Breakout sessions are the first opportunity after the joint session in the mediation process for the attorneys to privately discuss their positions with the mediator. Oftentimes information that was held back during the joint session for tactical reasons will be revealed to the mediator in the breakout sessions. At the same time, much of what was already said during the joint session will be repeated in an attempt to influence the mediator’s evaluation of the case. This is a necessary evil of the mediation process based upon the fear that the mediator does not fully comprehend the party’s position. The parties need to know that they have been heard by the mediator before he reaches a conclusion as to his evaluation of the case and possible settlement options. They need to know that he has really understood what their positions are. The worst thing a mediator can do isjump to a conclusion with respect to the evaluation of a case. Further, it is to both parties’ benefit to give the mediator the time to speak with both sides privately, several times, as it will assist him/her in reaching a more reasoned view of the settlement possibilities and the parties’ respective positions. This slowing of the process also lends itself to the parties becoming more accepting of the recommendations of the mediator.
Often the parties in the breakout session become mired in their arguments as to why they would prevail if the matter is not settled and goes to trial. They forget about the ultimate goal which is to settle the case. While it is necessary to ensure that the mediator understands their positions the parties should, in advance of the mediation, prepare their initial settlement proposals and convey those to the mediator. It is best not to wait until the breakout session to start crafting a settlement proposal. Instead, focus on settlement solutions and do not re-hash the merits of the case.
The mediator must engender confidence in the process by slowing it down and taking time. Attorneys may want to shorten the process if a solution is not forthcoming quickly enough. Again it is important and beneficial to both sides to feel that they have been heard, and to consider what the risks are in continuing the litigation from the neutral’s perspective. Give the mediator ample time to work the process. Negotiations leading to a shifting of a party’s position and acceptance of a compromise takes time.
In many most mediations, it may appear, at the outset, that settlement is an impossibility. It is a mistake to become discouraged by the initial settlement offers. The most difficult cases will settle if adequate time is taken.