The evolution of Dispute Resolution

Suzanne Kingston, a consultant for Mills & Reeve, was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award in January from CityWealth Magic Circle Awards. In this blog she talks about how Dispute Resolution (often called DR by lawyers) has evolved over the years.

18 - 21 January 2020 was Mediation Week and I got to thinking about my career and the passion I have felt for assisting clients to resolve their family disputes in the best way possible. Even as a junior lawyer I was convinced that although there was a place for litigation, many cases could be resolved outside the court process. I qualified as a mediator as soon as I possibly could and I’ve now done hundreds of mediations. This niche part of the family law market has served with me well and I have earned the reputation as “the Queen of mediation” for which I am extremely grateful.

There has never been a busy time for mediation than now. During the pandemic it has been difficult to access the courts. Many lawyers have been referring cases for mediation to have the dispute resolved by an independent neutral facilitator. It is particularly helpful that the mediation process is without prejudice and therefore options can be considered and, if unsuitable disregarded, in the knowledge that they will not be referred to in any potential subsequent court proceedings.

Of course, the mediation model has evolved over time and most recently a specialist form of mediation has emerged known as “hybrid mediation“. This is a mixture of the civil and family models and works extremely well for couples who may otherwise consider litigation. I have been undertaking training in relation to this form of mediation with Karin Walker and the demand is such that we will be running several training courses over the next few months. The main potential differences are that often in the hybrid process the clients are accompanied by their lawyers. Typically, the family mediation model is for there to be several sessions of 90 minutes, in the hybrid model, the mediation can be held over a day or possibly more. In addition, in hybrid, the mediators is able to hold confidences which can assist the negotiation.

To be clear however this does not mean that the mediator can keep secrets or in any way take sides but it provides the facility for each of the couple to tell the mediator what is important to them so that the mediator can help move the negotiation forward.

I have also been fortunate enough to have been involved in spearheading family law arbitration in England and Wales and have taught all of the family law arbitrators. There are two specific types of arbitration – one for financial arrangements and one for issues in relation to children. The benefits of arbitration are clear:

The parties are able to choose the tribunal – the arbitrator. Confidentiality is assured throughout the process. The arbitrator can work at the pace chosen by the parties and can consider bespoke solutions and processes. The arbitrator is easily accessible and remains a constant throughout the entire case. And of course, arbitration can be used for a whole family dispute or a discrete issue.

I have often heard that if your work becomes your passion and then it doesn’t feel like work and I feel privileged to have been in that position. I think it is clear if you enjoy your job then many positive things flow. I was honoured to obtain the City Wealth Magic Circle Award – for lifetime achievement and it is with that in mind that I have written a short article reflecting on what I particularly enjoyed during my career.

If you would like to contact Suzanne click here or find out more about our mediation and arbitration services.

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