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Using Mediation To Resolve Disputes Is Growing In Popularity


Despite the often heard phrase “see you in court,” more and more conflicts are actually being resolved through mediation, without going to trial. 

At the University of Washington School of Law, the 23rd annual Northwest Dispute Resolution Conference begins Thursday featuring more than 40 national experts in the field of dispute resolution.UW Law School professor Alan Kirtley  says the alternative dispute resolution movement  in the Northwest has come a long way since its beginning in the early 1990s. He says initially it was mainly used in divorce and other family law cases. Now, courts often require it at least be tried in other civil cases as well.

He says whether it's used to come up with a parenting plan in a divorce case or resolve a landlord tenant dispute, it can have distinct advantages over the win or lose outcome of a trial.

“Because in mediation parties retain control of the outcome, there is no settlement unless all parties agree. So, you’re not turning control over to a judge or an arbitrator and people really like that,” Kirtley said.

Kirtley says, although mediation is gaining in popularity, the idea of coming together to reach a solution, does kind of go against the grain in the United States. 

“I mean, we are a very individualistic society.  It’s much different in other societies where it’s a public embarrassment if you have to take a dispute to court, because folks can’t figure it out on their own somehow,” Kirtley said.

He says this year's topics do seem to reflect the current climate.  One presentation is called "How to Think about Political Conflict." Another one is called "Dealing with Narcissists in Mediation."

Kirtley teaches a class in dispute resolution and has mediated more than a thousand cases. He says the key to being a successful mediator is learning to listen and empathize with both parties, then convincing them to move on with their lives.

"You know, dealing a bit with with what happened and letting people vent a little bit about it, but mediation is really about focusing on the future," he said.

Kirtley does acknowledge that mediation doesn't work in every case and sometimes the better option is to go to court.

Paula reports on groundbreaking legal decisions in Washington State and on trends in crime and law enforcement. She’s been at KNKX since 1989 and has covered the Law and Justice beat for the past 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.