What’s the difference between mediators and lawyers?

People sometimes ask me, “What’s the difference between mediators and lawyers?”. Some of those asking may think they know what lawyers do. And who am I to say that they don’t? But being a lawyer covers a wide variety of jobs: from speaking for someone in court, through dealing with patents, to dealing with the sale of property.  Since I used to practise family law as a solicitor and am now known as a family mediator, what the questioners probably want to know is what the difference is between family solicitors and family mediators. In short, the main differences are in the way we work.

Solicitors represent  one client, mediators work for two or more

For example, the number of people each can work for on any given matter is different. Family solicitors can only work with one person with a problem or a dispute. Their role is to help their client achieve the best possible outcome for the client alone.   Family mediators, on the other hand,  work with both of those who share a problem or dispute. Their role is to help both clients reach an outcome which satisfies each and both of them. When dealing with family problems, the way mediation works addresses everyone’s needs not just those of the one with the most articulate lawyer, or in a way which is at the expense of others.

Solicitors correspond, mediators allow people to meet and speak

An important difference between the way most solicitors and most mediators work is that solicitors work mainly through correspondence and mediators work mainly through conversations.  No one can argue that correspondence is not a slow way of communicating, even when using email. The fastest keyboard user will take far longer to type out sentences than they will to speak the same words. Then there’s the choice of words used which once written down and sent cannot easily be changed. Readers of correspondence frequently misunderstand the words written down and misinterpret the tone used. This leads to a vortex of time-consuming correspondence with each party attempting to show the other why they are right.

Correspondence is slow and clumsy compared to having a conversation

The other problem with correspondence is the time it takes to reply to. The solicitor needs to read the email or letter received  before sending it to their client. The client must read it before getting in touch with the solicior for advice or to give their instructions. Only then can the solicitor reply. Even if the letter contains a simple question, this whole exercise may take 30 minutes or more of the solicitor’s time.

If you really want to sort things out, though, don’t correspond, have a conversation. It takes but a few seconds to ask a question. The person the question is directed at can hear it for themselves – it doesn’t go through a solicitor first. If the question is misinterpreted or misunderstood, being in the same room allows for swift clarification. And the response? Well that may only take a matter of seconds too. So a 30 minute exercise in correspondence (for each solicitor and client) may take only a minute or two for both of them when they are in the same room together.

Mediation leads to better, longer lasting outcomes

There are more differences, of course, and I may cover them in a further blog, but these are  a couple of the most significant ones. It’s no wonder that mediation leads to better, longer lasting, quicker and less expensively negotiated outcomes.

I am Stephen G Anderson. I was a practising solicitor. I am a professional mediator.


Stephen G Anderson, family mediator

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