An important question in the course of a dispute is when to mediate. Lawyers who are familiar with litigation and the benefits of mediation as well as clients who have experience with litigation often try to determine the optimum point at which to mediate. Here are several critical points in the life of a dispute and issues to consider regarding the decision to mediate.
Before a Lawsuit Starts.
1. When a lawsuit is on the edge of being commenced emotions are running hot and legal arguments and theories are being sharpened. You may want to consider a pre-lawsuit mediation. At this point, the cost of litigation has not reached a substantial level and the dispute has not caused a major distraction to the business or people involved. An early settlement may also be beneficial since a public filing of the lawsuit will not occur. The dispute will remain private if the early mediation is successful. A common objection to early litigation is that all relevant facts may not be known because no discovery has been conducted. However, a quick solution is often the best choice.
After the Lawsuit Has Started, But before Summary Judgment Motions Are Filed.
2. This plateau in the life of the dispute is typically reached during the discovery process and before the parties have filed motions for summary judgment in which the court will decide important issues on the legal claims asserted in the case. At this juncture, important facts will have been disclosed in discovery and key witnesses deposed. The cost of preparing motions is very high and a mediation at this point, again, will serve to reduce attorneys fees and distraction of the principals.
Waiting for the Judge to Decide Summary Judgment Motions.
3. The parties have made the effort to file motions with the court and the judge’s decision is imminent. Both sides are at risk; so, is this the time to settle in mediation? Facts have been gathered in discovery, witnesses deposed, and the lawyers have presented forceful arguments to the court on the legal issues. Why not wait for the judge’s decision because all that money has been spent? This may be the best time to settle because the risk for both sides is at the highest level since the lawsuit began.
Prior to Trial.
4. Discovery has ended, the judge has ruled on summary judgment motions, and the lawyers are preparing for trial. Many dollars have been paid in attorneys fees and the parties are awaiting their day in court. This may be a time for a final attempt to resolve the dispute. Experienced trial lawyers are aware of the unpredictability of trials, even where the finest pre-trial preparation has been conducted. So, this may be a last chance to find a solution before the mechanism of the trial removes control of the dispute from the parties.
In mediation, the parties in the dispute control their destiny. A trial gives control to strangers. Any time is the best time to mediate. Every step along the litigation path presents advantages and risks. Those intermediate risks are always less than the ultimate risk of allowing another person to solve your problem.