Mediation Clinic leaflet
Mediation clinics, like law clinics, place clinical practice at the heart of the learning process. Rather than memorising abstract ideas, students learn by doing. They also learn by observation, working alongside experienced practitioners. Mediation is challenging and requires constant improvisation – real-world situations provide the richest setting for building skills. In addition to educational benefits the mediation clinic provides a public service, in keeping with Strathclyde’s commitment to be the ‘place of useful learning’, assisting those in conflict to reach agreement.
I made contact with mediation clinics in the USA, where the idea is more developed. This helped identify potential pitfalls, like having more volunteers than cases and potential resistance from the legal profession. The US model also provided great encouragement: mediation clinics for low-value claims have helped to embed mediation in the US justice system. The Edinburgh Sheriff Court small claims mediation project, which has been running for over fifteen years, also shared information and ideas.
As well as enhancing students’ education during their degree, the Clinic provides a key opportunity for newly qualified mediators to build experience at an early stage in their careers.
The Mediation Clinic regularly helps small claimants to achieve resolution without the time and expense of court action. One example was an inheritance dispute which had led three siblings to raise a court action against another for sums totalling several thousand pounds. The agreement reached in mediation was subsequently fulfilled without proceeding to a full hearing on the evidence.
Another case involved a complaint against a transport company by the parents of a young person with a disability, claiming discrimination because a bus driver had failed to give her time to board a bus. The resultant mediation led to an apology and an invitation to the young person to visit the company’s depot and advise them on improving accessibility.
Feedback from parties includes the following statements:
“In mediation we were on an equal footing; in court the Defender’s lawyer had an obvious advantage – he knew the territory. We stood; he sat with the other court officers, etc.”
“If we knew mediation was available we would have used it instead of going to court”
“The staff were fantastic and couldn’t have asked for a better level of assistance”
Student feedback includes the following:
“A significant learning point for me as the student mediator was recognising that I had a tendency to be considering which of the parties I believed. Although this is a natural response, I realise that I would have to be careful not to let it interfere with how I would interact with parties during mediation or try to influence any outcome as a result.”
“The whole thing moved so fast”
“What I take from this mediation is the confidence I gained in my position as co-mediator and also the understanding of what an important role the environment and the willingness to partake in the process in the first place plays.”
The success of the Masters programme has meant large numbers of students seek opportunities to mediate: to date far more than cases requiring mediation. It has been a challenge to convince small claimants to use the process, although they tend to be highly appreciative once they have. We have been working with Sheriffs and students to establish the best approach.
The Clinic requires a good deal of organisation. It has taken considerable time to set up the administrative systems necessary to run a professional service that complies with the expectations of the court system as well as litigants. We now have a student board to share responsibility for planning and direction.
In providing a service to the public, especially something as novel as mediation, credibility is everything. The Clinic’s reputation is critical to its success. With the benefit of hindsight I would have built in more of my own time to conduct early mediations and establish good practice. Clinics are very time consuming! There is significant work involved in setting up and managing such an external-facing project, including the need for supervision and for continuing negotiation with the courts.
To date over thirty students have had some involvement in the Clinic. Some have observed a single mediation; others have conducted three or four sessions and have been able to progress to acting as Lead Mediators and join the Scottish Mediation Register. The Clinic could expand by offering small claims mediation in all of the Sheriff Courts in the West of Scotland (there are seven within one hour’s travelling distance of the University). Such a development would go some way to fulfilling the demand for practice among students, but would require additional management and administrative time.
The Mediation Clinic was inspired by the Law Clinic’s pioneering work. Their suggestions for scalability included delegating more organisational and management tasks to students and recruiting undergraduates because of their longer-term involvement in the Law School.
Suggestions for transferability
The Mediation Clinic has learned a great deal from the Law Clinic, which provided guidance and support during the development phase. The idea of offering a free service to local people could be transferred to any area where students are developing practice skills as part of their learning. This has a particular resonance within the legal system, where practitioners and academics have traditionally forged strong links. Key questions for the future include: