Mediation is a valuable tool to resolve cases in lieu of protracted litigation and trial. Years ago, almost all mediations began with a “joint session” – an introductory meeting attended by all participating parties and the mediator. In recent years, however, it seems to have become standard practice to avoid the joint session altogether. Various reasons are given for this (e.g., it’s an unnecessary waste of time, it escalates the dispute, it is too confrontational, strong personalities tend to highjack the process).
However, studies and experience show that – in some cases – joint sessions can add value to the mediation process and increase the chance of settlement. Mediators should be encouraged to return to the practice of offering a joint session, instead of defaulting to the current trend that typically isolates the parties from start to finish. Consider requesting that your mediation include a joint session of some kind. With advance planning, the joint session can be carefully structured to avoid the perceived pitfalls, and can be a tool to enhance the likelihood of resolving the dispute through the mediation process.