Mrs. Stephanie Daly
At this year’s Independence Day Awards, attorney-at-law and mediator Mrs. Stephanie Daly was awarded the Chaconia Medal (gold) for long and meritorious service to Trinidad & Tobago in the sphere of law.
A few days ago, Mrs. Daly, who started mediating in 1995, shared with MEND some of her experiences and thoughts on a number of topics that will be of interest to the mediating community.
1. What led you to the field of ADR in general and mediation in particular?
I think it was the year that Frank Solomon was President of the Law Association and I was the Secretary and Frank mentioned something about mediation being the future of the profession and maybe that was what sparked my interest. At that time there was no continuing (legal education) training available in Trinidad so when the Florida Mediation Group offered a 20-hour course locally, I jumped at the opportunity to attend. The trainers were Arlene Nicholson and Martin Soll. Later that same year I saw an advertisement for a course on the Fundamentals of Family Mediation. The course was in England but the dates coincided with the dates I would have been there on vacation so I decided to attend. John Haynes was the trainer. It was the most amazing five days and very motivating. I subsequently did a course in Boston offered by JAMS (which then stood for Judicial Arbitration & Mediation Services) and that course opened my eyes to the range of areas in which mediation could be applied.
2. What were some of the early challenges practicing as a mediator?
There was no work! There was also no easy way of marketing. When looking for a neutral, people looked for the names with which they were familiar which were more often than not the people who had established themselves as successful advocates. There was also a difference between the public understanding of how mediation should be practiced and how mediators understood they should practice (subsequently captured in the Mediation Act). Most frustrating of all was that if you conducted a mediation which ended successfully you thought that would lead to more work, but it did not. You were repeatedly trying to prove yourself.
3. How do you think the practice of law has changed/developed over the years based on exposure to mediation training?
Well I now have joint conferences as a matter of course—in family matters in particular—with a view to settlement. Many attorneys have had loads of training now so I have found that many practitioners negotiate better. It is still a work in progress though and those who refuse to get trained will find their career path more difficult because I think the Court now has the expectation that Attorneys will make serious attempts at settlement through this means. I also enjoy having attorneys present at a mediation when they are motivated about settlement, as an attorney working with their client in a mediation setting can be extraordinarily valuable.
4. What is your most used technique and why?
I tried to shut up! I don’t believe in talking just to fill the gaps. I only talk if it is going to advance the dialogue. I let people take control of their own conversations. If they are talking I let them explore where it will take them. I also talk a lot about risk—particularly in litigation where there can be a difference between the truth and the court’s perception.
5. Share with us your best mediation story.
In a mediation intended to resolve court proceedings, while I was still taking the parties through the Agreement to Mediate, one of the parties, in effect, stated that she was bound to win and was not at all interested in settling. Everyone became quite agitated, not least because they had paid up front for the mediation, but we carried on discussions and eventually a mutually acceptable Settlement Agreement was signed before the Agreement to Mediate, which is usually the first step. In that case it was very helpful that other family members, who were less emotionally attached to the issue, were present.
6. Share with us your worst mediation story.
The parties were not at all interested in settling but in exchanging insults, even bringing their cheering sections with them. They had paid the fee to get the opportunity to do just that. It was very toxic.
7. What, if anything, have you gained from the practice of mediation—both personally as well as professionally?
I get a sense of personal satisfaction whenever a mediation I am conducting ends in settlement. I have also learnt a lot since mediation is inherently interesting because of the variety of people that you get to deal with. I have been exposed to different perspectives and I have learnt about different types of family arrangements. As a lawyer, I find that I am more focused on the issues and I look for opportunities to settle. Mediation training stops you from being such a belligerent fighter.
8. Do you think mediation holds any promise for Trinidad & Tobago?
I think it holds great promise for people to develop better negotiation skills through mediation training. It holds promise for attorneys to gain respect because of their capacity to settle as opposed to their capacity to fight. Any tool which provides an escape route from litigation is valuable. Imagine if people sued and there was no opportunity to negotiate or mediate! They would get locked into that very expensive and emotionally difficult situation.
9. What might be necessary to fulfill that promise?
Getting court-annexed mediation going would help because it would expose much greater numbers to this process. There also needs to be a wider range of training. There should also be education in schools so that children see it as normal to look for solutions rather than resorting to fighting.
10. What advice would you give to the young lawyers who graduated from the Law Schools of the Council of Legal Education last month with respect to this tool—mediation—which is available to them?
This is a tool that is not dependent on oratory skills and performance artistry which only some people come equipped with so more people have a chance to excel at it. It is extremely valuable in helping clients. It makes you a better negotiator. It should be seen not necessarily as a career path but as a life skill.
Photo Courtesy: Mrs. Stephanie Daly
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