CEDR’s Eileen Carroll: Her Mediation Story

By Antranik Chekemian

F. Peter Phillips, director of New York Law School’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Skills Program, welcomed an online audience earlier this month as part of the program’s long-running lunchtime speaker series for a session with veteran U.K. mediator Eileen Carroll.

Carroll is founder of London-based Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution, better known as CEDR, “by far the most influential and prescient dispute resolution organization not only in the U.K., but really . . .  in Europe,” said Phillips in the introduction to the Feb. 10 session, which had about 40 attendees.

Phillips invited Carroll to share her professional background and how her journey into the ADR world started.  Carroll opened describing, among other things, a long history with the publisher of this CPR Speaks blog, the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution, and recounted some of those interactions over these years.  [Phillips is a former CPR senior vice president.]

She said she was a senior litigation partner at a London law firm in the 1980s, with “good contacts” in the U.S., and she took a six-month secondment to San Francisco.  “I was one of the senior litigation partners and they asked me whether I would go and work with a firm on the west coast,” she said, “and I took myself off to San Francisco.”

She said that she decided her focus would be alternative dispute resolution. “I learned a bit about mediation from some of the research I had done, and I thought that would be my project,” she said. She noted that she was impressed by how the mediation process “extracted people from the drama of litigation.” Carroll explained:

I then was given a book called The Manager’s Guide to Resolving Legal Disputes by Henry and Lieberman.  . . . Jim Henry, based in New York, who had started . . .  CPR. He became a very dear friend, and I was going to write a book, but someone gave me his book . . . and I decided when I read that I was really fired up to do something.

James F. Henry is founder of CPR, and Jethro Lieberman is a former CPR vice president and a retired New York Law School professor.

Carroll showed the audience an article she wrote stemming from her U.S. work, “Are We Ready for ADR in Europe?” International Financial Law Review 8 Part 12, 11 (1989).

The article’s title, she said, “was a question no one had asked, and I was determined that we were going to be ready for ADR in Europe. But I knew […] that I needed to do something to get a support behind me, so I set about founding a nonprofit organization.” She added, “I did get inspiration from Jim [Henry].”

She added, “By the time we launched CEDR, I had managed to get with the help of others–80 big companies to support the idea–[and] the major law firms in London didn’t want to be left out, so they thought they better support the idea.”

Philips jumped in and mentioned that CEDR’s story was similar to the CPR Institute’s origin in the U.S. “It wasn’t as if the idea was ‘Let’s take mediation and convince people of it’ so much as it was ‘Let’s take a core of leading owners of disputes–leading corporations, people who spend a lot of money litigating–and convene them so that they become the torchbearers,” said Phillips, adding, “They became the people who are convincing their peers.”

Carroll said that the ties to North America in her work continues, citing current work with the International Academy of Mediators. [CPR and CEDR continue to collaborate on seminars and trainings. Information on the next scheduled joint training–a four-day advanced mediation skills training seminar that begins April 19, in which the organizations will be joined by the Silicon Valley Arbitration & Mediation Center, is available on CPR’s website here.]

Philips asked Carroll about the role of emotion in commercial mediation, noting “the challenge to determine the extent to which . . . the expression of emotion in a commercial context is helpful.”

Carroll said, “In every conflict, there is emotion–people are upset in some way or other. Whether it’s because they have been avoiding it, whether it’s anger, whether it’s anxiety, all of those emotions I find present, and they display themselves in different ways, because we all have different kinds of personalities.”

She stressed the importance of “creating an environment where people can tell whatever their story is.” She stated that a mediator’s job is not to patronize but to notice the parties’ emotions and feelings, and explore them at the right moment with the right questions.

Carroll further emphasized that there is not a uniform approach in mediation. “There may be several working sessions with different people,” she said, “so to deal with these emotions, you have to go at it carefully without too many assumptions and create the space to get to know the people that you’re going to work with.”

Phillips then asked Carroll about the challenges women encounter in ADR. “When you were a practicing lawyer, you were very frequently the only woman in the room,” he said, “In the early days of ADR, you were very frequently one of the very few women who was making a go of it,” he said.

She emphasized that because law firms usually advise their clients during the mediator selection process, “they often follow the same kind of pattern of three names.” She expanded:

When l look back to the beginning of the field when we first started, . . . there was just a sense that we need people with status, people with experience, so at that point people were kind of looking to, ‘Who were those senior people?’ And the legal profession, even in the early 90s, a lot of those people were men. It is changing. But . . . those who were early entrants to the field obviously got . . . a reputation. [If they] were good mediators and good arbitrators who were around in the mid-90s, some of those people still have incredibly effective practices today.

Phillips then asked Carroll about a recent CEDR report that discussed “how female mediators view their strengths as opposed to how male mediators view their strengths.” [CEDR’s current research can be found here.]

“[W]omen recognized that they were good at relationships and empathy,” said Carroll, recalling the research, “and a lot of guys obviously have that experience, but . . . a lot of the men saw themselves as more as getting the deal done, much more transactional.”

Carroll then referred attendees to a Simon Baron-Cohen’s 2012 book, “The Essential Difference: Men, Women and the Extreme Male Brain, which discusses these issues.

“Women do have some very natural abilities in relation to communication skills and they have done work with babies, boys, and girls . . . and the way they react.  . . . So, women have a lot of natural skill in the area of mediation which I think sometimes they underplay because if you look at in life, women often have the role of having to make . . . all the relationships work within a family, sometimes in an office,” said Carroll.

Emphasizing the need for diversity, she concluded, “Women absolutely have the capability to do any tough mediation, because they have got the intellectual skill, they understand the background of the problem. There is no reason why there could not be as many successful commercial women mediators as men. I think it’s something about the filter of the selection process, which I think is changing.”

“All the business people I have worked with through the years in mediation, I have never had a problem,” said Carroll.  “Over time,” she continued, “I have never . . . felt any concern in dealing with business people about the role of the woman mediator. Never. I would not say that was always the case in relation to certain members of the bar.  . . . I have always managed to walk around it. It hasn’t been a problem.”

She concluded her presentation discussing instilling “patience and persistence” into mediation to make it successful.

* * *

Eileen Carroll’s presentation is archived at the NYLS ADR Program link above and directly on YouTube here.

* * *

The author, a second-year student at New York’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, is a CPR 2021 intern.

[END]

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