Monday, 19 March 2012

Who'll turn up?

An e-mail this morning from my local law society announced that there were still many places available on five seminars this week.

It reminded me of something I noticed when I went to Exeter last Tuesday for a day’s training.  It was a six-monthly gig, an update in personal injury law by two of the best presenters in the country. We were by no means rattling around inside the conference room but a check of the delegate lists for last week and last autumn confirmed my impression that we had about two-thirds the number on this occasion. 

In one way it’s surprising, when you think how much is going on in this as much as any other area of law.  On the other hand, there are powerful forces coming in the opposite direction.

I hope not too many of my colleagues in the profession are taking the view that they don’t need to maintain the same knowledge levels as they have done in the past.  There might be a temptation, given the extent of dumbing-down as some of our financial institutions focus more on costs models than quality of service.

Probably - hopefully - it has more to do with the internet and the proliferation now of webinar events. The attractions are obvious and numerous.  The ability to watch at office or home saves not only travel costs but even more valuable time. In most cases you can view a recording whenever it suits.  Inevitably, the product itself is generally cheaper because of lower delivery costs.

But it’s not the same. The virtual event does not have the spontaneity and the informality that makes a learning process memorable, as it should be - even generating now and again a little true inspiration.

It may be an opportunity, again cost-effective, to get colleagues together and watch together but if you share a workplace with people there are plenty of chances to interact.  How many times do you get to talk to like-minded professionals in a benign context outside your own firm?

Not many.  Soon it will be fewer.  Like any facility, if you don’t use it you’ll lose it.

It’s not merely a matter of unjustifiable cost and falling profit margins for corporate or individual providers.  There is something more important than that.

At the heart of these activities are the people who drive it and are crucial to the process.  They are rarely motivated by money – to any significant degree.

Simply the fact that folk turn up lights their fire.

It’s the same thing that perpetuates many joint activities - sports clubs, small businesses, families, even Friday nights at the pub. It’s the faith that something worthwhile is going to happen.

If you have ever been involved in any joint venture, you were probably part of the reason for its existence and survival.  If you want it to continue, then you have to maintain that - maybe not ever-present but noticeably involved.

You can’t just rock up when you (eventually) feel like it and expect everybody else to be there.

And wait - isn’t it just the same right at the other end of the scale?  You don’t vote, you don’t speak up - but the only reason to think you’re a world apart is that you don’t believe you can make any difference.

Well, you can – and you should, for yourself as well as others.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Mediation's Achilles heel

I’m a big fan of mediation. It works, far more often than not.

All mediation providers and others with any kind of interest in promoting the process will tell you that. There’s no catch. I’ve been involved in it many times now and almost always seen a resolution on the day, sometimes in the weeks that follow.

Little wonder that those presently  looking to excuse the, er, “rationalisation” of court services and attacks on funding should point to mediation as the panacea for ordinary citizens who will in practice be deprived of what has long been identified as a fundamental right, that of access to justice.

At the risk of seeming to put the cart first, the problem is not in making the idiomatic horse drink but in leading it to the water.

About 18 months ago I had the privilege of attending a conference that examined and debated inspirational projects in the field of student peer mediation and affiliated work within gang cultures. Some astonishing results had been achieved.

But in answer to my unforgiving enquiry, the response was that - yes – some form of compulsion, greater threat, downside, “or else”, is usually needed to bring at least one of the (would-be) combatants to the table.

So it is in my day job. What persuades parties to litigation to mediate is the prospect of a more expensive, more arbitrary, less flexible and altogether scarier process as the only alternative to feeble capitulation.

Take away the prospect of at least one if not both parties pursuing a judicial resolution and where is the impetus to mediate?

That, quite simply, is the Achilles heel.