One of the panels at CPR’s recent annual meeting in Atlanta featured three master mediators: Eric D. Green, of Resolutions, LLC; Hon. Layn R. Phillips, Phillips ADR; and Linda R. Singer, Esq., a JAMS and CPR Neutral.
Guided by moderator Jana Litsey, Senior Executive Vice President and General Counsel and Secretary of The Huntington National Bank, our panelists shared views and best practice tips on the ADR process they know so well. This post, the first in a series, will focus on the almost curiously controversial topic of joint sessions.
“We call it the disappearing joint session,” said Eric Green. “As all parts of a mediation are potentially valuable, I think the trend away from the joint session is a big loss, reflecting a misunderstanding of its potential and use and value. Of course, there are no rules in mediation except that there are no rules in mediation. Every case is different.”
Green noted that lawyers will typically insist no joint session is needed and would in fact be a waste of time—especially if they have him only for one day—because the case is mature and well known to both sides. While he agreed that those would be potential negatives, he has observed over time that the parties rarely in fact understand each other’s cases. Joint sessions have the potential to begin to close that gap.
“When you think about it,” he explained, “the joint session is your best and last opportunity to speak directly to other side. They are your audience and, to have a successful outcome, you must get them to agree to something you will accept. Assuming the session has been properly prepared—with private telephone calls between you and the mediator ahead of time, and with mediation statements exchanged—this is the start of a day’s worth of negotiation and your chance to get your message across to the other side (hopefully someone with real authority). This is your opportunity to establish a connection, demonstrate that you are prepared to be reasonable if they are, and to address the strongest arguments in the other side’s mediation statement.”
Joint sessions also serve an important purpose for the mediator, Green stressed. “If I need to say something to the other side at 5 p.m., I really want you to have said it at 9 a.m. so I can tie my message back to yours. It gives me a mechanism to deliver what is sometimes tough feedback to the other side by deflecting some of it, which can be very helpful.”
Green cautioned, “This is not an opportunity for you to get some emotional satisfaction by beating up on the other side. So don’t waste your time repeating your strongest points or engaging in threats or bombast. Don’t try to stand up and impress your client. And don’t try to impress the mediator—they are not the judge and jury.”
Green summed up, “No one has ever stood up in joint session, like in Perry Mason, and said, ‘I get it now, I’m guilty. I’ll withdraw my case.’ But it starts the process of people beginning to understand risk and see things from the other side’s perspective.”
JAMS and CPR Neutral, Linda R. Singer, described what she sees as a clear regional split, with colleagues on the West Coast coming down on the side of never seeming to utilize the joint session process, with East Coast colleagues being much more open to it.
“Some judge mediators are unaccustomed to managing conflict,” Singer surmised. “It makes them nervous.” But she agreed that the joint session process can be a real opportunity. “The hardest thing,” she described, “is when I convene a conference call and they tell me they’ve all agreed and don’t need a joint session, because it’ll take us until after lunch to get back to where we are in the process now, but then at 4 pm in the afternoon we are still saying the same things we were saying at the start of the day.”
Our third panelist, Layn Phillips, of Phillips ADR, was less enthusiastic about joint sessions than his colleagues. He tends to advocate for shared or exchanged mediation briefs and reply submissions, he explained, and holds the view that mediators mainly earn their money in private caucus sessions. But he did agree that there were circumstances (e.g., in some securities cases) where the joint session, or what he likes to call the “targeted session,” is helpful on topics like damages.
“You might have 25-page opening submissions and several reply briefs,” Phillips explained, “but only three paragraphs dealing with damages, so it would not be uncommon for me in this situation to tell the parties I wanted a focused targeted joint session on damages. This may not necessarily be an opening joint session, but one which could take place later in the day.”
Another example might be if a case is very close to trial. Sometimes this can be a helpful reality check for the clients. “Much depends on your client representatives,” Phillips added. “If they are very sophisticated and prepared, and you’re convinced from pre-mediation submissions and calls that they know the case, having them sit there while a very talented trial lawyer takes their case apart is not necessarily helpful.”
“As everyone here knows,” Phillips summed up, “we’ve all been to joint sessions that are incendiary, or that cover ground that is not only well ploughed but well fertilized, so I try to be very focused on when and under what circumstances I recommend this process.”
Eric Green reported also finding joint sessions to be useful when there are complex technical issues, such as those arising in construction, design or financial cases. In fact, while this is unusual, he reported having a joint session last as long as a week in a case involving technical exchanges involving nuclear plants. “If the parties are insisting on a principles-based and merit-based approach to resolution,” he concluded, “joint sessions can provide an opportunity to demonstrate that you’ve heard the merits of the case. Then the parties can start discussing dollar amounts.”
Layn Phillips provided the final word on this topic, noting that it is not uncommon for him to hold joint sessions late in the day, particularly on non-monetary terms. “The last thing you want to do is to have a quiet, dignified search for a number, and then find out that the parties disagree on fundamental terms such as indemnification or non-monetary points that will turn out to have monetary value.”
Stay tuned to CPR Speaks for more tips from our master mediators, and more great content from AM18…