by John Watkins
In May of 2003, I attended a seminar on international dispute resolution sponsored by the Center for International Legal Studies in Heidelberg, Germany. The participants included lawyers from most of western Europe, the U.S., Brazil and Argentina. At the time, most of the participants from outside the U.S. were unfamiliar with mediation. Mediation is a structured settlement negotiation process in which the parties meet with a neutral third party called a mediator. The mediator cannot impose a settlement on the parties, but tries to assist the parties in reaching a voluntary settlement. Particularly when the parties participate on a voluntary basis (as opposed to being referred by a court), mediation has proven to be very effective in resolving disputes. For more basic information about mediation, see http://www.ctflegal.com/mediation-basics.html. For more advanced topics, see http://www.ctflegal.com/advanced-mediation.html. Or check out www.watkinsmediation.com.
The international participants at the Heidelberg conference were very familiar with international commercial arbitration, which is a time-honored method of resolving commercial disputes outside of a country's court system. Unlike mediation, arbitration (at least in its traditional form), is a binding dispute resolution process, in which arbitrators (usually lawyers or retired judges, although sometimes business people) decide the case in the place of a judge or jury. To U.S. lawyers, arbitration and mediation have gone together for many years as the two most prominent forms of "alternative dispute resolution" or "ADR" (meaning dispute resolution outside of the civil court system). So, it was surprising to me in 2003 that our European colleagues were so unfamiliar with one form of ADR (mediation) when they had used another form (arbitration) for many years.
Apparently, as Bob Dylan might say, the times are changing. I just attended a conference on international agency and distribution agreements sponsored by the Contract Section of the Union Internacionale des Avocats (International Association of Lawyers, or "UIA"). At this conference, I had the good fortune to meet Carlo Mastellone, the founder of Studio Legale Mastellone in Florence, Italy. Carlo, an elegant man born in London, explained to me that there is a huge backlog of civil cases in Italy, and that he and his colleagues hope to help resolve the situation through the use of mediation! Carlo is helping organize the effort in Florence, and they even have a website, http://www.conciliazionefirenze.org/. The website is in Italian, which makes it a little difficult for me to use (I would have a slightly better chance with German). However, I really like the artwork, which was done by an artist friend of Carlo.
In any event, I am glad that mediation has landed in Europe. In fact, I am glad we were finally able to export something to Europe relating to our legal system -- although it is actually about avoiding our legal system -- that may actually be appreciated! Now, if I can just get a case in Florence ....