Keeping it Civil: National Mediation Week October 14 – 20

Greater Civil Discourse Benefits All Parties

Imagine that you are fighting with your next-door neighbor over his dog that just loves to bury things in your yard. Your neighbor just doesn’t seem to care, but his dog is ruining your yard. Even worse, your neighbor refuses to discuss the matter with you or take any action to prevent his dog’s bad behavior. Sure, you could privately seethe, plot ways to sabotage your neighbor’s yard, or threaten to sue him. But what can you do to resolve this conflict without resorting to a stressful and costly law suit?

In the above scenario, and in many other disputes, mediation may be a great option to consider. Rather than continuing or escalating tensions and conflicts (which may be the unfortunate result of a law suit against your neighbor) mediation is a process that helps parties in conflict to communicate with one another, to understand the opposing party’s concerns, and to identify and consider possible solutions. A mediator, who is a trained, neutral party, will assist the parties in reaching a mutually agreeable solution and will help them put the agreement into a written form.

Because a mediator has no decision-making authority, the mediator’s role is to help the parties understand each other so that the parties themselves reach a solution that works for their unique situation. Unlike a judge or an arbitrator, a mediator does not decide what is right or wrong or make suggestions about ways to resolve a problem. The resulting benefit is that the outcome is driven by the creativity and desires of the parties themselves, rather than imposed upon them by an outside authority. Human nature tells us it is easier to abide by an agreement that we had a hand in crafting versus an arrangement in which we had little or no say.

While some citizens are undoubtedly familiar with mandatory mediation programs associated with our courts, fewer people may be aware that voluntary mediation services are not only readily available, but highly successful and affordable. Community Justice and Mediation Center (CJAM), a local non-profit founded in 1996, provides cost-effective community mediation through its skilled team of volunteer staff and mediators. CJAM’s mission is to promote a civil and just community, and restorative justice.

This year, as part of bringing awareness to the American Bar Association’s (ABA) “Mediation Week,” October 14-20, CJAM has partnered with the Monroe County Bar Association (MCBA) to bring professional growth opportunities to attorney-mediators and to expand our community’s awareness of mediation as a conflict resolution option. MCBA, a non-profit organization for legal professionals, not only provides its members with professional growth opportunities, but also supports organizations that provide citizens with greater access to justice.

Monroe County is fortunate to have both volunteer community mediation and professional attorneys to mediate conflicts. Many MCBA member-attorneys also serve as professional mediators, helping parties to resolve their disputes. This role is in line with the professional charge that attorneys have been given by the ABA to take steps to promote greater civil discourse. Further, as attorneys and judges, MCBA members are well acquainted with disputes that would have been more efficiently and satisfactorily resolved through voluntary mediation.

In our current climate of discord, it is important to remember that resources to promote civil discourse and dispute resolution are available, if only we take the time to look. CJAM’s resources provide an excellent opportunity for community’s citizens to resolve many types of disputes in a civil manner without resorting to the legal system.

To learn more about the services that CJAM can offer, visit cjamcenter.org. For information about finding an attorney-mediator, visit the directory on the MCBA website at monroecountybar.org.

This post was written by J.L. Siefers, attorney at Jones, McGlasson & Arter, P.C. and CJAM board member, and Erin Martoglio, attorney at Freitag & Martoglio, LLC and President of the Monroe County Bar Association.