Decline of Dialogue? Galton, Love & Weiss on Joint Sessions, Caucuses, and the State of Mediation

If the point of mediation is to get parties together to discuss and thereby resolve their problems, why is the distinct trend to keep the parties apart?

The cover story in the new June issue of Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation presents a survey that shows how caucuses predominate and joint sessions are declining in mediation practice. 

The authors–veteran leaders in the profession—are Eric Galton of Lakeside Mediation Center in Austin, Texas; Lela P. Love, a law professor and director of the Kukin Program for Conflict Resolution at New York’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, and Jerry Weiss, founder of MediationInc, based in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

The authors join us in the YouTube video above to discuss their research.  Please like and share it at the YouTube link or below on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

In their Alternatives article, “The Decline of Dialogue: The Rise of Caucus-Only Mediation And the Disappearance of the Joint Session,” 39 Alternatives 89 (June 2021), the authors chart the regional differences in the use of joint sessions and so-called phenomenon of “mediation without dialogue,” and use an example of how joint sessions can be deployed to reduce the conflict that caused the dispute.

Alternatives is available here to CPR members who are logged into the CPR website.  Subscription information is available at altnewsletter.com.

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Love’s New Mediation Data: Whither the Joint Session?

By Temitope Akande

New York Law School’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Skills Program kicked off its first 2021 round of biweekly Wednesday lunch conversations yesterday featuring mediator Lela Porter Love, a law professor and director of the Kukin Program for Conflict Resolution at New York’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

Love opened by emphatically noting that dialogue is currently dying or impoverished, even on the political scene. Mediation, she said, “is the last bastion,” with mediators trained to promote dialogue. But even in mediation, there is “less and less mandate for mediators to bring parties together into joint sessions.”

Her discussion was mostly based on a 2019 survey of practicing mediators in a professional group, the International Academy of Mediators, to determine the use of joint and caucus sessions. Presenting a PowerPoint, “The Disappearing Joint Session,” based on 129 responses and anecdotal discussions, Love said that the data reflects the title: There is a lessening frequency of the use of joint sessions and more reliance on mediators conducting caucuses with individual parties.

Prof. Love moved to a 2017 survey by the American Bar Association Dispute Resolution Section Task Force on the Relation of Mediator Actions to Mediation Outcomes also on the use of caucus during mediation. The results, she said, were counterintuitive: caucusing had an increased settlement effect in labor-management disputes, but no effect, according to her presentation slide, “in other types of disputes regardless of [the] purpose of caucus (i.e., whether to establish trust or discuss settlement proposals).”

She said that the use of caucus has shown that parties are more likely to file an enforcement action based on their settlement—which indicates that increased caucusing didn’t reduce acrimony. As a result, caucus sessions, while they may increase labor-management case settlement, may have potential for negative effects on the parties’ perceptions and relationships.

Love discussed the caucusing results in a broad Maryland state judiciary ADR evaluation report. Based on the evaluation of caucus sessions, the greater the percentage of time participants spent in caucus, the less likely the parties were satisfied with the outcome, and the less likely the participants report that the issues “were resolved with a fair and implementable outcome.”

“On balance,” said Love, “you don’t see this real, ‘Wow, now I understand why there is this great move to caucusing.’”

The Maryland study showed that when the mediators controlled the sessions, limiting the issues instead of presenting a broad range, parties showed an increase in a desire to better understand the other party. The long-term aftereffects results show that the greater percentage of time participants spent in caucus, the more likely participants will return to court for an enforcement action after mediation, reflecting a lack of durability of those mediation results.

Love further discussed the values that influence mediation style and reasons why mediators use caucus sessions instead of joint sessions, returning to the IAM study. First, mediators who do not use joint sessions primarily do not do so because attorneys do not want joint sessions.

The second reason they lean toward caucus and away from joint sessions is that parties tend to decline joint sessions because they feel more comfortable participating in the mediation process by sharing their stories in caucus sessions with the mediator, rather than facing their adversary. “People in conflict are really angry at each other and they don’t want to see each other,” explained Love.

Love further noted that mediators were mostly trained to use joint sessions, though different schools of mediation also favored caucuses. A more important factor in constructing and conducting mediation sessions is that a significant purpose is to get people together to heal relationships—as opposed to the “war” of adjudication–which orients toward using joint sessions.

Prof. Love concluded by stressing that listening helps settle cases, and it is important in helping people tell their stories. The mediators who seek to identify the parties’ interests perhaps are doing only one aspect of the process, noted NYLS ADR Skills Program Director and moderator F. Peter Phillips, who added that mediation might be better handled if the emphasis was on all parties listening and working to understand one another. Love concurred, and, noting that mediators are witnesses to the participants’ stories, suggested that neutrals provide “respectful-person listening” that enhances the process.

Love’s Jan. 13 NYLS Conversations in Conflict Resolution session is available on YouTube at https://bit.ly/3nOluyK.

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The author, who received a Master of Laws in Alternative Dispute Resolution last May at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law in Los Angeles, is volunteering with the CPR Institute through Spring 2021.

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THE MASTER MEDIATORS/ Part I: On Joint Sessions

mastermediators

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.

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“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.”

Jana

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…