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News: I Won't See You in Court

In mediation, the only loser is the lawyers' fees

By Eric Hafertepen · July 5th, 2001 · News
  Bea Larsen helped found the Center for Resolution of Disputes as an alternative to fighting it out in courtrooms.
Jymi Bolden

Bea Larsen helped found the Center for Resolution of Disputes as an alternative to fighting it out in courtrooms.

A lawsuit doesn't resolve a conflict; it only picks a winner. Mediation, an increasingly popular alternative to litigation, means no one has to be a loser.

The Center for Resolution of Disputes, founded in 1988, has helped to settle more than 2,400 suits.

"This is the organization that established mediation in the Greater Cincinnati area," says Jerry Lawson, president of the center. "We're the primary mediation organization."

The brain child of attorney Bea Larsen, the center organized after the Cincinnati Bar Association approached Hamilton County Common Pleas Court and asked judges to consider referring litigants to a conflict resolution center.

Trained in mediation and negotiation at Harvard Law School, Larsen serves as senior mediator with the center. Her experience spent practicing law in the 1970s and 1980s was the impetus for getting involved in mediation -- a program she promotes in regular commentaries on WVXU (91.7 FM).

"The adversarial system created so much discord," Larsen says. "I felt more damage was done than good. I felt there had to be a better way."

Instead of a judge or jury deciding a dispute, a mediator works to achieve agreement between the parties, then translates it into a legally binding contract. In the process, the mediator -- who has no legal authority -- works to convey the legal issues to both parties and the potential impact of those issues. The mediator doesn't make decisions, but rather facilitates negotiations.

If an agreement seems unlikely, the mediator will inform both parties of the likely outcome of a court case. After a car wreck, for example, when one side is contemplating a lawsuit, a mediator might predict the plaintiff's probability of winning the case and the amount of damages likely to be recovered. The injured party might then weigh the costs and benefits of filing suit and decide mediation makes more sense.

In some cases, mediation can help prevent a conflict from severing business relationships, or even family ties.

"You can come up with solutions to help people preserve relationships," Lawson says. "You can reach compromises where one side isn't necessarily a winner or loser."

Much of the work at the Center for Resolution of Disputes involves divorce, which can traumatize children. Mediation seeks to mitigate the effects of contentious marital quarrels and protect the children involved.

"With respect to family law, this is the best way to protect children from the fallout of parental conflict," Larsen says.

Advocates of alternative conflict resolution say mediation presents important advantages over litigation.

People who avoid the court system will, in most cases, save a great deal of time -- and subsequently a great deal of money. Reaching an end to a disagreement can take years in the court system. Mediation often yields comparatively quick results. The parties in mediation are free to work around their own schedules, rather than inflexible court schedules.

Mediation also keeps the balance of power in the hands of the disputing parties, whereas in the court system, a judge or jury is the sole arbiter in a conflict.

"The mediation process allows the parties in the dispute to remain in control of the outcome, whereas in litigation, they lose control," Larsen says.

Dealing primarily with divorce mediation for its first three years, the center has expanded both the number of mediators it employs and the depth of disputes it handles, doing more non-divorce mediation.

Lawson, another Harvard-educated lawyer, is the former executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Cincinnati. Since joining the center, he has mediated more than 1,700 cases, including personal injury cases, business disputes, employment disputes, malpractice cases and public-policy disputes.

"We do all sorts of odds and ends," Lawson says.

Due to its advantages, Lawson says, mediation is the fastest growing dispute-resolution mechanism in the country. ©



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