The Future of Mediation
By Euan Davidson
With recent figures showing a drop in Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings of 58% (from 14,758 to 7,170) between June and September 2013 compared to the same period last year, at a time when the Government has promised to promote mediation as an alternative to court proceedings and at a time when legal aid for solicitors has been stopped for most family matters (e.g. divorce, finances and children’s living arrangements), it is an important time to ask about the future of mediation.
(See the following link: https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/5039136.article?utm_source=dispatch&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=GAZ091213)
From a mediator’s perspective, the future is very unclear as a lot of solicitors and other professionals have trained to become mediators in recent years, partly due to the fact that it was clear that legal aid was going to be stopped for many family law issues and partly because of the emphasis that the Government was beginning to put on the use of mediation, thus meaning that we are now faced with a situation where mediation starts have significantly reduced over a period at the same time that the number of people trying to offer mediation services has substantially increased. Unsurprisingly, conversations with lots of mediators and other professionals in recent months make it clear that the end result of this is that many recently qualified mediators are struggling to establish themselves whilst a number of established mediation practices, especially those that were heavily reliant on legal aid mediation (which still exists even though the lack of publicity about its existence might suggest otherwise), are either closing or cutting back on their staff.
From a solicitor’s perspective, the future is also unclear as the anecdotal evidence suggests that the legal aid cuts, together with the difficult economic times in recent years, have led to a surge in the number of people representing themselves at court which is then having the knock-on effect of overwhelming the court system and therefore making it even harder than before to make progress with cases within acceptable timeframes.
From a client’s perspective, all of these factors are starting to offer the benefits of both mediators and solicitors coming up with lots of new models for attracting clients, ranging from fixed price packages to lower rates and free initial consultations. However, as with most areas of life you need to make sure that what is written on the tin is actually what is inside the tin as you may well find that the various promises and guarantees do not work out quite as planned. You also need to bear in mind the old adage that “you get what you pay for”, as instructing a mediator is of course a very different proposition to buying a tin of beans and given the training and ongoing professional development as well as the supervision and membership requirements that properly qualified mediators need to adhere to it is likely to prove to be an expensive mistake in the long run if you decide to choose the cheapest or most enticing mediation package available in the local area rather than taking into account the ability and approach of the mediator himself/herself.
Personally, I think that, whilst it is going to be a rocky road for the mediation profession as a whole, with there being some losers along the way, the future is actually very bright for both mediators and their clients. The Ministry of Justice has, as referred to in the Law Society Gazette article linked to above, pledged to improve its promotion of mediation in light of the recent fall in mediation enquiries, and I believe that the pressure that the courts are under will mean that mediation will be heavily relied upon by the Government even if this is out of necessity rather than out of choice. I also believe that the mediation sector will become more regulated, with mediators being more highly trained as part of this process, with the end result being that more people will eventually end up in a mediation process that will itself be much more robust and fit for purpose than at the present time, with this then leading to better outcomes for clients and mediators alike.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post and I look forward to reading your comments.
Godalming Family Mediation