Michelle Adams
Lawyer, Entrepreneur and Coach
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The Legal Seller Blog

The Legal Seller blog is a resource for Entrepreneurs & Professionals

Legal Tip: Use Mediation to Resolve Disputes

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I've been a lawyer for 25 years.  It's hard to believe it's been that long, and how far I've come.  When I was a new lawyer the only thing I wanted to do was to go to court.  I have always loved going to court.  When I was in law school I knew I wanted to be a trial lawyer.  I'm old-fashioned and I love things like rules and suits.  So even though I was shy I forced myself into getting comfortable in court, speaking to a jury and arguing my side.  As a litigator, going to court was often the highlight of my day and set me up for being in a great mood.  I got very good at running in high heels no matter the weather (try doing that in Chicago in the winter!) and I could make friends with anyone, even my opponents.  Because I love going to court it was an absolute dream whenever I was on trial.  Not many cases reach that stage so becoming a first chair trial lawyer and trying cases on a regular basis was something I had to work hard to achieve.  

While trial law fit me, my personality, education, training and goals---it does not fit most people.  Over the years as a trial attorney I learned just as much about the negative side of trial.  In order to be a good litigator you have to be an effective evaluator, and as part of evaluating a case before it goes to trial you need to inform your client about the pros and cons.  The cons include money, time, and the effect it can have on a person to have to go through the litigation and trial process.  Over the years I saw many of my clients get physically ill and suffer from stress and depression going through years of litigation and weeks of trial.  Whether my client was a business owner or a professional (all highly educated and savvy) didn't matter----the process really beat them down.  Moreover, the result is not guaranteed.  I've lost cases I thought I should have won because juries and judges are in control of your fate not you.  I've also won cases the other side thought they would win.  It's always a crap shoot even when you're prepared, experienced and have the facts and law on your side.

I've litigated thousands of cases over my career and while many went to trial or resolved through motion practice, the majority of my cases resolved through an alternative form of dispute resolution.  This is known as ADR.  ADR includes Negotiation, Mediation, and Arbitration.  There are many forms of all three of those---from a simple conversation about settlement to a hybrid trial.  The type of process you use will depend on the facts of your case and what process will achieve your desired result.  

Mediation is a process that involves both sides retaining a neutral mediator or even a team of mediators who can help you resolve your dispute either before or during litigation, and before trial.  The neutral mediator is a person that is like it sounds---someone who doesn't have an interest favoring one side over the other, kind of like a judge, but who can help the parties agree on a resolution of their differences.  By engaging a mediator early on you could save your relationship and you will definitely save your money and your time---all of the things you will not save if you litigate your dispute.  

While I will always have a love for the traditional process, I have decided to focus my career on dispute resolution because it really is a kinder and more effective way to resolve disputes.  When you go to trial you have to sit through a process of accusing each other of terrible wrongs and one person always walks away unhappy.  That's after paying the lawyers a lot of money and spending a lot of hours of your life in a huge battle.  Plus did you know that the dispute never ends with the trial?  There's the appeal process to go through that nobody talks about, and if you win money damages you have to try and collect that money.  We are talking YEARS of your life.  Life is too short for that if your dispute can be resolved more effectively out of court.  What if you could solve your differences, save money and perhaps even your relationship?  

I went through a bad partnership break-up and went on to own a small business ---all things that inspired me to my current career where I focus on Mediation as a means to resolve disputes.  Armed with my knowledge of just why it's important to reach resolution, as well as my business and legal experience, I am a big proponent for using mediation to resolve your disputes.  I will be talking about this more in the months to come.  If you have a dispute and are looking for a quick and amicable resolution, look to Mediation not court.  Better yet, hire a mediator to help you discover holes in your partnership before a dispute occurs.  There are many uses for mediation!