Why the heck can’t TV shows get mediation right? I mean, if a comedy like The Wedding Crashers can do it, why not courtroom dramas? Fairly Legal has made a mockery of what mediation is about, but I expect USA shows to be silly. Now comes The Good Wife, and I usually expect better from them. I’m a mediator, and this kind of error hurts my feelings because the writers clearly don’t give a hoot about getting mediation right. Mediation is suddenly popular with writers, so why won’t they find out what really happens in a mediation session?
Getting it wrong
Here’s just some of the stuff I keep hearing on TV about mediation that’s glaringly stupid.
The mediator doesn’t get to decide what is a fair settlement. I keep hearing mediators in these shows saying things like, “I need to hear this evidence so I can decide what a fair settlement will be.” Huh? The mediator doesn’t decide diddly. The mediator helps the parties reach a settlement. The mediator can’t make any legal decisions, can’t decide what the damages are, can’t hear testimony, can’t tell the parties what to do. The mediator in The Good Wife said this and I almost threw a shoe at the screen. It’s cringe-worthy. The easiest fix in the world is to stop having your characters say such ridiculous things.
The mediator can’t demand they hear testimony or see any particular evidence. The mediator may sometimes be shown evidence or excerpts from deposition transcripts to help them understand the case and the issues. But they don’t get to order the parties around, don’t get to do their own investigation, and can’t demand that someone be present without the parties’ permission. In this episode of The Good Wife, one side didn’t want his son to testify. Since nobody can be present at mediation other than the parties, their lawyers, the mediator, and anyone the parties agree can attend, this was laughable. Stupid, stupid plot device. The lawyer could have just said that if it didn’t settle the son would be called. Such an easy fix.
The parties don’t storm out of a court-ordered mediation. In Fairly Legal, the mediator character has one side or both storm out within seconds of every mediation. Then she has to chase them down and talk to them at home or work or wherever. It’s laughable. If the parties are ordered into mediation, they can’t storm out. They’ll be held in contempt. Even if it’s not court-ordered, they usually have a minimum fee they’re paying the mediator – usually 2 – 4 hours. Clients like to get their money’s worth and will stick around for their minimum prepaid amount of time. Yeah, yeah, it’s probably visually boring to have the parties sit around a table. But a decent writer can liven it up. The two sides can break into caucuses, take smoke or lunch breaks and run into each other, whatever the camera needs to improve the visual without going stupid.
The mediator won’t refer to one side as their client. The mediator is neutral. They can’t represent one side or the other. Their firm can’t represent either side. They have to disclose any relationships with the parties or their attorneys to both sides and anyone can object if they believe the mediator won’t be neutral. The Good Wife didn’t do this, but they do it in Fairly Legal all the time. It makes me want to scream. Okay, sometimes it does make me scream.
Every trial lawyer in America knows when you get mediation wrong. So do all the mediators, all the judges, and every person who has participated in mediation. We’re talking millions of people who know when you get it wrong. Mediation can be interesting and it hasn’t been overdone like trials. Do use it in your stories, but do your research.