Graham Coy must know more about matrimonial disputes than anyone else I know. I say this with confidence because he leads a family law team at Mundays that is made up of not only litigators and mediators, but collaborative law experts (there aren't many of those) and now an arbitrator (even rarer). Regular readers of this blog will know that I have an ongoing interest in new ideas on dispute resolution. Speaking to Graham this week I was interested to know if his experience across these different forums gives him any fresh insights into the anatomy of disputes and how to unlock them.
"Each of the four dispute resolution areas we work in requires a completely different mindset, which is both the challenge and the excitement of working across such a range. With classic litigation, you start off trying to reach agreement between the parties, often by means of correspondence between the lawyers, which may or may not be easy or productive, then if this fails you go to court. In contrast, collaborative law starts with an agreement that no-one will take the matter to court and a commitment by everyone to sit through as many meetings as required to reach a consensus. For lawyers, this can be a challengingly different dynamic. Mediation is different again: as a mediator you sit down with two clients, often represented by two different law firms, your role being that of an honest - and neutral - broker helping them to reach agreement. In arbitration the lawyer's role is different again, much more like a judge, your decisions having similar authority in terms of weight enforceability."
I am aware how Graham and his team help clients weigh up the options and decide which of the four approaches is most suitable to their needs. But what I wanted to understand more was whether and how working through disputes in such a variety of ways had changed his outlook.
"I do remember the sea-change in my thinking when I first did mediation training in 1997. It teaches you to look beyond what is being presented to you on the surface, to see the real drivers behind people's words and the positions they take. You develop a much better understanding of where people are coming from: I have long maintained that all lawyers have a responsibility to avoid being led down blind alleys, to always keep the bigger picture in mind and be prepared to remind their clients and others involved in a case of this. Divorce lawyers have a particularly heightened responsibility in this regard because the clients they are advising are often in their most vulnerable states ever. Understanding where all the parties are coming from is a big part of this, using that knowledge to direct them all to a more positive outcome. Mediation training makes you think about yourself, your own behaviours and also prejudices, in a totally new light. I honestly believe this has improved my ability to understand clients and be a better adviser to them as a result.
"Without wishing to sound too evangelical about it, I think mediation training should be compulsory training for every lawyer at the start of their career, not just an option later."
Now there's an idea...
Are we ready for Rebekah Brooks phone-hacking trial? We have quite a few friends-in-law involved in the case, but will we be reading anything about their involvement in our daily papers? Reporting of the trial is unusually tightly restricted. Apparently even the verdict is not going to be published immediately, as there is such a long line of journalists queuing up to be tried subsequently, and this decision of course musn't prejudice their trials.
By curious coincidence, this is the same week the Government has set its deadline for the Queen's approval of its Royal Charter on press regulation. This inadvertent clash must have skipped the notice of the powers-that-be. I am sure they are gutted it falls in the same week. We may be witnessing more atrocious stories of a media out of control and this may dampen the public's reaction to the proposed regulation. When otherwise they might be outraged that their democratic right to a free press is being curtailed, this is the one week in which they may be uncharacteristically accepting of the idea.
Bet Government kicked themselves when they realised their mistake.
I know I know. It's not even Halloween and already we are talking about Christmas. The festive lights are in place in Oxford Street. I had an eerie evening's walk earlier this month, the road closed off, just a few pedestrians in the dark watching cranes lifting giant white raffia balls into position, necklaced above the street. The "snowstorm" theme is a marked contrast to last year's Marmite-sponsored theme (either you loved it or hated it), the result of a competition run by the New West End company. We'll have to wait until 12 November for the star-studded "switching on" spectacle. See you there?
In the meantime we are busy dreaming up some novel Christmas-themed editorial ideas. It's not our fault - it's the media that plans so far ahead!