Georgia is in her fifth year at Griffith University and is studying a Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Arts (French and Chinese). She spent a week attending a Mediation Skills Level 1 course in April 2016.
The Dispute Resolution Branch, a division of the Department of Justice and Attorney-General runs a range of mediation and conflict resolution courses across Queensland. Learn more about the different types of training and course dates at qld.gov.au/learnmediation
With 5 days ahead of me, I found myself in a training room with fellow participants from backgrounds as diverse as accounting, human resources, engineering, education, youth work and the public service. I began the Mediation Skills 1 course offered by the Dispute Resolution Branch within the Department of Justice and Attorney-General wondering how mediation could be reconciled with the law and its traditional court-based forms of dispute resolution.
From my 5 years of studying law, I have become familiar with a judge deciding on whether an act or failure to act is in accordance with the law. In mediation, I was to learn what empowers the parties to reach their own resolution to a conflict.
I was surprised to discover the skill level required to conduct a mediation. The 12-step process we were guided through during the 5 day course was packed with what our instructors termed ‘micro-skills’—small skills at each stage to help manage the process. A most challenging skill, considered part of the philosophy of mediation, is remaining impartial. The mediator, we were taught, remains in charge of the process, while the parties control the content.
My 2 instructors for the course, Brenda and Michael, were mediation and dispute resolution veterans! Both nationally-accredited mediators, with nearly 50 years combined mediation experience, they came to the practice in very different ways. Brenda, a counsellor at the time, saw an ad in the newspaper and embarked on a 3-week mediation training course. Michael, a senior employee at the Department of Defence, was introduced to mediation in his role there, where he quickly became an advocate for it.
In speaking with Brenda and Michael, as well as the Dispute Resolution Branch Training Manager, Janet, I learnt of the misconceptions about mediation continuing in the community. Michael wishes for the community to perceive mediation as “an empowering process allowing parties to resolve conflicts in a more enduring way”. Brenda commented she wished more people knew that if they had a “mediator with skills, parties will most of the time get to an agreement they can live with.”
I identified with Janet’s emphasis on problem solving in the legal profession. A legal practitioner of 28 years, with experience particularly in family law, Janet witnessed the high settlement rate of legal aid conferencing and decided to become a mediator. In reflecting on her complementary careers, Janet expressed a desire to see the legal profession get behind mediation more comprehensively than at present.
After 5 days of skills-based sessions and role-plays with my mediators-in-training, I was beginning to have an understanding of the stamina and concentration required to conduct a dispute resolution session which lasts, on average, 4 hours. I left the course wondering how the law could incorporate mediation concepts and skills, which better allow parties engaged in a conflict to be heard, into daily legal practice.
In most law schools, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) – the category that lumps mediation in with other forms of dispute resolution such as conciliation and adjudication – remains an elective course. As mediation becomes a compulsory part of the judicial process in many areas, I can’t help but think that I, and other law students, would benefit from a deeper foray into the area.