A colleague at LawBite (Paul Coleman you know who you are) sent me the photo above in jest, but little did he know that I actually had a mediation once where we did stop and go and get the mums (not moms!).
To preserve confidentiality let’s say the parties to the dispute where from Rufford in West Lancashire, and the mediation took place in Liverpool, the nearest city (it didn’t, but a rural setting near a city is important).
The dispute was about the refurbishment of an old 17th century house, and in particular the quality of tiling in the kitchen.
On the day Party A was represented by a medium sized local firm of lawyers from Liverpool, and Party B (the builder) had brought along a small firm from nearby Skelmersdale.
This was a court referred mediation, so proceedings had begun and legal costs were racking up.
As the day progressed (in the Liverpool firms offices) it was becoming obvious to me as the mediator that something was odd. Both parties seemed really disinterested, especially Party A, and the lawyers were just going through the motions and we weren’t really getting anywhere. I decided to ask the lawyers if I could speak to their clients on their own, and both lawyers agreed (which is actually quite progressive of the lawyers and not something you would always get – so thank you to them!).
I spoke to Party A and questioned whether he really had a case against the builder. He said he did but there was no evidence of anything wrong with the work – there were photographs and even video showing how good the work was. I then spoke to Party B and he was nonplussed. He couldn’t work out why he was even there.
I thought I would have another go with Party A, and strode in confidently once more. Then it happened. Party A was not alone, his solicitor had warned me just before I had got to the room, that Party A’s mum had arrived. OK, unusual but not that unusual in an SME dispute.
In I went and sure enough, Mother A was there. She then told me that there was nothing wrong with the work of Party B, but that she and the builder’s mum had fallen out over some local issue and in revenge she had told her son to create a case against him! The whole dispute was based on a lie – and was based on the fact that in a small village like Rufford word of mouth could literally make or break a small business.
What to do? Well, I thought, there is an option. I asked Party / Mother A whether they were now having second thoughts. They were, but Mother A wanted an apology or she would still force her son to ruin Party B’s reputation locally by continuing with the claim in court. I went to see Party B and just asked him outright – “I don’t suppose your mum has come to town today has she?” I was not really surprised to find that she had come to Liverpool to do some shopping whilst she was waiting to see how her son got on.
I spoke to the lawyers, with permission from the parties, and explained that the case was a sham based on a personal maternal feud. They felt a bit stupid because they hadn’t been able to work that out themselves, though they knew something was wrong. I then asked each solicitor if they minded if I asked Party B to call his mum and ask her to come to the mediation. They didn’t mind, the mum came (hereinafter to be known as Mother B), we finished the mediation about an hour later – the case was dropped, the parties walked away bearing their own costs and that was that.
How? All that was required was for Mother B to apologise to Mother A. That was it. Simple. Just a straightforward “I’m sorry for what I said to you five years ago” and the whole thing was over.
So Paul, the picture wasn’t quite right – mediation wasn’t working, and the mums were called - but only because the mediation process allowed me to explore the interests of the parties and get behind the real motivation for the claim and to discover that there wasn’t really a legal case at all. Mediation allowed the parties to find a way to move on, to repair maternal differences, to maintain local reputations and to close the door and move on with lives.
That’s the power of mediation – it can even bring warring mums together.