Mediation in Civil Legal Disputes: A Basic Guide


In the world of civil legal disputes, mediation emerges as a beacon of resolution, steering contentious issues toward a mutually satisfactory settlement agreement. This article looks into the mediation process, which is often preferred over potentially expensive and prolonged court litigation.


What is Mediation?


Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), where a neutral third party, the mediator, facilitates communication and negotiation between disputing parties to help them reach a voluntary agreement. Unlike a judge or an arbitrator, the mediator doesn’t decide the case but helps the parties learn and understand each other's positions and find common ground.


The Mediation Process in Civil Disputes


     The process may involve the following steps:


  • Initiation: Either party may propose mediation, or it may be mandated by a contract or court order.
  • Selection of Mediator: Parties agree on a neutral mediator, typically skilled in civil litigation and the area of law in dispute.
  • Preparation: Parties prepare their arguments for the mediation, based on an analysis of the facts, evidence, and governing law.
  • Joint Session: Parties may communicate prior to the mediation to outline their positions, and set goals for the mediation.
  • Caucusing: The mediator generally has private discussions with each party, going back and forth between them to explore resolutions.
  • Negotiation: With the mediator facilitating, the parties negotiate a resolution.
  • Closure: If an agreement is reached, it’s documented. If not, parties explore other options.


Who is the Mediator?


A civil dispute mediator is typically an experienced lawyer, i.e. a former trial attorney and/or former judge. They are generally well-versed in civil dispute negotiation and resolution, acting impartially to assist both parties reach a satisfactory agreement.


Initiating Mediation in Civil Legal Disputes


     Mediation can be initiated:


  • Voluntarily by the parties.
  • Through a clause in a contract.
  • By a court order, where a judge believes mediation could be effective.


Advantages of Mediation over Court Litigation


     Mediation offers several benefits:


  • Cost-Effective: Generally less expensive than court proceedings.
  • Time-Saving: Resolves disputes quicker than the traditional court process.
  • Confidentiality: Keeps sensitive information out of the public domain.
  • Control: Parties have more say in the outcome, and they may walk away without an agreement anytime.
  • Preservation of Relationships: Less adversarial, helping maintain professional or personal relationships.


Preparing for Mediation


  • Setting Goals: Identify your ideal outcome, target point, and walkaway point.
  • Analyzing Facts, Evidence, and Law: Understand the strengths and weaknesses of your case.
  • Preparing Arguments: Develop a clear, persuasive presentation of your position.


Writing a Mediation Brief


     A mediation brief, prepared for the benefit of the mediator, generally includes:


  • Statement of Facts: Outline the key facts of the case.
  • Issues in Dispute: Clearly define what is at stake, what issues are already agreed on, what issues are close to agreement, and what issues remain contentious.
  • Legal Arguments: Present the legal basis for your position, considering the facts, evidence, and governing law.
  • Settlement History: Include any prior attempts at resolution.
  • Proposed Solutions: Suggest feasible resolutions, including creative solutions that address each party's underlying interests.


The brief's purpose is to inform the mediator and opposing party of your stance and to clarify your goals.


What to Bring to a Mediation


  • Documentation: Bring all relevant documents, such as contracts, correspondence, and evidence.
  • Mediation Brief: Your prepared brief is normally required.
  • List of Goals: Know your objectives.
  • Open Mind: Be prepared to listen and consider alternative solutions.




Mediation stands as a vital tool in resolving civil legal disputes, offering a path to resolution that is often more efficient, economical, and amicable than court litigation. Understanding its process, preparing adequately, and engaging with an open mind can lead to successful outcomes that benefit all parties involved.


For more information on mediating a civil legal dispute, including preparing for settlement, as well as alternative dispute resolution methods in general, check out the Self Rep Edge Video Series and Civil Litigation Workbook.