Gregg F. Relyea is a private full-time mediator, arbitrator, and neutral factfinder in San Diego. He also teaches mediation and arbitration advocacy at San Diego’s California Western School of Law and the University of California at San Diego.
Parties generally have the freedom to select a mediator, which is one of the distinctive features, and greatest opportunities, of private mediation. The mediator can be a significant factor in achieving settlement, but only where there is a demonstrated personal commitment to resolution and the ability to use professional resources to break through negotiating impasses. One of the most reliable predictors of mediator effectiveness can be summed up in one word – tenacity.
For people using mediation, it has become apparent that individuals holding themselves out as mediators offer a wide variety of skill levels, training, and personal qualities. In practice, the selection of a neutral mediator often is the product of a casual hallway conversation with a friend or colleague about who is good.
This kind of informal reference does not address critical issues concerning the mediator’s record of securing agreements during mediation or afterward, ability to use impasses to sharpen the definition of the parties’ underlying interests, or inventiveness concerning possible solutions. A casual approach to a mediator selection can lead to a neutral who lacks the personal qualities and professional skills to consistently produce results for the parties.