Mediating Commercial Disputes: Understanding the Process to Maximize the Benefits

By Mia Levi

Mediation is a process in which a neutral third party—a mediator—meets with the disputing parties and actively assists them in reaching a settlement. Mediation is private and confidential, flexible, and more informal than other processes such as arbitration or litigation. It is concluded expeditiously, allowing parties to settle the dispute or narrow their issues at moderate cost. The overwhelming majority of disputes in mediation (70% to 80% of commercial disputes) settle, and because the outcomes are mutually agreed upon, they have high rates of compliance.

Mediation is able to preserve relationships because the emphasis is on the interests of the parties—process flexibility allows the people involved to find the best path to agreement. Parties may adapt the procedure to their own needs and can explore a wide range of remedies that might not have been available to them in court. It’s also more predictable than a trial decided by a judge or jury, avoids a “win or lose” outcome, and allows for an amicable resolution that may preserve the parties’ relationship. The goal is to resolve problems in a principled fashion (or reach an impasse) and move on.

But often, parties may be hesitant to agree to mediation. This can be remedied by understanding which kinds of disputes are suitable for mediation, when to schedule the mediation so that it is most successful, and, finally, how the mediation process itself works.

Is the Dispute Right for Mediation?

It is possible that the dispute at hand is not suitable for mediation. The ADR Suitability Guide, published by the International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution (CPR), outlines three factors parties should consider in deciding the suitability of a case for mediation: (1) the parties’ goals for managing the dispute, (2) the suitability of the dispute for a mediation process, and (3) the potential benefits of mediation in relation to the specific dispute being considered.

First, looking at the parties’ goals, if there is a desire to maintain a working relationship, maintain control over the outcome, limit costs and disruption, and maintain privacy, then mediation may be a preferable tool. Second, for the dispute to be suitable for mediation, there should be no deep desire for vindication or revenge by the parties, no need to attain legal precedent, and no extreme power imbalance. Third, the potential benefits of mediation include allowing the parties to explore mutual needs and interests confidentially, providing an opportunity to be heard, providing a “reality check” for internal decision makers, helping to clarify the issues, and providing the opportunity to have an intermediary help frame proposals and present offers and counteroffers. Parties should weigh all these factors in making the decision to mediate.

Among dispute resolution processes, mediation offers a maximum degree of confidentiality and privacy. Contractual and legal protections provide additional assurances against the use or disclosure of mediation statements or documents. These confidentiality protections contrast sharply with the public nature of the litigation process and its procedures that encourage public disclosure. If parties are looking to attain a ruling that will contribute to legal precedent or require articulation of public policy, mediation likely is not the proper forum.

When Should Parties Mediate?

There is no one right time to conduct a mediation. Including a mediation step (prior to arbitration or litigation) in the proceedings is an easy way to ensure that the parties discuss settlement options. When mediated, many cases are settled or partially settled at the initial stages of the case. Settling even part of the dispute up front can make the arbitration hearings or litigation shorter and less expensive. The opportunities to reduce the costs and wear and tear of court proceedings are greatest before litigation has commenced, but mediation may be a sensible option at any point in the litigation process, even while an appeal from a trial court judgment is pending. Parties not ready for mediation at the outset of the case may be more receptive as it runs its course.

Indeed, the timing of mediation may be rendered somewhat inflexible when parties contract for a sequential, multistep dispute resolution. While tiered dispute resolution clauses may get parties to the mediation table, these provisions may not assist parties in achieving this goal at an ideal time in the life of their dispute. Some parties may find it more beneficial to mediate their dispute after some discovery has been exchanged. Parties should continuously keep an open mind as opportunities for settlement arise throughout the proceedings. It is not uncommon for cases to settle during or even after the hearings. Sometimes, an additional mediation session after some discovery is effective in reaching a settlement.

For those parties contemplating mediation in conjunction with arbitration, the Concurrent Mediation-Arbitration Clauses and Protocol, which CPR introduced in July 2020, allows the parties to agree they will attempt to settle any dispute that is the subject of arbitration by confidential mediation conducted during the pendency of the arbitration. This process was developed to encourage the availability of mediation to parties in a more flexible manner than is provided under standard multistep dispute resolution provisions. This, in turn, creates an opportunity for parties to continue to explore settlement options based on what they learn during the arbitration proceedings and without delaying those proceedings.

What Should the Parties Expect from Mediation?

Parties who have not written mediation into their contract or dispute resolution clause may need to execute a submission agreement—essentially an agreement to submit the dispute to mediation with an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) provider—or they may agree to mediate in an ad hoc process. Notably, an ADR provider will be able to assist the parties in selecting the appropriate mediator for their dispute.

Many ADR institutions provide opportunities for parties to further streamline the mediator-appointment process. For example, streamlined mediator appointment is suitable for disputes where the parties wish the ADR provider to choose a mediator for them. Parties submit information about their dispute and the candidate sought, and the ADR provider will make the selection based on the information provided by the parties and vet the candidate for conflicts purposes before the appointment. This streamlined process lowers administrative costs and allows the parties greater speed in getting a mediator appointed and the process underway.

The process itself will depend on the mediator selected. Mediators will have different styles of mediation. On one side of the spectrum, facilitative mediators will work with parties to find creative solutions that meet the interests and needs of the parties. This will be beneficial for cases where parties wish to continue a personal or business relationship. On the other side, evaluative mediators will offer an opinion regarding the relative strength of each side’s legal arguments and generally will predict the likely outcome if the parties were to bring the case to trial. Mediators may also offer a hybrid style, combining the two.

Conclusion

Understanding the mediation process will help parties gain more advantages from the mediation itself. It is important for parties to realize that while settlement of their dispute might be the most desired outcome, an impasse does not mean that the parties have failed. If parties narrow the issues, understand the opposing side’s point of view, or simply have an opportunity to be heard, it will be successful for the parties in the long run.

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Mia Levi (mlevi@cpradr.org) is the Vice President of Global Development for Dispute Resolution Services of the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (CPR).

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This post is © 2022. Published in GPSolo eReport, Volume 11, Number 9, April 2022, by the American Bar Association. (Available here.) Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association or the copyright holder.

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#CPRAM22 Highlights: Ethics in the Evolving World of Remote, Hybrid, and In-Person ADR

By Tamia Sutherland

During its March 2-4, 2022, Annual Meeting, CPR–a New York-based conflict resolution think tank, ADR provider, and publisher of this CPR Speaks blog–presented a virtual panel on alternative dispute resolution ethics. The panel discussed ethical guideposts for lawyers, mediators, and arbitrators; challenges and solutions in the new post-pandemic business environment; the rise of the hybrid procedures online and in person; and takeaways for meeting the continuing challenges.

Steven Bierman, a former partner and co-head of litigation at Sidley Austin and founder of Bierman ADR LLC, based in New Canaan, Conn., moderated the panel that included: 

The presentation began with an overview of the main sources of ethical standards, which include the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct, the ABA/American Arbitration Association/Association for Conflict Resolution Model Standards of Conduct for Mediators, and ABA/AAA Code of Ethics for Arbitrators in Commercial Dispute.

Under the ABA Rules of Professional Conduct, panelist Waldman introduced Model Rules 1.1, and 1.6(a), (c) for consideration. MRPC 1.1–Competence states, “[a] lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”

More specifically, she focused on Comment Eight, maintaining competence, which explains what is necessary to maintain the requisite competence: “. . . a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.  …”

With the rise of virtual proceedings and the rise of cybersecurity issues and data breaches, Comment 8 is more relevant now than ever before. Moreover, it interacts with another pivotal ethical rule, MRPC 1.6(a), which covers confidentiality: “[a] lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation or the disclosure is permitted by paragraph (b) [which lists exceptions for disclosures such as ‘to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm’].”

This can pose an issue in a virtual environment where accidental screen sharing, screenshots, and unauthorized recordings have become commonplace—especially in light of MRPC 1.6(c), which  reads, “[a] lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.”

Under the Model Standards of Conduct for Mediators, panelist Waldman highlighted Standards IV, V, and VI. Standard IV–Competence, states that “[a] mediator shall mediate only when the mediator has the necessary competence to satisfy the reasonable expectations of the parties … [and] should attend educational programs and related activities to maintain and enhance the mediator’s knowledge and skills related to mediation.”

Standard V–Confidentiality states that “[a] mediator shall maintain the confidentiality of all information obtained by the mediator in mediation, unless otherwise agreed to by the parties or required by applicable law.”

Standard VI–Quality of the Process explains that “[a] mediator shall conduct a mediation in accordance with these Standards and in a manner that promotes diligence, timeliness, safety, presence of the appropriate participants, party participation, procedural fairness, party competency and mutual respect among all participants.”

Under the Code of Ethics for Arbitrators, key rules include Canon IV, titled “An arbitrator should conduct the proceedings fairly and diligently,” and Canon VI, titled “An arbitrator should be faithful to the relationship of trust and confidentiality inherent in that office.”

Additionally, Howard University School of Law Prof. Homer La Rue, founder of the Ray Corollary Initiative (a plan for increasing diversity among the ranks of ADR neutrals), and a CPR Board Member, shared the National Academy of Arbitrators Formal Advisory Opinion No. 26 on video hearings, issued on April 1, 2020, in the chat. The advisory opinion states that “in order to provide an ‘adequate hearing’ by way of video, the arbitrator must be familiar with the platform offered to the parties, and must be confident that the parties have such familiarity as well, or have reasonable access to an effective alternative platform. …”

Before identifying three common themes in the different sources of ethical standards, CPR introduced its model rule amplification proposition that requires third-party neutrals to act diligently, efficiently, and promptly, decline to serve in matters in which the lawyer is not competent to serve, maintain the confidentiality of all information acquired, use reasonable efforts to conduct the process with fairness to all parties, and be especially diligent that unrepresented parties have adequate opportunity to be heard. This referenced both the 2021 CPR Annotated Model Procedural Order for Remote Video Arbitration Proceedings, and the 2002 CPR-Georgetown Commission on Ethics and Standards In ADR Model Rule for the Lawyer as Third-Party Neutral.

The three common rules’ themes discussed were competence, confidentiality, and fairness/quality. The panelists discussed the practical application of each of the themes in practice. They emphasized the importance of using pre-hearing meetings to ensure that the technology does not get in the way of the process, and does not to begin operation until all parties have an even playing field considering the socioeconomic digital divide, as well as the need to consider the effects of zoom fatigue on the parties present.

Videos from #CPRAM22 will be posted; watch www.cpradr.org for updates.

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The author, a second-year law student at the Howard University School of Law, in Washington, D.C., is a CPR 2021-22 intern.

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Getting Online Justice, from AALS’s Annual Meeting

By Ellen Waldman

At the January American Association of Law Schools annual meeting, the organization’s Section on Alternative Dispute  Resolution teamed with the Section on Commercial Law and Consumer Law, and the Section on Creditors’ and Debtors’ Rights, to host a panel discussion titled “Online Dispute Resolution in the Post-Pandemic Era.”

The virtual panel featured speakers Alicia  Bannon from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School in New York City; Prof. Jean Sternlight from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas William S. Boyd School of Law, and U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Lopez, of Texas’s Southern District in Houston. The moderators were Prof. Christopher Bradley of the University of Kentucky’s J. David Rosenberg College of Law, in Lexington, Ky., and Prof. Amy Schmitz from Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, in Columbus, Ohio.

Noting that the pandemic pushed many forms of dispute resolution, including trials, into a virtual format, the panel focused its attention on both the promise and peril of widespread adoption of online dispute resolution. 

On the promise side of the ledger, panelists agreed that the shift to virtual platforms had the potential to increase the ease with which disputants could access dispute resolution proceedings, cutting down on cost, time and inconvenience. 

Judge Lopez, who presides over roughly 3,000 individual and corporate bankruptcies and, as of the conference, had conducted about 20 online mediations since proceedings went virtual in early 2020, was particularly enthusiastic about his court’s use of online evidentiary hearings and mediations. He observed that that stressed debtors juggling multiple jobs and parenting commitments need not take time off from work in order to “go to court.” 

Allowing litigants the option to tune-in from their computers and cell phones conserved scarce time and money, helping debtors, in Lopez’s view, “keep their cars” and “stay in their houses.”

But panelists agreed that the rush to pivot online was not without its perils. Alicia Bannon, co-author of a report on best-practice  principles for remote court proceedings, noted that the balance courts were   being asked to strike was delicate: how best to adhere  to public health guidelines while continuing to serve constituent communities, and to expand efficiencies while preserving  fairness.

Courts, she suggested, should not be going it alone, but should engage with a diverse array of stakeholders, including, as noted in the report, “community advocates, public defenders and prosecutors, civil legal service providers, tenant representatives, survivors of domestic violence, public health experts, disability rights advocates, court employees, and more.”  

The panelists emphasized the traditional courthouse as a place where litigants access legal information and guidance, and suggested that alternative forms of support needed to be built into remote proceedings.  Pro se litigants were a particular source of concern as, in addition to being unfamiliar with the justice system, they may have limited computer literacy and may struggle with accessing and engaging with the required technology.

Recognizing and attending to the digital divide was a consistent theme. For those litigants with counsel and a sophisticated mastery of video-camera technique, online proceedings present obvious benefits.  But, for those without counsel and no easy access to or understanding of computer-assisted communication, the dangers presented are equally obvious. Static reception, dropped calls, an inconsistent or shaky camera, distracting background visuals and ambient noise all influence a  disputant’s ability to communicate, absorb information, and engage with other dispute resolution participants.

And, if one aim of dispute resolution procedures is to foster a disputant’s sense of procedural justice–the experience of having a voice and being heard–technology failures can render that goal  impossible.

Prof. Sternlight in particular emphasized the importance of adopting a context-sensitive approach.  Drawing on her research into the psychological impacts of varied forms of technology with co-author Jennifer Robbennolt, Sternlight suggested that different communication channels affect disputant behavior and experience in important ways. 

For example, certain modes of communication are better suited to the expression and understanding of emotion. We can “read” upset or anger better in face-to-face or even video-conference meetings, as  opposed to text or email exchanges.

Similarly, the perceived anonymity of an Internet-based communique can disinhibit disputants who would otherwise maintain a more polite discourse. Asynchronous technological formats such as email can slow down exchanges, leading to more thoughtful and deliberate decision-making. But the leanness of the medium and lack of interpersonal cues can lead to conflict escalation where rapport or goodwill in the relationship is lacking. 

At an earlier moment in dispute resolution’s development, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law Emeritus Prof. Stephen Goldberg and the late Frank Sander of Harvard Law School advocated for a form of triage where policymakers considered both a dispute’s characteristics and the particular attributes of litigation, arbitration, and mediation, and “matched the forum to the  fuss.” Stephen B. Goldberg & Frank E.A. Sander, “Fitting the forum to the fuss: Factors to consider when selecting an ADR procedure,” 12 Alternatives 48 (April 1994) (available at https://bit.ly/3sAj8sT).  

In today’s environment, panelists urged that we similarly match our technologies to the “fusses” that face us.  When determining whether a dispute should be handled in-person, by phone, via video-conference or through an Internet chat, decision-makers must consider their goals for the process, the characteristics of the disputants, and the nature of the dispute or particular task at hand. See Jean R. Sternlight & Jennifer K. Robbennolt, “High-Tech Dispute Resolution: Lessons from Psychology for a Post-Covid-19 Era,” DePaul Law Review (forthcoming) (Sept. 9, 2021) (available at https://bit.ly/3HPjqBx).

All the speakers acknowledged that online dispute resolution proceedings pose new, previously unknown questions. Judge Lopez said that he has been spending a great deal of time thinking through the confidentiality issues that arise when litigants screen-share sensitive financial information that can be easily photographed and distributed.

He also noted that judges had to ensure that there was no “home court” advantage, and that litigants appearing in person receive no special attention compared to those appearing virtually.  Panelist Alicia  Bannon called attention to a study conducted in an immigration court that revealed detainees appearing virtually in immigration proceedings were more likely to be deported than those facing the judge in person.  Appearing by video alone, however, apparently was not the determinative factor. Rather, those detainees who accessed court via video-conference also accessed legal services at lower rates than their “in-person” counterparts and seemed generally less engaged with the judicial process. In this way, the perception that online proceedings may provide a lessor form of justice becomes a self-fulfilling reality.

The discussion ended on a final point that resonated with the audience of educators. Courts need to train attorneys to be proficient with new online technologies and provide resources for disputants so that they can competently participate in virtual proceedings.

Similarly law schools need to emphasize technological competence as they work to prepare lawyers, mediators, arbitrators and other dispute resolution for our brave, new, online world.

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The author is Vice President, Advocacy & Educational Outreach at CPR.  Her bio on CPR’s website can be found here.

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Nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s ADR Work

By Tamia Sutherland and Russ Bleemer

President Biden’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, is well acquainted with conflict resolution’s role in legal practice from her law firm days.

The 51-year-old was elevated just last June to the appeals court by Biden, but has been on the bench since 2013, serving as a U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C. She would be the first black woman Supreme Court justice if she is confirmed.

While her ADR-centric cases on the bench were few, Jackson–who clerked in 1999-2000 for Justice Stephen G. Breyer, whom she would replace, though she wasn’t at the Court for the justice’s seminal arbitration cases–has significant commercial conflict resolution work in her CV.

Most notably, while of counsel in the Washington office of Morrison & Foerster, Jackson did extensive work on the seminal case of Hall Street Associates LLC v. Mattel Inc., 552 U.S. 576 (2008) (available at http://bit.ly/38ELtSU), successfully preserving respondent Mattel’s arbitration award (pending additional court review) and standing for the proposition that the parties cannot expand the scope of review for an award because it is contrary to the Federal Arbitration Act’s mission.

Jackson’s MoFo litigation department work, on both the civil and criminal sides, was preceded by two years as an associate at one of the nation’s highest-profile commercial conflict resolution practices with mediator Kenneth Feinberg.  Jackson was an associate in Feinberg’s Washington firm, then known as the Feinberg Group, in 2002-2003, in the midst of Feinberg’s best-known case, when he served as special master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001. Congress established the fund to aid victims and survivors of the 9/11 attacks; the fund used mediation-style processes to reach out to potential claimants, and evaluated applications, determined appropriate compensation, and disseminated awards.

Judge Jackson described her work at the firm in her Senate Judiciary Committee Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees ahead of a hearing on her nomination last April:

While at the Feinberg Group, I assisted in the negotiated (non-litigation) resolution of mass tort claims. I attended arbitration proceedings and advised client corporations regarding trust payment structures for
resolving mass-tort liability, such as asbestos claims.

She noted later in her disclosure, “my typical clients were large corporations facing mass tort liability. I specialized in mediation and arbitration procedures and in the evaluation of trust structures for the settlement of current and potential (future) tort claims.” She noted that she did not appear in court while working at the firm.

“I recall quite well the superlative legal skills of Judge Jackson while a member of the Feinberg Group Law Firm,” notes Ken Feinberg in an email. He continues:

Ketanji was involved in a series of matters relating to ADR: asbestos mediation, Dow-Corning breast implants mediations and some work on the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. Quite apart from her obvious legal skills, she proved to be a creative lawyer looking for paths to resolve complex mass tort litigation outside of the conventional legal system. She quickly recognized that mediation, arbitration and negotiation were cost effective, efficient and an abbreviated way to “get to yes.”

Feinberg concludes, “It was clear to me some 20 years ago that she was destined for greatness.”

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Jackson was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit Court by the Senate 53-44 on June 14. In a statement this morning, the White House noted that the president “sought a candidate with exceptional credentials, unimpeachable character, and unwavering dedication to the rule of law,” but also noted, in anticipation of a close confirmation vote, that “Judge Jackson has been confirmed by the Senate with votes from Republicans as well as Democrats three times.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D., N.Y., told reporters Friday afternoon he will seek “a prompt hearing” by the Senate Judiciary Committee, to be followed quickly by Senate confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court seat.

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Judge Jackson further detailed her ADR work in her Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire. She listed on her questionnaire the sole arbitration case for which she wrote an opinion, CEF Energia B.V. v. Italian Republic, No. 19-cv-3443 (KBJ) (D.D.C. Jul. 23, 2020).  In the case, Jackson granted Italy’s request to decline to confirm arbitration awards.  The two awards in favor of four energy companies against the Italian government were stayed in a Sweden court pending Italy’s challenge to the award, and the companies sought enforcement before Judge Jackson.

Jackson conducted an analysis of the power to stay proceedings in the United States while a foreign arbitral matter is continuing under the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, best known as the New York Convention. 

Noting “the ongoing set-aside proceedings that are taking place in Sweden (the primary jurisdiction of the parties’ arbitrations) and the significant interests in judicial economy and international comity that weigh in favor of staying this case,” Jackson stayed the confirmation decision pending the outcome in Sweden.

She wrote that a federal district court “must recognize and enforce a foreign arbitral award ‘unless it finds one of the grounds for refusal or deferral of recognition or enforcement of the award specified in the said Convention.’” 9 U.S.C. § 207. Furthermore, Jackson found that “a court ‘may refuse to enforce the award only on the grounds explicitly set forth in Article V of the Convention.’”

The applicable grounds for refusal Jackson highlighted from Article V of the New York Convention, were that the agreement is not valid if (1) “award …has been set aside or suspended by a competent authority of the country in which … that award was made[,]” or (2) recognition or enforcement… would be contrary to the public policy of that country. New York Convention Art. V(1)(e), Art. V(2)(b).

But Judge Jackson’s holding to stay the confirmation was supported by her findings that the interest of the judicial economy, and the test in Europcar Italia S.P.A. v. Maiellano Tours, 156 F.3d 310 (2d Cir. 1998), which she wrote weighed in favor of staying the case. Quoting Naegele v. Albers, 355 F. Supp.2d 129, 141 (D.D.C. 2005), Jackson stated that  “[l]itigating essentially the same issues in two separate forums is not in the interest of judicial economy or in the parties’ best interests.”

In concluding her point that the interest of the judicial economy weighed in favor of staying the case, she acknowledged the length of time that had elapsed and wrote:

This Court fully understands that Petitioners have been pursuing recompense from Italy since 2015 and that the resolution in the [Sweden] Court may take one to two more years. . . . But it is not at all clear that proceeding with the instant litigation will necessarily lead to a faster resolution of the complex issues that must be determined prior to enforcing the awards. …

Judge Jackson carefully analyzed each of the six Europcar factors in deciding whether to stay an action under Article VI of the New York Convention in relation to the CEF Energia B.V. facts, concluding that the Europcar factors weighed in favor of staying the case.

She also noted that the European litigation over the awards stemmed from the controversial European Court decision in Slovak Republic v. Achmea B.V., Case C-284/16 (2018) (available at https://bit.ly/2Kf8OmM), in which the court found that “intra-[European Union] treaty arbitration provisions are invalid to the extent that they prohibit judicial review of EU law by EU courts.” Achmea concerned cases under the Energy Charter Treaty—the treaty under which the CEF Energia B.V. arbitrations were conducted.

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In addition to CEF Energia, B.V. v. Italian Republic, Judge Jackson had eight other arbitration-focused cases on her docket covering a range of arbitration issues. In Metropolitan Municipality of Lima v. Rutas De Lima S.A.C. Jackson presided over an issue regarding Federal Arbitration Act Section 10, where the city of Lima, Peru, petitioned and moved for an order vacating an arbitral award that was rendered in favor of the respondent, a contractor. The matter was reassigned to Judge Florence Y. Pan before Jackson could rule on the merits.  

The other cases mostly involved confirmation proceedings.

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Here is how Judge Jackson described her work on Hall Street Associates from her Senate Judiciary questionnaire:

From 2007 to 2008, I was part of a litigation team that represented respondent Mattel in a Supreme Court case involving the section of the Federal Arbitration Act that grants expedited judicial review to confirm, vacate, or modify an arbitration award. I was responsible for reviewing the factual record related to the subject matter of the underlying arbitration, and I drafted parts of both the primary brief for respondent and two supplemental briefs on specified issues the Supreme Court ordered. I also assisted in the preparation of oral argument counsel. The Supreme Court ultimately agreed with Mattel’s argument that the Act’s grounds for vacatur and modification of arbitration awards are exclusive for parties seeking expedited review under the FAA, but remanded the case for a determination regarding whether the parties did, in fact, intend for the arbitration proceeding at issue to be governed by the FAA.

She listed the case as one the 10 most significant litigated matters she has worked on in her career on the Senate Judiciary questionnaire.

The case is often cited for limiting the ability of parties to contract for review of their arbitration awards, though it does not apply to arbitration awards written solely under state laws, where, at least theoretically, parties could contract for expanded review under some circumstances.

Hall Street Associates also left alive the judicial standard of “manifest disregard” of the law for overturning awards under FAA Section 10, which commentators have urged needs clarification.  See, e.g., Stuart M. Boyarsky, “The Uncertain Status of the Manifest Disregard Standard One Decade after Hall Street,” 123 Dick. L. Rev. 167 (2018) (available at https://bit.ly/3slmLTk), and Michael H. LeRoy, “Are Arbitrators Above the Law? The ‘Manifest Disregard of the Law’ Standard,” 52 B.C. L.Rev. 137 (2011) (available at https://bit.ly/3ImK05i).  

The 116-page Senate Judiciary Questionnaire prepared by Judge Jackson containing descriptions of her professional work and education history can be found at https://bit.ly/35vbFSJ.

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Sutherland, a second-year law student at the Howard University School of Law, in Washington, D.C., is a CPR 2021-22 intern. Bleemer edits Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation for CPR.

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CPR International Conference Highlights: ‘Effects on Cross-Border Disputes After the Singapore Convention’

By Bryanna Rainwater

According to the Singapore Convention on Mediation’s website, the Convention is a “multilateral treaty which offers a uniform and efficient framework for the enforcement and invocation of international agreements resulting from mediation.”

The speakers at the Oct. 6 CPR International Conference kickoff panel, “Effects on Cross-Border Disputes After the Singapore Convention” gave more context to the current legal landscape after the Convention has come into force.

The Convention was passed by resolution by the U.N.’s General Assembly in 2018, and signed into effect in August 2019. It has been hailed as a huge boost for mediation because it provides support for the effectiveness of the agreements the process produces.

The panel’s moderator was Javier Fernández-Samaniego, managing director of Samaniego Law with offices in Madrid and Miami. The speakers included: Sara Koleilat-Aranjo, a partner at Al Tamimi & Co., in Dubai; Michael Mcilwrath, founder and CEO of MDisputes, an ADR consulting firm in Florence, Italy, and a former vice president of litigation at Baker Hughes Co.; and Jan O’Neill, a professional support lawyer at Herbert Smith Freehills in London.

Koleilat-Aranjo said that mediation has “established itself as a viable, typically cost-effective, non-contentious, means to resolve disputes.” She noted that “up until the advent of the Singapore Convention, there wasn’t really . . . a legal instrument, at an international scale which sort of provided a passport . . . of enforcement of mediated settlement agreements.”

Koleilat-Aranjo discussed differences between the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958), best known as the New York Convention, and the Singapore Convention. She noted that the Singapore Convention dispenses with reciprocity—the New York Convention only provides enforcement of an arbitration award that has been made in a jurisdiction that also has adopted the treaty–and that “the Singapore Convention adopts a transcendental approach, meaning . . . unlike the New York Convention, there isn’t really typically a place of mediation that is defined” like how the earlier treaty addresses the seat of arbitration.

Koleilat-Aranjo referred to what she calls “a certificate of origin,” which is when the parties must prove that settlement resulting from mediation occurred in order to enforce the award. She noted that this presents the novel issue of how to prove that a mediation award was given, particular outside of an “institutional framework,” so that it can be enforced via the Convention.

There are currently 54 Convention signatories, and eight states that have ratified it–seven at the date of the discussion, and one added since the CPR International Conference.  

Koleilat-Aranjo noted that two of the nations that have already ratified the treaty, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are in the Middle East.  She said that this reaffirmed the popularity of mediation in those countries, and that this is not surprising considering the cultural and religious influences and attitudes toward the process. She said that in Arabic, the mediator is called the “agent of peace,” and that mediation has been used in Arab nations for many types of different dispute settlements.

The panel discussed the reservations carve-out in Article 8 of the Convention, which provides that, when adopted by a ratifying state, “the Convention would not be applicable to settlement agreements to which its government or other public entities are a party.”

Saudi Arabia, Koleilat-Aranjo noted, has carved out a reservation per its Royal Decree 96 (April 9, 2020), which mirrors the convention carve out:  It does not allow mediation to apply to the government, government officials, governmental agencies, or any person acting on behalf of those agencies.  She explained that the Saudi economy is tied in with the government, so this is broad reservation, with many international transactions tying private overseas parties to government actors.

Mike Mcilwrath gave his perspective on why the Convention has not yet been ratified by European Union nations. He said that the EU was “hostile to the convention during the drafting stage. They did not support it.” He added that this is likely because of the “coordinating effort” of the EU as a unified front, making it more difficult for individual states to sign on separately.

Mcilwrath noted that the EU chose to go to court over concerns about the AstraZeneca Covid-19  vaccine, rather than mandating mediation, which is a sign of the EU’s trend of choosing not to mediate.

HSF’s Jan O’Neill had a differing view, and–echoing Mcilwrath’s description of Italy likely supporting the Convention on its own but for the current EU hesitancy–noted that the U.K. also “has been left to its own devices” since Brexit. She added that “the U.K. is of course a very mediation friendly jurisdiction, [with a] very long-standing sophisticated mediation infrastructure.”

As a result, she said that she believes that the U.K. will sign the Convention eventually, noting that “there is a sense on the ground . . . it feels like it will happen. They’re certainly not sensing any hostility.”

She said she that the U.K. is familiar with mediation and ADR, but that priorities are stuck on the most pressing issues–the pandemic and the Brexit economy.

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CPR has posted a video of the full panel discussion.  You can find it here after logging into the CPR website. Videos from the other September CPR International Conference panels can be found here.

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Panel moderator Javier Fernández-Samaniego has prepared an article analyzing the Singapore Convention developments and expanding on the panel discussion for CPR’s monthly newsletter, Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation. His article is scheduled to appear in the December issue.

* * *

The author, a second-year student at Brooklyn Law School, is a 2021 CPR Fall Intern.

[END]

CPR Releases Update to Employment-Related Mass Claims Protocol

The International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (CPR), working with a diverse task force of leaders in employment law and alternative dispute resolution (ADR), has launched an updated version of its Employment-Related Mass Claims Protocol (the “Protocol”). The Task Force included leading counsel from the plaintiff’s bar, in-house employment counsel, corporate defense attorneys and neutrals (arbitrators and mediators).

The original Protocol was launched in November 2019.  It was reviewed by U.S. District Court Judge Edward M. Chen, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, in November 2020, in McGrath v. DoorDash, Inc., No. 19-cv-05279 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 5, 2020), who found that “the terms of the Mass-Claims Protocol appear fair.”  Working together over the past 10 months, the Task Force sought to make improvements and further enhance the Protocol. 

An initial set of revisions by the Task Force was released in April 2021, and incorporated CPR’s then newly-launched Administered Employment Arbitration Rules as well as other clarifying changes. See CPR Speaks, April 14, 2021.  Since then, the Task Force has continued to work together to develop the current version of the Protocol, which includes a novel approach to selecting neutrals that will enhance both efficiency and diversity.  The updated version also provides greater detail in describing the mediation process and other procedures.

The procedure outlined in the Protocol applies where it has been incorporated into an agreement between the parties, either before or after a dispute arises, and where there are 30 or more similar cases filed with CPR against one company.

The procedure requires fast track arbitration of randomly selected test cases while proceedings in the other cases are paused. The awards from those cases are anonymized and provided to a mediator to work with the parties and their counsel in trying to identify a global framework for resolving the remaining cases.  If the mediation is successful, each person who brought an arbitration will be presented with an opportunity to settle their case according to the global framework or to proceed with their arbitration. If the mediation fails to identify a global framework, then any of the parties may opt out of the arbitration process and go to court.

Distinguishing features of the Protocol include:

  • Requiring within the Protocol itself that certain due process protections be afforded to employees or others who file cases.
  • A novel fee structure that does not require the company to pay all filing fees up front but instead collects an upfront initiation fee followed by fees paid as each case is addressed.
  • Consistent with CPR’s Diversity Commitment, nominating a diverse pool of arbitrators from which the parties will choose the arbitrators who ultimately will resolve their cases.
  • Innovative mechanisms to encourage all parties to reach a faster resolution of their cases, providing parties with the opportunity and incentives to reach a global framework for resolving all of their cases before proceeding with more arbitrations.

In keeping with its commitment to the parties, CPR sets forth the procedures in detail so that the parties may understand what is expected of them and are provided a practical pathway toward resolution. CPR is also willing to work with the parties on agreed-upon variations to these procedures.

“It has been a privilege to work with and be guided by the experiences and perspectives of this Task Force,” noted Allen Waxman, President & CEO of CPR, adding, “With the benefit of the members’ input, the Protocol offers an innovative procedure for employers and their employees or contractors to resolve their disputes when many arise at once – providing the parties with more options toward finding a resolution.”

Jahan Sagafi, partner of Outten & Golden, Task Force Co-Chair, and a lawyer who frequently represents workers in employment disputes, stated that “while I am very concerned about Supreme Court precedent allowing employers to force workers to submit to individual arbitration, given those realities, CPR’s Protocol provides a fair process to resolve those claims efficiently.  CPR should be commended for considering a variety of perspectives from the Task Force in completing the Protocol.”

“CPR’s Protocol represents a valuable contribution toward the resolution of many similar employment claims,” commented Task Force Co-Chair Aaron Warshaw, a partner in Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, a law firm that represents management and companies in labor disputes, “The Protocol is an important option for companies putting in place arbitration programs and one that should be seriously considered.”

“CPR has consistently been a leader in offering innovative ways to resolve disputes,” observed the Honorable Timothy K. Lewis, Task Force member, arbitrator and a retired judge on the U.S. District Court and Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, adding, “The Protocol is another such offering for the complex challenges posed by the filing of a mass of cases. Its procedures reflect careful considerations to foster resolution in a fair and efficient fashion. In addition, the Protocol’s commitment to greater diversity in the pool of candidates who will be selected to arbitrate cases is also a meaningful step in addressing the lack of diversity and inclusion in the field of ADR.”

For more information, see the File a Case or Employment Disputes sections of CPR’s website, or contact Helena Tavares Erickson at herickson@cpradr.org.  Also review Frequently Asked Questions for the Protocol.

ABOUT CPR

Established in 1977, CPR is an independent nonprofit organization that promotes the prevention and resolution of conflict to better enable purpose.

The CPR Institute drives a global prevention and dispute resolution culture through the thought leadership of its diverse member companies, leading mediators and arbitrators, law firms, individual practitioners, and academics. It convenes committees to share best practices and develop innovative tools. It connects thought leaders through global, regional, and smaller events. It publishes a monthly journal on related topics and advocates for expanding the capacity for dispute prevention and resolution globally through a variety of initiatives.

CPR Dispute Resolution provides leading edge dispute management services – mediation, arbitration, early neutral evaluation, dispute review boards and others – as well as training and education. It is uniquely positioned to resolve disputes by leveraging the resources generated by the leaders who participate in the CPR Institute.  It has deep experience in dispute management, a deep bench on its global Panel of Distinguished Neutrals, and deep expertise across a variety of subject areas.

Visit cpradr.org to learn more.

[END]

‘Understanding’ Mediator Gary Friedman on His Adventure in Politics

By Mylene Chan

Earlier this month, Gary Friedman, co-founder of the Center for Understanding in Conflict, of Santa Rosa, Calif., conducted a video breakfast roundtable titled “Inside Out: Confessions of a Mediator in Politics,” hosted by the Association for Conflict Resolution-Greater New York Chapter and the City University of New York Dispute Resolution Center at John Jay College.

Friedman’s talk focused on events described in a Politico article, “‘I Got Obama’d’: A California conflict-resolution guru entered politics thinking he could fix it. Instead, it brought a punishing counterattack.” The May 1 article, an excerpt from “High Conflict,” a book by Amanda Ripley published in June by Simon & Schuster (see https://bit.ly/3yT3ee0), can be found at https://politi.co/3iOX9tf.

The excerpt and book recount Friedman’s political term “on his local Community Services District Board of Directors, a five-member council in charge of area roads and water management,” in Muir Beach, Calif., from 2016 to 2021.

Friedman’s brief political life exemplifies that even experienced mediators can be easily pulled into an adversarial mode, away from peace-making. But, according to Friedman, if one refocuses, the Understanding Model of mediation, which Friedman developed with his Center for Understanding in Conflict partner Jack Himmelstein, can help resolve conflicts.

For more than 40 years, Friedman has lived in Muir Beach, which is governed by the five-member board.  Hoping to bring “reinvigorate democracy” in his hometown, according to the book excerpt, Friedman ran for office in 2015 and was elected. 

Unfortunately, during Friedman’s governance as board president, he violated principles of his Understanding Model. Friedman explained in his talk that he was blinded by power and the conflicts that were directly targeted him. As a result, he said his litigator inner-self emerged–he was a trial lawyer before turning to mediation–and he became defensive, combative, and aggressive.

Friedman said he ended up creating more polarization and alienated his community in what he coined his “period of derangement.”

Understanding, according to Friedman, is an underused power that has the potential to help people make better solutions. The loop of understanding, however, does not work if it is disingenuous. Friedman intimated that while governing in his village, he used understanding as lip service so that he could soften others in attempts to convince them that they were wrong. 

Friedman said that his Understanding Model is based on putting the responsibility on the disputants–not the professional–to solve the problem. This means believing in people and giving them power because ultimately it is the disputants who know best about what solutions will work.

But when Friedman acted as the board president, he said he took power from his constituents instead of giving power. Friedman did not believe in the people’s ability to solve problems themselves; Friedman said he felt he knew best.

Mediators practicing the Understanding Model are expected to proceed with the disputants by agreement on how to work together. By contrast, when Friedman was in charge, he explained that he made numerous unilateral decisions that angered his constituents or fellow board members.

For example, he eliminated the tradition of having snacks and socializing time at board meetings.  Even when constituents vehemently objected, he limited each person to three minutes of speaking time and prohibited anyone from raising issues not on the agenda.

Furthermore, in a town of just 250 people, Friedman established 23 subcommittees that were poorly attended. Friedman’s critics complained that he was arrogant, power hungry, and Napoleon-like.

Two years into a five-year term, Friedman was removed as board president. He said about himself, “I felt actually humiliated by my behavior . . . and how I became untethered.”  When Friedman saw how far he had fallen from his own ideals, he said he started to probe internally what was truly important to him and why.  He said his mediator “inner-self”–which depends on self-awareness–re-emerged.

Realizing that what he wanted was to help his neighbors understand each other and to make conflicts useful, Friedman began voting for his opposition intentionally to undo the conflicts he created.  He also blurred the lines between the old board members and his allies on the new board through voting on both sides. Most important, he said, he made efforts to genuinely connect and understand his constituents, one by one.

Before Friedman stepped down from the board, he reconciled with his community and accomplished some political agendas he set out to do initially.  Roads were repaired, the water rate was raised, and the tone of the meetings improved.

At the roundtable, Friedman noted that the Politico book excerpt has gotten a lot of attention. “I’ve been hearing from thousands of people that came out of the woodwork all over the world . . . and I think that my failure as a politician is really meant to encourage all of us, because I not only failed but I survived the failure.”

In the end, Friedman said he repaired the conflicts he created using the Understanding Model.

The Aug. 5 ACR/John Jay breakfast roundtable is available on video at https://bit.ly/3sku9Na. For another view of the event, see John Lande, “More on Gary Friedman’s Not-So-Excellent Adventure in Politics,” Indisputably.org (Aug. 8) (available at https://bit.ly/3k1EsSC).  

For more on the Understanding Model, see Mylene Chan, “Highlights from the June Session of the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation ‘Mediating Disputes’ Training,” CPR Speaks (June 24) (available at https://bit.ly/37SaTx2).

* * *

The author, an LLM candidate at Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law’s Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, in Malibu, Calif., is a 2021 CPR Summer Intern.

[END]

Highlights from Last Month’s Harvard Program on Negotiation’s Advanced Mediation Workshop on Mediating Complex Disputes

By Mylene Chan

The Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation conducted its Advanced Mediation Workshop: Mediating Complex Disputes from July 26-30. Forty-eight participants from diverse mediation practices around the world gathered to attend the July sessions taught by faculty members David Hoffman, Lawrence Susskind, Susan Podziba, Samuel Dinnar, and Audrey Lee.

The program was divided into two parts: (1) a focus on two-party complex mediations with potential court filings, and (2) a focus on multiparty, multi-issue public dispute mediation.  

During the first two days, the faculty addressed the main features of two-party complex mediations, such as ethics, breaking impasses, the use of caucuses versus joint sessions, implicit bias, and the art of co-mediation. Many of the concepts are laid out in “Mediation: A Practice Guide for Mediators, Lawyers, and Other Professionals,” by David A. Hoffman and other contributors (Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, 2013).

The mediation strategy and process design espoused by this faculty is structured on Roger Fisher’s interest-based model, as outlined in the classic “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In,” by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton (Penguin Books 2011 (originally published in 1981)). The basic principles call for separating people from the problem and shifting from interests from positions. 

Their theory is also heavily influenced by the framework of the core concerns explored in “Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate,” by Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro (Penguin Books 2005). Core concerns–or emotional interests–are human wants that underlie every negotiation. They include autonomy, appreciation, affiliation, status, and role.

Faculty member Audrey Lee explained that exploring disputants’ core concerns allows mediators to shift the focus to disputants’ real interests and to promote better understanding, thus facilitating agreement.

During the first two days, the workshop participants practiced co-mediating in two cases involving commercial contracts, intellectual property, and employment disputes.  Many participants commented that they had never co-mediated, and that they tended to be more driven by positions than interests.  Some added that they struggled to be creative in devising ways to expand the pie, noting that they had to turn off their combative litigator instincts and the urge to render advice and advocate.

The program then transitioned from two-party matters to multiparty, multi-issue public disputes. Lawrence Susskind, a leader in the development of public dispute mediation, introduced these complex public disputes, explaining that their form and substance shift.  The number of parties can range from as few as 30 to beyond 100, many of whom may be unfamiliar with professional facilitation, and with more parties potentially joining over the course of the dispute resolution process.

An additional challenge, Susskind explained, is that the parties may represent stakeholder groups without full empowerment to speak on the groups’ behalf.

Also, the agenda is likely to keep changing because very often parties continue to reshape or argue about it.

Furthermore, scientific and technical uncertainty and disagreement abound.  Examples of these amorphous dispute resolution settings are global treaty negotiations, budgetary negotiations, environmental policy disputes, and public dialogues on issues such as police conduct. A deeper exploration of these issues can be found in “Breaking Robert’s Rules: The New Way to Run Your Meeting, Build Consensus and Get Results,” by Lawrence E. Susskind and Jeffrey L. Cruikshank (Oxford University Press 2006).

Susan Podziba then elaborated on the process she uses in mediating these complex cases. She has worked with the United Nations and individual national governments to resolve intractable disputes with widespread and long-lasting ramifications. She said she begins with an assessment by reading all the publicly available information, followed by discussions with people who have lived through the conflict.

In many cases, parties have not been identified, and therefore, Podziba said she starts by talking to the parties who are obvious, and from those conversations identifying additional parties that should be participating.

Once the first phase is concluded,  Podziba develops the process design, aimed at enabling diverse groups to work together to resolve a complex conflict. The process design typically includes constructing five basic building blocks: (1) the product (the form of agreement such as joint statements or MOUs) that will result from the negotiations; (2) the complementary goals that need to be achieved before agreement can be reached; (3) outreach to and consultations with outside experts; (4) trusted information (that is, information from objective sources that can correct biases); and (5) ground rules and logistics relating to the negotiation session itself.  For more details, see “Civic Fusion: Mediating Polarized Public Disputes,” by Susan L. Podziba (ABA Publishing 2012).

The faculty prepared three complex public policy dispute mediation role-play sessions for the class. The first one concerned the reconstruction of the World Trade Center after 9/11, involving many public parties such as the New York state government, New York City, and the families of the deceased. Many participants who played the role of the families said that they felt the emotions.

After the day concluded, the faculty arranged for a guided group screening of a training video co-produced by CPR, publisher of CPR Speaks, and Harvard PON on the World Trade Center reconstruction. Details are available on Lawrence Susskind’s website, here.

The workshop participants also mediated the ethical dilemmas surrounding water shutoffs in older U.S. cities. Susskind said that his Massachusetts Institute of Technology research team–he is MIT’s Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning–has mapped where U.S. local governments have shut off water supplies. 

After the role-play, many participants inquired about how to gain experience in public policy mediation. Susskind responded that public policy mediators are paid at an hourly rate and discussed the Consensus Building Institute, an international public policy mediation center Susskind founded in 1993.

On the final day of the workshop, Susan Podziba introduced the conflict over the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on sacred lands on Mauna Kea in Hawaii–a massive conflict involving foreign countries and many academic institutions.  After the simulation, many participants reflected on Podziba’s systematic process design and said that they will incorporate such a design into their mediation practice.

David Hoffman, who is credited with bringing collaborative law to the commercial sector via the firm he founded, the Boston Law Collaborative, ended by urging the attendees to consider being peacemakers:

[T]he opportunities to impact out there in the world exist in every one of those cases, when you think about the infinite dimensions of the human heart, and the opportunity we have when we enter the sacred space of people’s conflicts to heal those wounded hearts.  We have a mandate for mediation on a very deep and grand scale.

This Harvard workshop offered veteran mediators an opportunity to have experts critique their trade and to gain exposure to some of the cutting-edge theories and practices of mediation taught at Harvard Law School and its Program on Negotiation. 

***

The author, an LLM candidate at Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law’s Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, in Malibu, Calif., is a 2021 CPR Summer Intern. She participated in the Harvard program detailed in this post.

[END]

UNCITRAL Completes a New Mediation Framework, Based on the Singapore Convention

By Mylene Chan

Earlier this month, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law adopted the UNCITRAL Mediation Rules, the UNCITRAL Notes on Mediation, and the Guide to Enactment and Use of the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Mediation and International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation. 

Judith Knieper, Legal Officer at the UNCITRAL Secretariat, at a side forum on investor-state mediation, commented that these texts complete UNCITRAL’s mediation framework, with the milestone 2018 Singapore Convention on international settlement agreements as a pillar. 

Starting in 1980, UNCITRAL began to develop a mediation framework, which now includes the following:

  • UNCITRAL Conciliation Rules (1980) (updated in 2021).
  • UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Conciliation (2002) (amended in 2018).
  • UNCITRAL Guide to Enactment and Use of the 2002 Model Law (2002) (replaced in 2021).
  • UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Mediation and International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation (2018) (amending the 2002 Model Law). See page 2 of UNCITRAL Working Document 1073 here.
  • The United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation (2018), commonly known as the “Singapore Convention.”
  • UNCITRAL Mediation Rules (2021) (updating the 1980 Conciliation Rules)
  • UNCITRAL Notes on Mediation (2021).
  • Guide to Enactment and Use of the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Mediation and International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation (2021) (replacing the 2002 Guide) (available in the Working Document linked above). 

These texts provide a means for the harmonization of laws, procedural rules, and enforcement mechanisms for international mediation. The most significant tool for international commercial dispute resolution is the Singapore Convention, which enables enforcement of mediated settlement agreements among its signatories.

As a result of the adoption of the Singapore Convention, international businesses now have an effective alternative to litigation and arbitration in resolving cross-border disputes.  Judith Knieper said that 54 states had signed the Singapore Convention, and she said she hoped that more will join as many states are currently engaged in the ratification process.

The UNCITRAL Secretariat has invited CPR to participate as an observer delegation to its Working Group II deliberations, and solicited its comments on the drafts to facilitate finalizing the texts. The UNCITRAL Working Group II is composed of UNCITRAL’s 60-member states and has been developing work focused on mediation, arbitration, and dispute settlement. 

During UNCITRAL’s recent 54th session, which ran from June 28 and concluded July 16, and was held in person in Vienna, Working Group II introduced a number of updated provisions aimed at taking into account recent mediation trends and developments, including court-ordered mediation. See page 2 UNCITRAL Working Document 1074 here. UNCITRAL incorporated Working Group II’s revisions as part of the newly adopted UNCITRAL Mediation Rules.

Major updates in the UNCITRAL Mediation Rules include the following:

  • Clarify that the rules apply to mediation regardless of the process’s origin, including an agreement between the parties, an investment treaty, a court order, or a mandatory statutory provision.
  • Introduce a definition of mediation.
  • Stipulate that in a case of conflict, mandatory provisions in the applicable international instrument, court order, or law will prevail.
  • Specify that mediation commences when the disputants agree to engage in the mediation.
  • Require disclosure of circumstances regarding impartiality or independence.
  • Permit use of alternative means of communication during the mediation and of remote consultations.
  • Provide that information shared by parties with the mediator is confidential unless parties express otherwise.
  • Update the provisions governing the preparation of settlement agreements to take into account UNCITRAL’s legal framework, including the recently adopted Singapore Convention.  
  • Address the interaction between mediation and other proceedings.
  • Provide for exclusion of liability for mediators.
  • Encourage gender and geographical diversity in selection of mediators.
  • Specify that parties and the mediator should agree upfront on the methods of assessing mediation costs, with multiparty mediations shared on a pro rata basis.

UNCITRAL is expected to publish the UNCITRAL Mediation Rules and the UNCITRAL Notes on Mediation together later this year, according to a statement at the end of the session.

UNCITRAL’s work on mediation will continue with the drafting of rules and guidelines relating to investor-state mediation and with work exploring educational best practices, according to an official’s comments in a side forum, which is a lunch-hour roundtable in which UNCITRAL officials discussed topics related to UNCITRAL’s work.

Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law Prof. Lela Love, who is chair of the International Advisory Board on Mediation for the Office of Ombudsman for the United Nations Funds and Programmes, commented about the developments reported here:

All this remarkable focus on mediation—and activity around it—heralds a new era for the dispute resolution process that ideally promotes enhanced understanding, dialogue and creative problem solving.  This may be a renaissance time for mediation—one that is very welcome in the divided and polarized time we inhabit.

* * *

The author, an LLM candidate at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, has covered UNCITRAL’s 54th Session proceedings as a 2021 CPR Summer Intern.

UN Insolvency Work Finds Help with Mediation

By Mylene Chan

The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law adopted a simplified insolvency regime that recommends mediation to resolve disputes between financial sector creditors and small debtors during its 54th Session. 

The move sets out a path where mediation can be a help to debt-plagued businesses in developing and emerging countries.

Last Friday, UNCITRAL closed its 54th Session in Vienna, which began June 28. During this session, Working Group V on insolvency law finalized legislative recommendations for a simplified insolvency regime for micro and small enterprises, or MSEs, and UNCITRAL adopted it. 

UNCITRAL mandated this project in 2013 because the insolvency rules generally applicable to mid-sized and large business enterprises do not accommodate micro and small businesses, which are the driving economic force for many countries. Gregor Baer, 14:2 Insolvency and Restructuring Int’l 64 (Sept. 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/3B1peox).

As part of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, UNCITRAL has also asked its  Working Group I, on micro, small and medium enterprises, to make recommendations to reduce legal obstacles faced by micro and small businesses in developing countries. Id.

The drafting of the simplified insolvency regime has been coordinated with the World Bank Group because the Financial Stability Board designated both the World Bank and UNCITRAL as standard setters in the field of insolvency. Financial Stability Board, Insolvency and Creditor Rights Standard (Jan. 20, 2011) (available at https://bit.ly/36EKqTi).

In light of the significant negative impact of Covid-19 on MSEs, several member states of Working Group V have expressed an urge to expedite the drafting of the simplified insolvency regime. UNCITRAL, Capital Markets Intelligence, “International Insolvency & Restructuring Report 2020/21” (available at https://bit.ly/2VBeg8P).

Ironically, because many member states have implemented insolvency-related legislative measures to address difficulties faced by MSEs during the health emergency, the pandemic has created valuable experiences that could help improve the text of the simplified insolvency regime.

The simplified insolvency regime addresses major characteristics of small debtors, such as having a non-diversified creditor, supply, and client base. See Note by the Secretariat,  “Insolvency of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises: Draft text on a simplified insolvency regime” (Sept. 28, 2018) (available at https://bit.ly/3ie53Ll).  

Other distinguishing features of small debtors covered by the simplified insolvency regime include the access to credit being subject to the grant of personal guaranties, encumbrance of physical assets, and unencumbered assets with minimal value.  In addition, the simplified insolvency regime considers small debtors’ frequent poor or nonexistent records, overlapping ownership control and management, and “concerns over stigmatisation.” See UNCITRAL, Capital Markets Intelligence, International Insolvency & Restructuring Report at 10, linked above.

The simplified insolvency regime focuses on mechanisms to bring micro and small business debtors into a formal insolvency system that provides rehabilitation and a reasonable payment plan.  Through reduced complexity of insolvency procedures, lowered costs, and more favorable conditions for a prompt discharge, small debtors could hope to have a fresh start.  See Note by the Secretariat at page 7, linked above.

Member states have proposed endorsing out-of-court and hybrid procedures to develop workable alternatives to formal insolvency processes amicable to MSEs. Report of Working Group V (Insolvency Law) on the work of its 54th session (Vienna, 10–14 Dec. 2018) p. 22 (Dec. 20, 2018) (available at https://bit.ly/3z29MGR).  

During previous drafting stages, some member states explained that certain preconditions should exist for out-of-court and hybrid procedures to be effective, such as incentives for financial institutions to negotiate debt restructuring and to suspend the debt.  Those procedures, however, were generally more suitable for large and medium-sized enterprises.

Other member states explained that in some jurisdictions, positive tax impacts of debt forgiveness are available as incentives for financial sector creditors to negotiate debt restructuring with small debtors. In other jurisdictions, administrative out-of-court procedures and mediation have yielded positive results.

In previous negotiation stages, some national delegations and development-focused non-governmental organizations suggested non-punitive rehabilitation of small debtors to promptly restore their economic productivity. See Baer, linked above.

* * *

In this month’s session, Working Group V adopted the following commentaries in the simplified insolvency regime to provide guidance that mediation could be helpful in resolving disputes relating to MSEs:  

To avoid delays and at the same time to ensure transparency and predictability, this [text] recommends that a simplified insolvency regime should provide for the default procedures and treatment that can be overridden by the decision of the competent authority on its own motion or upon request of any party in interest. The competent authority may modify the proceedings by introducing, for example, a mandatory mediation stage or displacing the debtor- in-possession with an independent professional.

Note by the Secretariat, “Draft text on a simplified insolvency regime” 38, ¶ 75. (Feb. 16, 2021)  (available at https://bit.ly/3id8IJw).

Mediation and conciliation services may also be helpful for resolution of disputes between MSE debtors and creditors and among creditors.

Note by the Secretariat, “Draft text on a simplified insolvency regime Addendum” 38, ¶ 75. (Feb. 16, 2021)  (available at https://bit.ly/3raOQKU).

* * *

The simplified insolvency regime is expected to appear as Part V of UNCITRAL’s Legislative Guide on Insolvency Law.

Developing and emerging countries, where MSEs may drive the economies, are among those hit hardest by the economic contraction spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic. Small debtors’ insolvency affects job preservation and the supply chain.

On July 16, the final day of the 54th session, Caroline Nicholas, Senior Legal Officer of UNCITRAL, commented on technical assistance activities focusing on MSEs recovery from the effects of the pandemic:  

What is really interesting to hear is the experience in three continents, in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. We have some emphasis on exactly the same points, the need for agility, the need for syndicated simplified measures and the need for speed in supporting MSEs so that they are receiving the financial and other support.

As the world is gaining control over the Covid-19 virus, mediation emerges as a potential solution to help ease the recovering path for struggling segments by bringing creditors to negotiate with small debtors. 

With the help of mediation and incentivized policies for creditors to suspend or forgive debts, perhaps many MSEs can recover their economic productivity and help developing and emerging countries restore economic and social welfare after the pandemic. 

* * *

The author, an LLM candidate at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, has covered UNCITRAL’s 54th Session proceedings as a 2021 CPR Summer Intern.

[END]