Mediation is the process of meeting with an impartial party (a mediator) to try and work something out with another person or organization. It's essentially a less-formal and often less-confrontational version of litigation (taking someone to court). Mediation (which is a form of alternative dispute resolution) offers some real benefits and is often at least worth a try before pursuing an expensive court case.
The mediator is the person who runs a mediation; they take on the role that a judge would take in a courtroom, with several differences. The most important is that a mediator has no way to enforce a judgment on either side. The point of mediation is to help the parties come to an agreement that works for everyone. A mediator might clarify statements, point out flaws in arguments, and encourage the two parties to compromise.
Mediators have special training for the role, but they're not necessarily lawyers. Sometimes they're retired judges. Sometimes they have no specific law training, but plenty of real-world experience. Requirements to become a mediator vary from state to state.
Choosing the mediator is often the first compromise that needs to be made between the two parties. In the spirit of meditation, choose someone who is acceptable to both sides. Your state or local bar association, your country courthouse, or an online search can help you locate qualified mediation services.
At its most basic, the people attending a mediation should be the mediator and the parties trying to negotiate an agreement.
As opposed to in-court litigation, where the plaintiff and defendant are sometimes not required to be physically present, their presence is important during mediation. Since it's an attempt to come to a fair agreement, both sides should be present and involved in the process.
Attorneys aren't strictly necessary for mediation, especially if the mediator is an experienced legal professional. However, you may certainly bring your own attorney to a mediation session, and the other party can do the same.
Witnesses may also attend all or part of a mediation session to give additional information, if required.
Court reporters are typically not present in mediation cases (which helps keep the cost down)
Mediation is normally both a shorter and cheaper process than going to court. Even complicated mediation courses normally wrap up within a few days, with more time potentially needed to negotiate the final agreement.
The cost of mediation can vary depending on the cost of the mediator and the cost of attorneys, if you decide to use them. Any expert witnesses involved in the process will also increase the cost, so you may want to keep that in mind when choosing who will be involved.
Mediation is not always successful. Sometimes it's not possible to come to an agreement that satisfies everyone. If that's the case, then the next step will be litigation, or taking the case to court. Many judges will recommend mediation as part of the litigation process, so you will already be further in the process than if you'd started directly with litigation.
If you're not sure whether mediation is right for you, it might benefit you to speak with an attorney. Your attorney can help you decide the right course of action for you and your individual situation. Don't have a lawyer? You can have your personal injury case evaluated online in just three minutes at Injury.com.