As mediators we aren’t always blessed with the option of selecting the venue for the mediation, but if it was within our gift to choose, what would the perfect venue be?
In this post I’ll provide a checklist of the top 4 factors that I think are important to consider when choosing a venue for your mediation. I'll also be looking at one venue in particular that caught my attention recently...
Imagine the ink has just dried on your digital mediation certificate when you get a call from a lawyer looking to hire a commercial mediator for their $30 trillion dollar dispute. You have free rein on choosing the venue, the only criteria is that it must be perfect.
The Good, Bad and Ugly
I've mediated in dark and dingy venues where the mouldy stench from an old carpet was more of a distraction than the emotional distress of one party. I've had to replace broken lightbulbs, drag tables down corridors, dismantle suspect IT and electrical cabling (and reinstate it). I've also lounged in luxurious investment bank client suites surrounded by Ming dynasty artwork with a special button on the wall to call for espressos, wandered purposefully through pristinely manicured gardens exploring options with the parties.
These diverse experiences are all part and parcel of the job but I'm willing to bet that every mediator has fantasised about having the perfect venue, yes?
The inspiration for this article comes all the way from Florence in Italy.
I was recently invited out to Florence to witness the signing of a cooperation agreement between the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PAC) in The Hague and the Florence Chamber of Commerce.
The nuts and bolts of the agreement mean that the PAC can now hold its arbitration hearings in Florence.
But wait, there’s more..
The hearings to be conducted under this agreement are by no means exclusive to arbitration.
Florence also has its very own International Mediation Chamber dedicated to promoting Florence as an international beacon for Mediation and ADR. The Florence International Mediation Chamber (FIMC), a branch of the Florence Chamber of Commerce is trimming its sail to attract parties from around the world to meet in the middle, in Florence, at their brand new fully refurbished dispute resolution venue - just a stones throw away from the Uffizi.
I know what you’re thinking...
Why would anyone choose Florence as a location to hold a mediation?
- having the world’s greatest treasure trove of renaissance art;
- being one of the most breathtaking historical architectural cities on the planet;
- in easy commute of the sweeping Tuscan renaissance-art-inspired landscapes;
- home to a buffet of Italian pastry and coffee houses;
- home of the gelato (ice-cream to you philistines);
- famous for it’s leather belts and other leather goods (which you’ll need if you’ve over indulged at the gelaterie), and finally;
- a climate that is sympathetic to the practice of sitting out doors at any time of day sipping a fine Chianti.
Apart from these things, why on earth would anyone want to conduct a mediation in Florence?
Could it have something to do with their newly refurbished Mediation Centre?
I did manage break away from the delegation to have a nose around their suite of 22 mediation rooms and stumbled into this impressive bad boy...
Top 4 Mediation Venue Checklist
So back to your pending £30 trillion dollar mediation, how will you choose?
You'll need to let your imagination run wild through this next section!
1. Location Location Location
Access to transport and other public infrastructure is important here.
Can the parties find and reach the venue with relative ease?
Are there regular flights, trains and taxis servicing the location?
Is the venue located amongst a concrete jungle or actual jungle?
Is there a mobile phone and 3G signal in the area?
Remoteness can however work in your favour if the mediation isn't settling after day 1, restricting their departure might give you and them a bit more time to thrash out a deal!
Your next decision point might be to consider whether a city location or out of town countryside venue would better fit the fuss. Or could you get the best of both worlds by choosing a venue that is surrounded by green open space. I have settled many a mediation in the serene garden settings of conference-hotels.
The Florence Mediation Centre gets 9/10 for this category. (For a 10/10 the mediation rooms would need double doors opening onto Babylonian-esque gardens!)
2. Mediation Facilities
How comfortable and practical are the meeting rooms and other facilities?
(This is obviously where you'll end up if you can't help the parties reach a settlement!)
Commercial mediations are typically held in either serviced offices such as the ones on London's Fleet Street at the International Dispute Resolution Centre and of course in Florence at the Florence International Mediation Chamber. Often mediations are also held at the offices of one of the solicitor's representing one of the parties in dispute. If it's a big firm then they'll often have their own wine cellar which can come in handy if and when the dispute reaches a positive conclusion during the early hours!
Workplace mediations are often held at the company's offices and sometimes in serviced offices or conference centre meeting rooms.
So meeting rooms tend to be much of a muchness.
But regardless of what kind of mediation you're involved in here are some considerations:
How many people are expected to attend from each side? (The plenary and break out rooms should comfortably accommodate all attending.)
Are the meetings rooms private and secure? (Some offices have glass partitioned meeting where the privacy glass doesn't extend floor to ceiling. So if you happen to be brainstorming options with one side using a flip chart then you'll need to be mindful of this)
Are the meeting rooms in close proximity to each other? (If the walls are thin then parties can hear every word said in private caucus. I've also conducted a mediation at a solicitor's office where one meeting room was on the ground floor, the other on the 4th floor - which also doubled as the plenary room. The 19th century-constructed elevator happened to be out of service on that day and I think I scaled the equivalent of an ascent of K2 during that 14-hour mediation!)
Do the meeting rooms have natural light (or any light at all)? (If not you might want to factor in some time for the parties to get some Vitamin D and fresh air at some stage)
Are the tables fixed in the meeting rooms? (If you're mediating a dispute between two work colleagues then sitting them at a large 40-seater boardroom table doesn't feel appropriate.)
Will parties or mediator need access to wifi or audio visual facilities? What are these like and is there anyone on site that will be available to assist?
Do any of the parties have specific needs that require assisted access for example?
Preparation can help you avoid a lot stress and headaches and frankly time wasting on the day, so it's advisable to check these things regardless of the mediation venue.
The Florence Mediation Centre gets 9/10 for this category.
I would have liked a little colour on the walls or maybe some artwork to bring a little character and life into the room but hey I'm a little fussy when it comes those details. Overall the meeting rooms were elegant, flexible and practical. Here's a shot of one of the rooms at the FIMC.
3. Flip Chart Paper
William Wordsworth once said:
'Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart'.
...which is all very well as long as you have an abundance of good quality paper and no one does flip chart paper better than the Germans.
Unless you are in Germany then your best hope is that the venue has a flip chart and an easel. Always travel with a small roll of Gaffer tape (also known as duct tape) because unless your mediation is in a law firm or one of the dedicated serviced offices mentioned then be prepared to repair a broken flip chart easel or two.
And always travel with a brand new set of flip chart markers and a small pack of blue or white-tak.
My marker of choice is the chisel tip M180 from Pentel. It's a monster of a pen! A word of warning, if you do purchase this product then make sure the room has plenty of fresh air otherwise the parties might pass out or float out of the room at the end of the day.
The Florence Mediation Centre again gets 9/10 for this category. Easels were brand new and paper in abundance but as I said; no one beats the Germans when it comes to flip chart paper!
4. Coffee & Refreshments
We all take for granted that our chosen venue will have at the very least a kettle, supply of water and sachets of coffee or tea.
However never underestimate the effect that good quality coffee and hearty nibbles can have on the spirits of the parties.
The Florence Mediation Centre again gets 10/10 for this category. Coffee and food was sensational and despite abstaining from the Prosecco celebrations, there didn't look to be a shortage of supply there!