Florida mediator tells how to avoid impasse at all costs

 by Cynthia Price

Legal News
Larry Watson, principal in a mediation law firm operating in Florida,  has a personal problem with mediation reaching an impasse, and he has dozens of tricks up his sleeve to budge parties from their unyielding positions.
He shared several of these tricks with about 20 lawyers from the ADR and Litigation Sections of the Grand Rapids Bar in March, but it was clear there were many more where those came from.
Thomas Koernke of Koernke and Crampton arranged the session. He chairs the ADR section currently, but is a member of the litigation section.
Joseph Stulberg of Moritz College of Law in Columbus, Ohio, introduced both Watson and the topic of mediation impasse.
He rejected the concept of impasse simply as  the situation in which two parties are at different ends of the spectrum in what they want, which is the case in nearly all civil disputes. “The way I try to examine it is where they are on a continuum.” He narrows this continuum down to “the degree to which a party is committed to pursuing a non-negotiated solution if its preferred option is not accepted,” that is, how averse parties are to taking their chances in litigation.
In his introduction of the speaker, Stulberg said he had a long history with Larry Watson and counted him among the top mediators in the country.
Watson said he operates in a state where the courts ask clients to make every attempt to reach agreement before bringing a case to trial. Since 1987, the statutes grant judges the authority to refer any contested civil matter to mediation or arbitration. There are over 5000 trained and certified mediators.
Watson stressed that his experience is limited to civil cases where a money settlement is likely to be the only goal. He said lawyers who mediate family law cases have his highest respect and deserve “purple hearts.”
Although most of his techniques to get past impasse involve working with dollar amounts, the philosophy behind them might be transferable to other types of cases.
For example, his “bookend” technique involves meeting separately in caucus with parties who are far apart in their proposals, and asking them to put a number on how far they would move. Watson asks the defending party, what is the most you can offer to get the complainant to move from the original demand; he then meets in caucus with the complainant and asks them to respond in kind, eventually doing math to determine where the center is between the two. Gradually, back and forth negotiation brings them to a point of agreement. He said this is primarily to combat a lack of trust between parties.
Watson listed the characters of “reconciliation” versus adjudication which led him to devote his time to mediation: reconciliation is a problem-solving exercise versus adjudication as a fault-finding exercise; reconciliation is self-determined versus determined by a third party; reconciliation asks how both parties can be made happy versus only asking who is going to win.
Robert Wright of Miller Canfield said that he has a detailed list of Watson’s techniques available to those who contact him.