A friend asked me this week why I did not want to be a lawyer, since I’d make more money while basically doing the same thing and dealing with the same cases I am now. I had a million reasons why but she did not really seem to grasp my reasoning until I told her this story.

I spent three months mediating small claims cases for the Los Angeles county courts and met dozens of people who had been wrapped up in the court system for months trying to get a couple hundred dollars back. It’s quite frustrating to see them spend so much money to get so little (if anything) back. The litigants get increasingly frustrated by the bureaucracy of the court system and continue to pump more money into it to fight it. It’s a losing battle for everyone involved. I’m not saying that litigation and the court system are inherently bad processes; in fact, I think they are crucial to our society. But not every case benefits from such a process at all. To be honest I think only a select few really do.

I once co-mediated a case where two brides-to-be were suing each other because they wanted the same caterer, florist, band etc. and now one of them had bought a dress that the other one had put on hold (or something to that effect). Though the legal aspects of the case to this day are completely lost to me, I still remember the whole process quite vividly. Both women were just so angry with each other and were willing to spend thousands of dollars to fight in out in court (which they had been doing for the past year, in fact both of them had to postpone their wedding days for this). They blamed each other for everything, literally everything. In small claims court you are not supposed to have a lawyer represent you, yet both had “a friend” with them who had a surprising amount of legal knowledge for a non-lawyer. The “friends” kept throwing legal terms around and you could see the women get angrier and more frustrated as time went by. Eventually, while the “friends” were having a side discussion about who knows what, one of the women joked that she could have bought a much more expensive dress with all the money she had spent in court. You could see the light bulb turning on for each of them and within no time they agreed on virtually everything. They had divided a couple of bridal stores between the two of them and each could only shop at their designated stores in order to avoid any future conflict. They also agreed to have their weddings a month apart so as to ensure they could both have the caterer, florist etc. they wanted. It all seemed settled until the “friends” came back to present us with yet another legal issue that needed to be dealt with. The women panicked and were about to throw their new settlement away but then my co-mediator reminded them that they were in a mediation, not a court procedure, and they could agree to whatever they wanted to (given it is not illegal). They signed and left the courthouse 10 minutes after that and did not seem to be very friendly with their “friends” suddenly.

I like ADR exactly because of this. Mediation allows people to come together on a human basis, not just a legal basis, and I like being able to facilitate that process. This is why I chose Dispute Resolution over a Law degree and why I chose CEDR over a law firm. And to date I have not yet regretted my decision.

by Majlie Kamp


The Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) is an independent, non-profit organisation with a mission to cut the cost of conflict and create choice and capability in dispute prevention and resolution. www.cedr.com