There’s been a lot of discussion recently in and among mediation circles regarding the new TV show Fairly Legal that airs on Thursday evenings on the USA network. Most mediators appreciate any help we can get to assist the general public in understanding the benefits of mediation. Quite honestly, most people don’t truly realize the difference between mediation and arbitration. This topic was covered in a past entry on this blog and I’m sure I’ll cover it again.
Honestly, I haven’t yet sat down to watch Fairly Legal. It’s one of those things I need to do. I was channel surfing the other night and came upon an episode of Harry’s Law on NBC. I’ve enjoyed Kathy Bates’ work, so I gave it a shot. Harry who is played by Kathy Bates has left corporate/patent law and has found herself in a storefront legal office in a tough city neighborhood.
Ironically, this episode that I stumbled upon had a story line where one of the paralegals in Harry’s office was mediating a gang dispute. For the benefit of TV, the dispute surrounded one gang member dating the ex girlfriend of a member from an opposing gang. The dispute also involved some damages to a vehicle resulting from a retaliatory attack.
The initial session went pretty well with the mediator focusing the parties on their interests rather than their positions. You got a glimmer that the new boyfriend really loved this girl and despite breaking code for approved behavior, wanted to keep seeing her. That is a real future interest!
This is where it went off the rails. Rather than assisting the parties in coming up with options that would meet both of their needs, after a quick commercial break, the mediator stood up announced “his” decision and said the mediator had ruled and it was final.
The story line went from mediation to arbitration in one quick commercial break. I know Hollywood only has forty minutes to tell the story in a one-hour show, but this was disappointing to me. Mediation is a voluntary, confidential process where the neutral third party mediator assists the parties in finding options that help meet their future interests. The parties make the final decision whether or not to execute an agreement that memorializes the agreements reached during mediation. The Mediator should never “rule” or make a final determination.
One of the benefits of mediation is that it allows the parties to try out new strategies for communication. The most successful mediations prepare parties to have more effective communications in the future. This can be incredibly important in divorce situations where there are children or other extended family members involved. Mediation can be a very effective process for parties with child custody, property division or alimony disputes.
If you are facing a situation like this, contact a trained mediator to discuss your options. Ask them to discuss the various processes that are available to you. I bet you will learn more than you might watching TV. That being said, I have enjoyed Harry’s Law for the most part. Try it out. I also will get to Fairly Legal. Hopefully, I won’t have another blog post pop up while I am watching it.