Mediation can help resolve business disputes
In our weekly series on legal matters, Clare Templeton, head of the commercial dispute resolution department at Walker Legal, considers how to solve problems without court action
As the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has no doubt recently discovered, resolving disputes between parties can be a tricky business. However, mediation can be an invaluable tool for both resolving difficult issues and, most importantly, maintaining goodwill and the ongoing business relationship.
Most businesses, at some stage, will find themselves involved in a dispute that they are unable to resolve on their own. Court proceedings, while sometimes ultimately necessary, can prove to be time consuming and costly. More often than not, that time and money would have been better spent building and developing your business.
The legal profession has been using mediation as a means of alternative dispute resolution for some years, with reports of success at around 80%, and we have seen a significant rise in clients wanting to avail of mediation at an early stage.
The process is quick, cost effective and, crucially, is non-adversarial, with the sole aim of negotiating and facilitating a compromise acceptable to all. I would offer the following tips for making mediation work for your business.
1. Come prepared - get your paperwork together and have any documents at mediation which support your point of view. You may be asked to prepare a mediation statement that will be shared with the other party, so take some time and think about the real issues to be resolved. This enables you to know what your points of difference are, as well as your points of agreement. All parties will have a vested interest in the issues to be mediated and good preparation can narrow the issues before formal mediation even begins.
2. Know what you want to say - mediation normally begins with both parties in the same room with the mediator for a joint meeting. You will be afforded the chance to present your point of view to the other party, without interruption. Use this opportunity wisely; keep calm and make your case without becoming aggressive or emotional. The negotiations are without prejudice, so anything said or conceded is purely within the scope of the mediation. The opportunity for communication is maximised in mediation - you will not get the same opportunity in court proceedings.
3. Know your bottom line - give some thought to what concessions or compromise you are prepared to make. This is the very nature of mediation. The focus is on working together to go forward, not determining who was right or wrong in the past. Neither party may leave 100% happy, but the desire is to find a deal that all parties can live with and which allows them to get back to the real matter of running their business and putting the dispute behind them.
4. See the bigger picture - consider the likely outcome if mediation fails. Is there a possibility that the business relationship will be irreparably damaged, resulting in a significant loss of revenue? Will it mean one party instigating court proceedings, which could be costly, both in terms of costs and time?
5. Finally, come with the right mindset - mediators do not make judgments or determine outcomes. They will ask questions that help uncover underlying problems, assist the parties to understand the issues and help them to clarify options for resolving their difference or dispute. It takes a willingness on the part of both parties to make mediation work. See this as a positive opportunity and make the most of it.
Contact Walker Legal at 6 Bridge St, Portadown, BT62 1WL, tel: 028 3833 7591 and Scottish Provident Building, 7 Donegall Sq West, Belfast, Co Antrim, BT1 6JH, 02890 918461. Next week, Paula Morrow will focus on farm division and lifetime planning in the agri-food sector