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The 12 steps of mediation

As told by a recovering courtroom addict

Hello, my name is Shon, and I am a recovering courtroom addict.

I used to believe that all family law matters should be tried for their sins and litigated to the end of time. For the first 15 years of practicing law, I saw mediation as interference to seeking justice.

It was my perspective that I was hired to resolve my client’s divorce. I did not need my client’s help and my client would only screw things up if they talked or had a voice in the resolution.

I spent most of my time telling my clients not to talk to their spouses, not to communicate about resolution, and I even worked hard to talk them out of compromising or negotiating their own divorce.

I was a courtroom addict, the kind of attorney that would fight about anything for the sheer ecstasy of the fight. I fought over semantics and principle and my own pride. I loved the rush of the battle. I did not think about what was best for my clients, but what was best for me and my case.

After 20 years of litigation, I am in recovery. I seek to litigate less and resolve more. Therefore, I mediate. But, I still find myself from time to time falling off the wagon, yearning for the taste of a good fight and satisfying my litigation addiction.

In an attempt to remain sober and strong, I developed the 12 steps of mediation. When I work this program and truly look to the best interests of my clients, I have fewer highs and lows for my clients and much more real resolution.

1. I am powerless over judges, even with the law, facts and skill on my side.

2. There is a power greater than litigation that can restore attorneys and clients to sanity.

3. I will turn over control of cases to my clients, rather than control my clients’ cases.

4. I will work for solutions rather than create problems.

5. I will work hard to admit to others that fighting is not the best way to resolve wrongs of the past for my clients or myself.

6. I am ready to allow mediation to remove the defects of my client’s domestic battles created by fighting and litigation.

7. I am humbled to listen to, rather than talk at, clients.

8. I am willing to make a list of persons that I have harmed and make amends to them, by offering my mediation services at a reduced rate.

9. I will make direct amends to those that I have cross-examined, impeached and have been violated by my intense need to be correct, right and victorious.

10. I will continue to take a personal inventory on every case, determining when it is best to mediate, negotiate and litigate as a last result.

11. I will seek through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact with the needs of my client, rather than my own personal victory.

12. I will try in all aspects of my life to attempt to listen first and seek solutions and answers before engaging in conflict.

While the above steps are meant to offer a bit of humor, it is true that I now seek to mediate and reach agreement before I seek to annihilate.

I am not always successful. Like a true addict, I still have days that it is easier to fall into old habits and want to fight, as much as or even more than my clients. As attorneys, it is our professional, and I believe moral, obligation to seek resolution.

Whether that comes from kitchen table settlements between spouses, mediation, arbitration or full court war scenarios, we have a duty to give our clients options and a full explanation of consequences.

When I truly focus on the people that come to me for help and answers, I remember that I have no power or control over the lives of my clients, despite my addictive desire to do so.

Shon A. Cook is a family law practitioner at Whitehall, Michigan-based Shon Cook Law PC. This story originally appeared in the State Bar of Michigan’s Family Law Journal.

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