John Sturrock reflects

… on Edinburgh, London and the challenges facing mediation everywhere….

John Sturrock QC, the founder of Core Solutions in Edinburgh and “Scotland’s finest mediator” (Legal 500) has now been a central member of the Brick Court team for two years.

I caught up with John on his way to the airport. He had just left a foreshortened Select Committee meeting on Brexit at Westminster, which he had been facilitating in his Special Adviser role (the General Election announcement had distracted his intended audience). He was flying to San Francisco to speak at an American Bar Association Dispute Resolution conference before going on to Memphis, Tennessee for the International Academy of Mediators conference. Such is the life of a mediation thought-leader!

Q : John what kind of litigation practice did you have at the Edinburgh Bar in the days before mediation discovered you? Have you left those experiences behind or do they still inform the work you do?

 I had a busy and varied civil and commercial practice. We tend to specialise less at the Scottish Bar so my portfolio included a wide range corporate and commercial work. That gives me a really good insight as a mediator into many different types of case.

So I was junior counsel in the then largest patent action in the Scottish courts. I handled major litigation arising out of the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries, property valuation (including petro-chemical plants, large entertainment venues and football stadiums!), banking, oil and gas, construction, planning, judicial review and the usual range of professional indemnity cases involving all sorts of disciplines. Along the way I paid a visit to the House of Lords in which my argument as junior counsel for the appellant on the matter of foreseeability prevailed – a moment of pleasure not to be shared overtly with my learned senior!!

Q : Scotland, not least because of your own efforts, has become something of a mecca for dispute resolution and mediation in particular. Do you have a sense that Scotland punches above its weight in ADR matters? Modesty aside how has this come about?

I think we need to be realistic. Scotland has seen a really significant rise in the use of mediation in commercial cases. And, yes, like you Bill, having left litigation practice to work full time in mediation and dispute resolution, I take some pleasure in that development, in which I have invested my professional career for over fifteen years. But we are still behind other jurisdictions in judicial support.

I sense this is changing now with a quite radical new leadership in our courts. However, this means that I often mediate in situations where the parties are choosing to do so because they want to – not because a court will penalise them for not doing so – and also earlier when more imaginative approaches can be taken. I am a great believer in making best use of the mediation process to help the key players achieve really useful results for their business.

Q : You were busy mediating in London well before you joined Chambers. But I wonder what differences you notice between London and other mediation environments in which you work in terms of the way parties participate in mediations and in their expectations of you?

Interesting question. I sense that there is greater expectation that there are particular ways in which mediators will act. Sometimes there is a more pro forma way which people have developed over a number of years and through great experience. I think one needs to be sensitive to that and the benefits which people have seen accrue. On the other hand, one of the themes at the ABA conference is likely to be the extent to which mediation in the US (especially in Southern California) has become formulaic and the province of the litigation profession. The fear expressed in the US is that mediation is now just a tool for use to achieve (or broker) late settlement. Indeed, they are proposing an alternative “early dispute resolution” model which seems to be just mediation carried out early! We need to avoid falling into the trap of being too predictable , I suggest.

Q : You must have one of the most varied portfolios of any ADR professional that I can think of, with a practice reaching into government, political parties, policy, the environment, churches, industry, as well as covering the narrow litigation-centred world I work in. Do they all complement each other and spark off each other or do you simply have to wear a different head for each of them?

The fundamentals are the same I think. The human condition, by definition, is universal. They say that there are only five themes in Hollywood! The facts and circumstances differ, the emotional component is expressed differently, the players have different drivers, and so on. But the beauty of our role is that, because we enablers and not fixers, we can draw on these many experiences and often use a technique or approach from another environment to help in the instant case. I seek to adapt to the “culture” wherever I am or whatever I am asked to deal with, and that means avoiding stereotyping or assuming that any situation fits into a particular box.

So, there is a sense of each mediation (or “facilitation”, if the “m” word is not the right one) providing a rich resource for all the others. You use the word “spark”: I think that is really important. When we are at our best as mediators, our job is to help spark others into new ways of approaching difficult problems and to do so with energy and commitment. I regard myself as very fortunate to work with such a diverse range of people and issues.

Next time I talk to our New Zealand-based mediator, Geoff Sharp

 

Don't miss a story. Sign up for email updates.

We won't spam you and you can unsubscribe at any time. In signing-up, you agree to our privacy policy.