I mediate a wide range of disputes — from automobile accidents, product liability claims, death claims and construction disputes to dissolution of business and professional practices, will contests, contract disputes and medical liability claims. I even occasionally mediate church splits.

Given the variety of disputes I work on, I need flexibility in the mediation models I use — and the models I use are almost always either Joint Session, Caucus, or a combination of the two.

What’s The Difference?
In a joint session model, the parties have their own breakout rooms — but most of the mediation is conducted in a common room with all of the parties present. Most of my clients are more familiar with the caucus model — where the parties are separated from one another, and the mediator moves from room to room.

Common Cases For Each Model
I typically use the caucus approach when the parties are fighting primarily over money (IE: personal injury claims and commercial disputes). However, in construction disputes, will contests and many business disagreements, I prefer the joint session model.

A Pre-Existing Relationship Has Its Advantages – – – 
I find that if the parties currently have (or previously had) a personal or business relationship, the joint session model works well. I’m usually able to use the relationship to my advantage, and get the parties to work together in crafting a solution.

When parties have past or current relationships, it’s easier to get them to focus on the actual problems & issues at hand, then work together to forge a good solution. Of course, it’s never as easy as I’m making it sound here. At the same time, I’ve found that if I can keep parties in the same room, working on (or even just discussing) the issues together, we can often get past the anger, hurt feelings and lost trust — and create a good solution.

Whenever the parties have an ongoing relationship (as is often the case in construction disputes, where parties still have to work together to get a job completed), I prefer to keep them together.

– – – But Not Always.
I recently mediated the dissolution of a medical practice where the doctors had worked together for years, and their relationship had deteriorated to the point that they couldn’t even stand being in the same room with each other. For that case, I used a hybrid joint / caucus model.

Advantages Of The Joint Session Model
If you’re an attorney and you believe only the caucus model works, I would encourage you to keep an open mind to the possibility of conducting joint session mediations. For one reason, the joint session model generally motivates everyone to behave better — and the rules of common courtesy are likelier to prevail.

Another thing about joint sessions: The mediator typically works twice as hard — keeping on top of the process, implementing his or her game plan for reaching a solution, and making sure the parties are engaged mentally & emotionally, moving toward a solution — rather than becoming entrenched in their positions. And who doesn’t like the idea of getting their proverbial money’s worth from the mediator!

A senior partner of the law firm of Wallace, Jordan, Ratliff & Brandt, Bill Ratliff has been an adjunct professor of Mediation at the University of Alabama since 2009. He is also an avid blogger at Mediation Insights