Mediation services involve people coming together to informally resolve disputes. They can be provided by local government or community programs, courts, law enforcement, and other public or private organizations. The process is usually cheaper than a court battle, and confidential. The goal is to allow disputants to air their issues and to come up with a resolution that meets the needs of both parties. A case can be referred to mediation at any point in the legal proceeding, from filing the lawsuit through discovery or trial. However, mediation is most effective when the dispute is relatively simple and the parties are willing to compromise.
The basic procedure varies, but typically the mediator begins by explaining the process and the role of the mediator. Then, the mediator will ask each party to describe their concerns and the desired outcome. Finally, the mediator will meet with each party privately, a meeting known as caucus. During caucuses, the mediator will try to discern any underlying problems that may be preventing a negotiated settlement.
In addition to a lack of willingness to compromise, other reasons a case might not be resolved through mediation include: the dispute involves complex tradeoffs, or there are other concerns that need to be addressed, such as a need to establish precedent or a serious criminal matter. However, even when a dispute is not completely resolved in mediation, the process often stimulates new thinking and better understanding of positions. This information can then be used to negotiate a settlement outside of court.