Why a strict 3-hour time constraint delivers a 90% success rate

Like most Civil and Commercial Mediators, my early training was around the model where the parties, legal representatives and Mediators would meet at say, 9.00am in the morning and proceed until we reached impasse or agreement. We were encouraged to carry on in the evening, sometimes literally past midnight to thrash out a final settlement.

Then some years ago I worked with the Central London County Court to trial three-hour mediations with such success that this is now an established approach for resolving disputes.

The emphasis is on settlement from the outset.

With the parties’ agreement, introductory speeches at a Round Table Meeting are normally dispensed with.  The parties and their representatives are placed in separate rooms.  I then visit each room and explain that we have three hours to reach a settlement and I would be back in around five or ten minutes time to ask for their proposal.  I would explain that the proposal needed to be realistic and workable bearing in mind the strict time constraints we were under.

I settle over 90% of cases within the three-hour slot.

There is typically some posturing at the beginning where parties take perhaps unrealistic positions.  Obviously as a Mediator, one cannot evaluate a party’s position.  However, careful wording such as “I will carry that proposal to the other party but doubt it will fly” does inject a dose of reality at the right moment. As one reaches perhaps the two-hour point, I am able to say, for example, “Well you have reached a position which is much closer to settlement than when we started.  However we only have an hour now to finish and write up any agreement.”

This has the advantages of certainty of cost and time to be allotted for busy working people.  The parties can always agree to another mediation session if they feel there is scope for settlement although it eludes them on the first occasion.  Obviously very complex disputes may require more time or sessions but in the main, three hours are more than sufficient.

Which types of dispute are best suited to 3-hour mediation

Most civil, commercial and employment disputes can be resolved well with this approach. It is particularly well suited to Small Claims where legal costs can so easily escalate and become disproportionate to the damages sought.

This approach is not currently used for relationship mediation.