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Wednesday, April, 20, 2016

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Welcome to Ask the Expert with noted radio host, Steve Sleeper. Each week, Steve interviews entrepreneurs and professionals and shares their intriguing stories of success and service. Now, here's radio veteran, Steve Sleeper.

Steve: Welcome to another edition of Ask the Expert. Today, our guest is mediation attorney, Jay Lazarus, with the RAE Group in the Washington D.C. area. Jay, tell me a little bit about yourself and your firm.

Jay: I provide mediation and arbitration services under the business name, the RAE Group. I've been a practicing attorney representing small businesses and individuals since 1981. Several years ago after years of frustration with the legal system, I trained as a mediator. Now, I use my skills and experience to help parties resolve disputes in a confidential manner that saves time and resources and preserves relationships.

Steve:  What is mediation, what is arbitration, and what's the difference between the two?

Jay:  In arbitration, the arbitrator reviews the evidence and renders a decision based on the arbitrator's review of that information and relevant law. You can think of an arbitrator as a private judge.

In mediation, the mediator assists the parties by engaging in a conversation with them about the dispute. The mediator helps each side understand the evidence and the point of view of the other side, helps them to develop options to resolve the dispute and often helps the parties develop a framework for future conversation and interaction without the help of the mediator.

Unlike arbitration, a mediator will not impose a decision on the parties. That's the principal difference. In arbitration, the arbitrator decides. In mediation, the parties decide.

Steve: What kind of cases can be mediated?

Jay: I think any case, any dispute can be mediated as long as the parties are willing to look at the dispute objectively and are open to a compromise. In my career, I've mediated many type of matters; business disputes, partnership squabbles, creditor/debtor issues, landlord/tenant/condo association matters, contested wills, divorce and custody. These are just a few of the disputes I've handled.

Steve: How long does mediation take?

Jay: That depends on a variety of factors including the nature of the dispute, the number of issues that need to be resolved, and the amount in controversy as well as the personalities of the parties. For example, a typical mediation sessions lasts 2 to 3 hours, and many matters resolve themselves in 2 to 3 sessions. However, I've had mediations end as quickly as 20 minutes into the first session and others involve many sessions over a period of months. Each problem is unique and therefore each mediation is unique.

Steve: How can I be sure mediation is going to produce a fair result?

Jay: If you start out defining fairness as an outcome, then fairness is baked into the mediation process. In mediation both parties have to agree to the result, or an impasse is reached and there's no resolution. By definition mediation produces a fair result that would result in a settlement.

Steve: Are there stages to mediation?

Jay: You can probably take each mediation and divide it into stages. In the beginning, you have the input and the information gathering stage where each side presents their view of the case, what they think the resolution should be and why they think the resolution they suggested is the appropriate one in this matter.

After that, the conversation turns to a give and take between the parties, analyzing the positions and evidence each side presented. The mediator is guiding this dialogue all along, trying to clarify the issues and pointing out where the parties may agree even if they don't realize they're in agreement.

At some point, you reach a different stage where the conversation turns to considerations of possible resolution of the issues. At this point, the mediator helps the parties to brainstorm options and analyze the pros and cons of each option from each party's point of view.

At this stage of the resolution process (if you've gotten this far), typically a resolution that's acceptable to both parties will emerge, and then you reach the final stage where the mediator drafts a memorandum that outlines and describes the understanding the parties have reached.

Steve: How do folks find a good mediator?

Jay: The selection of the mediator depends on the parties' background and also the nature of their dispute. Someone looking for a mediator should do some investigation into the mediator's background, the mediator's training, and the mediator's style. Mediators come from many walks of life, including law, social work, and therapy. Some mediators have no formal training. Others have course work and general mediation skills, and some even have specialized mediation training.

There are mediators using a style known as transformative mediation. That's where a mediator focuses on transforming the dialogue with the parties from negative dialogue to positive dialogue. Others practice facilitative mediation, which the mediator's focus is on helping the parties reach a mutual acceptable result. Still others practice what's known as analytic mediation, in which the mediator attempts to adjust the process to suit what the mediator perceives are the needs of the parties.

In my practice, I sway from the facilitative mediation in favor of analytical mediation. I do try to focus on the needs of the parties and develop the framework for mediation that will best help them reach the result they're looking for.

Steve: Are there some cases that should not be mediated?

Jay: I think almost any dispute can be mediated. But there are probably a couple types of cases that should not be mediated. The first is when the parties are 100% convinced their side is right, and therefore, they are unwilling to compromise at all. However, I’ve found that's because the parties are not looking at the situation objectively. If they did, they would realize maybe they're not 100% right and maybe this case can be mediated. Even in those cases, mediation is appropriate.

However, in the situation where mediation is probably never appropriate is when a party is trying to achieve a change in a law or see a principle upheld. In those cases, litigation is almost invariably necessary. An example is if someone was accused of libel and needed a public vindication in order to be satisfied. In that case, they would  have to take the matter to a trial and be vindicated in a court of law.

Steve: If I choose mediation, do I still need a lawyer?

Jay: That depends. In complex cases, an attorney will almost always be needed to make sure all the T's are crossed and the I's dotted. On the other hand, take the other extreme in very simple cases. The cost of an attorney may be prohibitive and even render a resolution impractical to the parties because of the cost. In between those two extremes, the need for an attorney will depend on the amount at issue, the complexity of the issues and the sophistication of the parties, just to name a few factors. In the cases I've mediated, I would say it's about 50/50 in terms of the times when the parties hired an attorney.

Steve: Our guest today on Ask the Expert has been Jay Lazrus with the RAE Group, Silver Spring, Maryland, which is the Washington, D.C. area. Jay, what's your phone number?

Jay: My phone number is 301-384-9579. I offer free initial 30-minute consultations to discuss the matter and also to discuss the mediation process .

Steve: Your website is Jay, thanks for being on Ask the Expert today.

Jay: Thanks for having me.

Thanks for listening to Ask the Expert with Steve Sleeper. Join us next time as entrepreneurs and professionals share their intriguing stories of success and service.