Jet Set: London International Mediation Competition
Jetlagged and dreading two weeks full of classes and events before my Spring Break, I safely arrived back in cold Detroit after five fantastic days in London. I traveled to London with eight of my colleagues and one of my professors after I was selected to compete on the Michigan State University College of Law (MSU COL) International Mediation team. Here are the details of my trip.
Our flight took off from the Detroit airport at 10:00PM on a Tuesday evening. While I was exhausted from a full day of classes, my adrenaline was rushing. I had traveled to London with my family years ago, but could hardly remember my entire experience there. I remember thinking that London was like a giant version of New York City. I have always loved New York City, so naturally I loved London even more. The flight was longer than I would like it to be, but after eight hours full of movies and snacks, we arrived in London!
We had the opportunity to briefly tour parts of London before our competition began. We walked to Trafalgar Square from our hotel one evening. Trafalgar square was alive with many people and different sounds. We walked passed a DJ who was playing EDM music. People gathered around him and danced. The streets were very busy for a Wednesday evening, but the energy and the environment were breathtaking. On our way back to the hotel, we noticed the bank that was featured as Gringott’s Bank in Harry Potter and spotted the iconic red telephone booths on the streets of town.
I was especially intrigued with the advertisements and evidence on the streets of the upcoming London Fashion Week. It was scheduled to begin on Friday, February 20th. Mercedes Benz cars zipped through the busy streets with the logo of big magazine companies, like Elle and Glamour, painted across their sides. Since I could not make it to Fashion Week because we had to compete on those days, my colleagues came with me to Harrods. Harrods is a large, upscale department store with little shops, eateries, and the most fashionable clothing and accessories from some of the world's top designers and brands.
My eyes were wide the entire time I spent inside. Although my team was in a hurry to pass through the different departments, I managed to take some pictures. I probably could have spent all day in Harrods, but we slid out the back doors and made our way onto more adventures around town.
One of these adventures included tea in Westminster. The venue where we enjoyed our tea was picked out and planned by a former Mediation Team member. So nice of her! It was tucked away off the busy, main streets and was truly the best way to kick up our feet after a long day exploring the city. I got the traditional Earl Grey tea. I am not a fan of all the flavored teas, but they seemed to be popular with the rest of my group. Following the pouring of our tea, a waiter brought out three tiered serving trays filled with little sandwiches, chocolates, biscuits, and other desserts. Everything was SO delicious!
Our adventures came to a close, and it was time to prepare for the competition. The International Mediation Competition was held at BPP Law School and University College London (UCL) Law School with 43 teams participating. We had two teams consisting of three people each. We also had two coaches, but our coaches were able to participate on a team of their own as the competition ensued.
In the competition, there are three regular rounds that are followed by the semi-final round and the final round. Each person on the team acts once as a client, a mediator, and an advocate. We were given the general facts for both parties in all three regular rounds prior to arriving in London. One hour (or less) before the round starts, the attorney/client team is handed their party name and private facts. As a mediator, you meet with your co-mediator during this time. When you mediate, you co-mediate with an individual from another school’s team. You have an hour to prepare with them to help discuss how you plan to facilitate the conversation between the parties with competing interests.
There are several different styles of mediation. The style we use is more facilitative and transformative rather than evaluative. This means that as a mediator, we remain neutral. We do not act as judges, fact finders, or decision makers. Our goals are to facilitate communication effectively between the parties and explore potentially acceptable mutual solutions to the problem that brought them to mediation. Mediation is a unique alternative to court because it allows the individuals involved to communicate in person and use creative solutions that may not be likely in court to help solve their problems. Mediation is often used in domestic and civil cases.
THE MEDIATION PROCESS
The mediation process involves several steps, and not all mediations are conducted the same. The style my team and I use consists of five steps. After I introduce myself and the mediation process, the parties have an uninterrupted opportunity to share their perspectives of what brought them to mediation. After each party shares their story, I prefer to set an agenda. The agenda is a list of topics that both parties agree they would like to talk about. The list is not in any specific order, and it can be added or subtracted from. This gives the parties a starting point. By establishing topics for the agenda, it shows that they share some common ground and helps to guide them through their conversations. After an agenda has been set, I move into joint session. Joint session allows the parties to discuss the topics on the agenda in any order they would like. I will jump in to reflect, identify interests, and ask unanswered questions to help guide the conversation and gather more information. If at any point, I want to meet with the parties individually in private, I will move into what is referred to as a caucus. This is a time where I can speak to one side alone and help reality test any offers or ideas that they share with me. While the mediation process is confidential, there is an extra layer of confidentiality in the caucus. I will not disclose any of the information I receive from one party during my private meeting with the other party when I meet with them. An exception to confidentiality is that if I feel as though anyone in the mediation or outside of the mediation is in imminent harm or danger, I must disclose that to the proper authorities. Finally, if an agreement is reached, I will assist in writing that agreement down.
Many of the competitors at the International Competition liked to "shuttle caucus". This means that they did not like the parties to speak directly to one another about the situation that brought them to mediation in a joint session. Rather, they assume that the parties do not like one another, so they would be more willing to share information when speaking solely to the mediators as opposed to speaking to the other party directly across the table. After caucusing with both sides, they would caucus with them again and again until a resolution is reached.
This type of shuttle caucusing is very common in everyday practice, but this mechanism troubled me because one of the main reasons that people have disagreements that they cannot resolve on their own may most likely be attributed to a lack of communication. By shuttle caucusing the parties, they are continuing to communicate ineffectively. If their resolution involves any future communication, then how will they ever make it when they walk out of mediation if they cannot sit across the table from one another and talk in mediation with their attorneys next to them?
Overall, the mediation competition was a success! Both MSU COL International Mediation teams advanced into the semi-finals. Our coaches, who were also able to participate on a team, would have also advanced into the finals, but because the makeup of their team involved several schools, they were unable to officially move forward. All of our teams accepted several awards, both as teams and as individuals. Mediation is a passion of mine because I look forward to resolving conflict outside of court where creative solutions can be utilized and the parties involved can feel heard and understood.