By Atty. Anne R. Tessier
When most people think about lawyers they do not think of them as peacemakers, they think of litigation and winning or losing. It is true that lawyers resolve matters through the courts, each on different sides of the courtroom. But there is a growing trend among lawyers to work instead as peacemakers.
You may be wondering how can a lawyer be considered a peacemaker when the very nature of the legal process is combative. The answer lies in Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR). ADR is a way of resolving disputes without going to court, it is an alternative to litigation. There are several types of ADR, and two of the most common types are mediation and conciliation. Both are facilitated by a trained skilled neutral third party with the goal of settling a dispute without the necessity of going to trial. They offer people the opportunity to take control of the outcome in their dispute and a chance to preserve relationships.
In mediation a neutral party, a mediator, facilitates discussions to help resolve a dispute. The mediator does not offer resolutions or decide the outcome, that is up to the parties themselves. Conciliation is similar to mediation, but in Massachusetts courts a conciliator must also be an experienced attorney. Similar to mediation, in conciliation the neutral third party, the conciliator, facilitates discussions with the parties to help resolve a dispute. In addition, because conciliators are also attorneys, they can help parties assess the strengths and weaknesses of their case and may suggest possible resolutions.
In my opinion the most important aspect of conciliation and mediation is that they bring people together, instead of pushing them apart. In litigation people take sides against one another each one trying to prove their side is right and the other side is wrong, oftentimes damaging relationships in the process. In contrast when you choose to work out your dispute with the help of a trained mediator or conciliator, you are choosing to work together towards a common goal of resolving a problem. You decide how the matter is settled. The resolution lies not in proving you are right and the other side is wrong, but in actively listening and finding a solution both sides can live with.
When people come together to talk, they begin to understand each other’s viewpoint. You may not agree with the other side, but once you understand the reasons behind their position you open the door to resolution. When reaching an agreement the question is not “am I happy with the outcome,” the question is “can I live with the outcome?” If your answer to the latter is yes, then you have arrived at a successful resolution.
Abraham Lincoln once wrote “Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser---in fees, expenses, and waste of time. " These words are as true today as they were almost 170 years ago, and I am very proud to be a part of the tradition of lawyers as peacemakers.
For more information see Dispute Resolution