Take Another Look at Early Mediation

The lawyers who practice in California’s civil courts are already seeing the substantial delays that have resulted from budget cuts in the court system. Parties and lawyers need to take a closer look at the advantages of mediation early in the life of a case.

Most clients think that filing a lawsuit is a last resort, and that they have exhausted all efforts to resolve a conflict by that time. It’s no small change to fork over $435 to file a lawsuit in state court, or $435 to answer one, for that matter. However, filing a lawsuit can be a valuable first step in the next phase of resolving your conflict.

How can this be? By the time the dispute has developed into litigation, the matter now reflects financial investment as well as risk of loss. In addition, an entirely new set of deadlines starts to affect your case, and many, often expensive, actions must be taken to preserve your rights in court. With so much at stake, and with the delays and risks that become apparent as the case stalls in an overburdened court system, parties and counsel need to look at every possible option to achieving a desirable outcome.

We tend to look to our traditionally accessible court system as an easy step to resolving disputes. We believe that putting the dispute in the hands of a judge or a jury, as in “having my day in court,” will objectify the result. We never believe that we could possibly be found “in the wrong” or that we would not prevail once the trier of fact saw our side of the story. But, once the litigation gets rolling, things have a way of becoming a lot less clear.

Why not look at a solution before the case takes on gigantic proportions? Consider limited initial discovery to get the basic information you might not already have, followed by a mediation that will explore the possibility – indeed, likelihood – that the case can be settled and put to bed right away. Or, perhaps, the mediation could be used to set up phases in which issues can be resolved little by little, step by step.

The value of bringing the decision-makers face to face cannot be overstated. Confronting the hard issues early in the case and looking at the potential for wasting financial and emotional resources in the pursuit of litigation has a way of motivating the parties to find a solution with the help of a skilled neutral. This will have a highly valuable impact on everybody’s “bottom line,” and a quick and early settlement will be a refreshing experience.