Sophisticated Mediation Advocacy : “Out Loud Adverse Advice”

When I am mediating I often encourage counsel ‘to be brave’.

Easier said than done I know, but bravery can take many forms in mediation.

From counsel backing their own advice when the easier road would be to settle – to something a little more counter intuitive and possibly risky – like strategically signaling vulnerability at the table, often achieved by counsel giving the client out loud adverse advice during a joint session.

Yeah, opposite counsel may be right I guess – we will struggle if that’s the way the judge approaches liability on this aspect – and by the way, we are the wrong side of 60/40 odds. But once/if we get through that, quantum is downhill with a minimum of 1m and on a good day 1.95m – their risk that we get to try quantum is unacceptable and (as counsel turns back across the table) we know you can’t live with that for 15 months until trial

What’s going on here?

Well, good mediation advocates know they don’t have to prove their position is the correct one – their task is fundamentally different at mediation – instead they are asking themselves what can I do to move this case towards settlement?

I have heard it said that all you need to bring to mediation is a big stick – errant nonsense of course and ironically, I have seen some very small sticks, aimed very carefully, obliterate their target.

So, good advocates don’t waste energy debating the legals up hill and down dale – rather, just enough back and forth to condition the debate and create doubt (and therefore risk) for the other side – and if they’re really, really good, by using front-foot concepts like preemptive disclosure and inoculation.

Inoculation is an especially intriguing notion and again belongs to next level of mediation advocacy but, other than what appears below, will have to wait for a future post.

Good counsel reason that voluntary disclosure of negative information removes the sting of negativity and divests the other side of the opportunity to expose and capitalise on it.

I delight in seeing brave mediation advocates making carefully considered concessions on points that do not directly undermine their ultimate goal –  which, in the right hands, is an extremely effective mediation posture. And that’s not to say they would do the same thing at trial – that’s the point, mediation advocacy is so very different.

But great caution is needed – there is an art to this high-wire act and it’s best to read this before you try it at the table; Playing With Fire: The Science of Confronting Adverse Material in Legal Advocacy (Prof Kathryn Stanchi, Temple University – James E. Beasley School of Law).

… it is not surprising that there is considerable controversy among both appellate practitioners and trial lawyers regarding when and how to address information that potentially undermines the position they are advocating. The vehemence of the disagreement among lawyers about the appropriate strategy, as well as the pain of the dilemma, is a testament to the high stakes of the question.

The theory of inoculation is based on the idea that advocates can make the recipient of a persuasive message “resistant” to opposing arguments, much like a vaccination makes a patient resistant to disease… inoculation studies show that raising and refuting adverse information works better than a wholly positive message to insulate message recipients from later attacks on the message… the theory is that introducing a “small dose” of a message contrary to the persuader’s position makes the message recipient immune to attacks from the opposing side.

The key to inoculation is the warning of the impending attack, or “threat”, combined with the refutation of the attack. Refutation alone is not sufficient to produce the inoculation response. The two components work in tandem – for the inoculation response to occur, challenges must be explicitly raised and then answered.

Remember you heard it here at BCC first: “out loud adverse advice”

Read the full article in which Prof Stanchi explains a range of fascinating concepts like bad law, bad facts, stealing thunder, preemptive disclosure and inoculation theory – all useful to the advanced mediation advocate.

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