From a Professional Party: The fact that both clients were keen to settle helped, but I don’t believe that a meeting simply involving solicitors rather than a mediator would have been likely to have had the same success.
Mediation was an eye opener for me in that it exposed the friction which the adversarial pre-Court correspondence and subsequent Court procedure can create where parties are in dispute. As the mediator mentioned, if the benefits for each party to a dispute in settling that dispute can be drawn out and used to build the foundation of a settlement, that would seem more likely to create an environment in which a settlement is likely to be achieved, in contrast with an exchange of correspondence which itself often has the effect, whether intended or not, of “winding-up” the recipient. Over a long period, the cumulative effect of such correspondence will almost inevitably result in one or more of the parties being well "wound up" by the time the Court hearing is reached.
One of my many soap box subjects is the trend which has evolved for people speak to each other less and less, relying instead on email or other instant forms of communication. If you add in the pressure of expectation created by electronic communication, which squeezes time-scales in which to formulate and send a response, the consequent likelihood of an ill-thought out response being issued, and the possibility of misunderstandings arising, or offence being taken where none was really intended, is only going to increase, and so the prospect of a settlement will diminish accordingly. (I am of course aware that sometimes correspondence is sent with the specific aim of irritating the ultimate recipient, but that would lead me to leap on to another soap box about the decline of professional standards).
There is no doubt that written communication cannot convey the same nuances as the spoken word, and that face to face meetings offer even more opportunity to assess the true position of the other party, and, perhaps as importantly, to explain to each other how and why they have arrived at their position in the dispute. In my case , it was very helpful for me to understand the additional factors explained by the other party which I had not until then appreciated had greatly contributed to the creation of the problem on their side. Until that point, I had been proceeding on the basis of the root of the problem being decades of defective administration by their predecessors and advisors. Even if not entirely a lightbulb moment for me, it was a significant factor. In particular, it allowed me to see that the other party was not the devil incarnate which had been created in my mind’s eye as a result of the terms of the prior correspondence through the solicitors. Rather, I could see in the other party someone who, like me, had been landed with a very thorny problem through factors which had not been reasonably foreseeable when the original agreement which had led to the dispute had been entered into many years previously.
This whole approach to dealing with difficult disputes offers the opportunity to resolve the matter through what is surely, for all, a much less stressful environment than the traditional correspondence followed by Court process. Add in the likelihood that the cost of mediation is likely to be less than the cost of a single day in Court , and this will surely lead to more people turning to mediation rather than persist with a court system which, in this age, would have difficulty it seems to me resisting the charge that it is not so much medieval as antediluvian. All things considered, what’s not to like about mediation?