The words, “I’ll see you in court!” are often stated in anger, after parties have been unable to resolve conflict effectively on their own. There are, indeed, times when court action is necessary. Often, however, there are other options that would be better. Just because parties have failed to resolve conflict on their own does not mean there are no options besides court. Some of these options include using professional assistance in negotiation, mediation, or arbitration. It would be a mistake to go to court without trying these options. Motives and goals must also be thoughtfully examined. Some problems cannot be resolved through court action at all. A judge cannot make someone be nice, for example. A good attorney will help clients discern when, and when not, to go to court.
My goal as a lawyer is to help people address difficult conflict (or plan proactively to prevent conflict) in ways that are effective, cost effective, and (ideally) avoid damage to their ongoing relationships. Generally speaking, the parties seeking this kind of assistance are seeking a divorce, resolution of custody issues, intervention in a matter involving a vulnerable adult, or assistance for themselves with elder planning issues and conflict involving care for parents or vulnerable adults. Considering or attempting alternatives to court is not a sign of weakness. Often, parties who seek court don’t realize the full extent of the cost involved, including mental, emotional, spiritual, and financial costs. Consider options outside of court first, and then consider court options.
In a typical divorce, attorneys immediately file papers in court asking a judge to decide matters between the parties. This creates or intensifies an adversarial posture on the part of the parties. It also immediately disempowers the parties by putting the most important decisions in their lives in the hands of a stranger. There are other options! Discuss these with an open mind, and then decide.
Elder mediation is a family meeting in which the family joins together to discuss and decide how to meet the demands and challenges of caring and taking responsibility for a vulnerable adult. Elder mediation is especially valuable when adult siblings are in disagreement with each other or with their parent over caregiving or financial issues.
Elder law encompasses planning in advance for all the contingencies associated with aging: planning for eventual needing of care, authorizing a trusted person or entity to manage your business affairs in event of disability, succession plan for your business enterprise, deciding in advance what kinds of health care you do or do not want, estate planning and deciding who should benefit from your estate if there is anything left over. Elder law also encompasses care plans and guardianships for vulnerable adults, including special needs adults.
The principles of mediation and nonviolence apply to any conflict and work without regard to any particular belief system. Nevertheless, Christians may desire to adhere to specific religious obligations with regard to how they are to deal with conflict. I have studied scriptural principles regarding conflict and can assist both individuals and congregations seeking to follow Biblical principles and the scriptural mandates governing the Christian Believer’s response to conflict.
Many people who think they want legal representation in fact find that what they need is advice or assistance with a conflict, which may or may not be legal in nature. While it may be important to know what one’s legal rights and obligations are, the more important and overriding goal is to consider one’s ultimate goal and develop a strategy to arrive there. Law is a tool, one tool among many that can be used to resolve conflict.
I always urge clients first to think of what their overriding goals and needs are. For example, pretend that your neighbor’s tree is dropping apples on your car, and the apples are causing dents to your car. Is your goal to sue your neighbor, or is your goal to stop the apples from dropping and to get your car repaired? In other words, the law is just one tool to get what you need. There may be other ways to get what you need, starting first with having a non-adversarial conversation with your neighbor.
Perhaps you might desire some help in formulating a strategy of how to speak with your neighbor about the problem. That would be conflict coaching. Or, perhaps you might want a facilitator to help conduct the meeting with your neighbor. That would be mediation.
My goal is to earn my fee by helping you achieve a good result. Thus, the value of my service is not measured by numbers of court actions or billable hours. The true value of my service is measured by the result you achieve.
The name Just Mediation is intended to describe the value placed on alternative strategies for achieving conflict resolution. At Just Mediation, LLC, mediation is not just a cheap alternative or half hearted compromise. It is what we do, and the way we utilize to resolve difficult conflict. Some might be concerned that removing litigation as an option limits the choices for resolution of a conflict. Not so. When the hammer is taken out of the toolbox, creative use of screwdrivers, chisels, glue, and saws can begin. Pastoral coaching and counseling may be offered by Mr. Buchan, referrals may be made to accountants, appraisers, vocational rehabilitation experts, or psychologists who can lend subject matter expertise on the matter at hand. This results in a more holistic and thorough approach and resolution to your conflict.
I will be the first to say that mediation and conflict coaching is not right for every person or case. Part of my job, working as a professional in the field of conflict resolution, is to help clients discern when mediation is not appropriate. However, in many cases, non-adversarial methods are far superior to litigation, not only because it costs less financially, but because it achieves a qualitatively better, more holistic result. For this reason, I encourage clients to consider mediation or non-adversarial processes as a first resort and litigation only as a last resort.
Indeed, because I focus on mediation, the legal services I offer are very limited. I am certified as a collaborative professional (attorney and mediator) by the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP). I will therefore serve as an attorney for people in cases where both sides have agreed to pursue a settlement outside of court, such as in a non-adversarial divorce, known as a collaborative divorce. I will also assist elders and families in elder law issues and small businesses in business succession planning and contractual matters.
Because I want my clients to know I am totally committed to helping them resolve disputes without going to court, it is my policy not to accept cases where people intend on going to court, and to withdraw as counsel if a case does go to court. (In such a case, I would help you locate another attorney.) There is one exception to this rule. I may accept a case representing the interests of children or vulnerable adults in guardianship, adoption, and some custody matters, even if that might lead to court.
I want clients who understand the difference between being penny wise and pound foolish and who seek non-adversarial conflict resolution as a first resort rather than as a last resort, understanding that it is a better way and not merely because it is less expensive.
There are two separate aspects of my professional practice: Mediation and Law. A mediator never takes sides or represents a party to the mediation. An attorney always takes a side and always represents someone. At the very outset of talks about your planning needs, I will have parties clarify whether I will act as mediator or as attorney in a case.
If an attorney ever tells you they can act as mediator and as an attorney in the same case, this is most likely a direct violation of Rule 1.7 of our attorney code of ethics concerning representation of clients who have direct conflict of interest.
Whether my role is that of attorney or mediator will always be clear. To ensure this, I do not create any client relationship without a written letter of engagement describing the terms of that relationship.
Disclaimer: The purpose of this web page is to give information. This is not a solicitation to provide legal services. Nothing on this web site is to be construed as creating an attorney client relationship. Legal matters involve serious issues. Legal decisions have have long term consequences. Just as you would not try to learn how to perform surgery from reading on the internet, you should not try to learn how to practice law from reading on the internet either. Please use these resources to become a better consumer by learning as much as you can about mediation and conflict resolution.
Alexandria Skinner never creates an attorney client or mediator client relationship without entering into a written agreement defining the relationship. Nothing on this web site should be construed as advice for your particular situation. Additionally, if you have been served with papers in a lawsuit, you MUST respond. Please: consult an attorney of your choice for actual advice or representation about the legal matters that concern you.