exactly what you think they need to know about your client as a person. Do they get visibly emotional quickly? Do they tend to overstate? Or perhaps they remain stoic even when discussing painful subjects. Whatever the case, clue your mediator in! Knowing these idiosyncrasies allows us to shape an approach that will best align with your client’s personality.
6. Discuss dispositive liability issues with your client in advance.
No one wants to hear that they may lose everything as the result of a strong summary judgment motion. So, if you have liability issues that may keep you from recovery outright—or that might even help your client win the day—make sure your client is familiar with those issues well before the mediation starts.
7. Never avoid your client.
If you have been avoiding your client because you need to have a difficult conversation—or for whatever reason—stop! If talking to them directly has proven tough, send them the detailed pre-mediation report you sent the mediator. This can help your client become familiar with your opinions and to have a sense of what you expect to accomplish at mediation well before you get there.
8. Flag any client concerns.
If you are struggling to manage your client’s expectations or have any other unresolved concerns, tell your mediator. We train for these situations and are here to help.
9. Discuss all incurred litigation fees and costs well in advance of the mediation.
When evaluating a potential settlement, your client needs to know what they may be walking away with—or even, what they may be walking away from. As part of that, be 100% certain you have correctly accounted for all non-party bills. No one on either side of the aisle wants a surprise in the bills on the day of the mediation. Mediators only work within the parameters of the authority the parties have brought to the table, and that authority is typically based on what they believe the incurred bills to be.
Ultimately, trust will be created when your mediator knows your client and your client knows the mediator and what to expect from the overall process. Decide what tactics are best in your circumstances and start building that relationship!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Winter Wheeler mediates complex disputes in areas of wrongful death, catastrophic injury, personal injury, premises liability, legal malpractice, medical malpractice, products liability, automotive and trucking liability.