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Since I left the bench last July and started work as a private mediator and arbitrator, I have settled cases in a medical hotel, a basement lair full of boxes from an office move, and a high-tech conference room with automatic blinds that adjusted to the slant of the sun. I have sat as a mediator in the memento-strewn quarters of a retired judge, the decor-free fish bowl of the Connecticut Bar Association building in New Britain, and a motel conference room suffused with the smell of popcorn late in the afternoon. I have presided at tables made of mahogany, Formica, and polished marble, and I have perched on the edge of an old desk. Reader, the level of decorating splendor just doesn’t matter a bit to the success of the mediation. When parties are intent on ending a conflict, they simply seem oblivious to most attributes of the place where the effort occurs. There are some venue features that are, of course, important. The table has to be big enough to accommodate all counsel and parties without uncomfortable proximities. Some arbitrations involve a lot of witnesses, family members, or others in supporting roles, and there must be enough room to include them graciously. There must be some source of food within a reasonable distance so that the participants are not lost to hunger, and there should be a steady, equitably available source of caffeine. The setting should not be beset by distractions, such as foot traffic or renovations. Breakout rooms are also important. If there are multiple separate interests in the proceeding, unless some have identical positions in the litigation, each needs a private place to confer. Hallways and waiting areas won’t do, as the conversations between client and attorney are privileged and must be conducted in private. Even if a mediation involves only two sides, it doesn’t usually work to have just one breakout room. When a mediator conveys a settlement offer to plaintiff’s counsel, he or she needs to talk it over with the client before responding, and it is awkward to have the defendant with no place to go but back to the mediator, when the mediator is actually waiting for a response and has no new input. If witnesses are going to be sequestered for an arbitration, they’ll need a suitable place to wait. The conventional wisdom is that ownership of the facility matters a lot. Some users of ADR services are convinced that mediations or arbitrations must take place on neutral ground. Not necessarily true, though for some kinds of cases it is. It can be uncomfortable for a plaintiff in a personal-injury case to attend a mediation in the same room in which he or she was aggressively deposed for days. Parties in employment disputes very often disfavor meeting at one lawyer’s office or the other’s, as the siting of the proceeding on the adversary’s home turf can appear to be an attempt to gain advantage. Will only one side have access to telephones other than cell phones? Will photocopying a document to show the mediator be easier for the host lawyer than for the visiting team? Parties in commercial disputes, though, don’t seem to care whether they’re put in the role of a guest in the office of opposing counsel. And in cases of pretty much any kind, counsel who have managed to behave civilly during the litigation can usually convince their clients that the choice of offices really won’t matter. Some lawyers jockey to have the proceeding in their office only to find that they do not enjoy being hosts, a role that can include such tasks as ordering lunch or facilitating receipt of faxes. Having a mediation proceeding in your own office can mean that your staff or colleagues intrude with questions about other cases, breaking your concentration and leading your client to wonder whether he or she has your full attention. On the other hand, if the case at hand is one that occupies boxes and boxes of materials that may turn out to be of unexpected interest to the mediator or arbitrator, it can be an advantage to have them at hand in their familiar organization rather than in boxes trucked to another location. Some lawyers favor borrowing or renting conference suites at neutral law firms. The settings are formal and dignified, and the facilities are equal for all participants. So long as the site meets the basic logistical needs, though, location usually doesn’t matter. Beverly Hodgson, a former Superior Court judge, is an arbitrator and mediator with the ADR Center, Mediation Consultants LLC, and the American Arbitration Association.

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