Professional Guidelines

An agency of the Supreme Court of Virginia

The Virginia State Bar

Professional Guidelines

Rule 2.11

Mediator

  • (a) A lawyer-mediator is a third party neutral (See Rule 2.10) who facilitates communication between the parties and, without deciding the issues or imposing a solution on the parties, enables them to understand and resolve their dispute.
  • (b) Prior to agreeing to mediate and throughout the mediation process a lawyer-mediator should reasonably determine that:
    • (1) mediation is an appropriate process for the parties;
    • (2) each party is able to participate effectively within the context of the mediation process; and
    • (3) each party is willing to enter and participate in the process in good faith.
  • (c) A lawyer-mediator may offer legal information if all parties are present or separately to the parties if they consent. The lawyer-mediator shall inform unrepresented parties or those parties who are not accompanied by legal counsel about the importance of reviewing the lawyer-mediator’s legal information with legal counsel.
  • (d) A lawyer-mediator may offer evaluation of, for example, strengths and weaknesses of positions, assess the value and cost of alternatives to settlement or assess the barriers to settlement (collectively referred to as evaluation) only if such evaluation is incidental to the facilitative role and does not interfere with the lawyer-mediator’s impartiality or the self-determination of the parties.
  • (e) Prior to the mediation session a lawyer-mediator shall:
    • (1) consult with prospective parties about
      • (i) the nature of the mediation process;
      • (ii) the limitations on the use of evaluation, as set forth in paragraph (d) above;
      • (iii) the lawyer-mediator’s approach, style and subject matter expertise; and
      • (iv) the parties’ expectations regarding the mediation process; and
    • (2) enter into a written agreement to mediate which references the choice and expectations of the parties, including whether the parties have chosen, permit or expect the use of neutral evaluation or evaluative techniques during the course of the mediation.
  • (f) A lawyer-mediator shall conduct the mediation in a manner that is consistent with the parties’ choice and expectations.

Comment

[1] Offering assessments, evaluations, and advice are traditional lawyering functions for the lawyer who represents a client. A lawyer-mediator, who does not represent any of the parties to the mediation, should not assume that these functions are appropriate. Although these functions are not specifically prohibited in the statutory definition of mediation, which is set forth as paragraph (a) of this Rule, an evaluative approach which interferes with the parties’ self-determination and the mediator’s impartiality would be inconsistent with this definition of mediation.

[2] Defining mediation to exclude an evaluative approach is difficult not only because practice varies widely but because no consensus exists as to what constitutes an evaluation. Also, the effects of an evaluation on the mediation process depend upon the attitude and style of the mediator and the context in which it is offered. Thus, a question by a lawyer-mediator to a party that might be considered by some as “reality testing” and facilitative, might be viewed by others as evaluative. On the other hand, an evaluation by a facilitative mediator could help free the parties from the narrowing effects of the law and help empower them to resolve their dispute.

Informed Consent to Mediator’s Approach

[3] The Rule focuses on the informed consent of the prospective mediation clients to the particular approach, style and subject matter expertise of the lawyer-mediator. This begins with consultation about the nature of the mediation process, the limitations on evaluation, the lawyer-mediator’s approach, style and subject matter expertise and the parties’ expectations regarding the mediation process. If the parties request an evaluative approach, the lawyer-mediator shall explain the risk that evaluation might interfere with mediator impartiality and party self-determination. Following this consultation the lawyer-mediator and the parties shall sign a written agreement to mediate which reflects the choice and expectation of the parties. The lawyer-mediator shall then conduct the mediation in a manner that is consistent with the parties’ choice and expectations. This is similar to the lawyer-client consultation about the means to be used in pursuing a client’s objectives in Rule 1.2.

Continuing Responsibility to Examine Potential Impact of Evaluation

[4] If the parties choose a lawyer-mediator who is willing and able to offer evaluation during the mediation process and has met the requirements of paragraph (e), a lawyer-mediator has a continuing responsibility under paragraphs (b) and (d) to assess the situation and consult with the parties before offering or responding to a request for an evaluation. Consideration shall be given again as to whether mediator impartiality and party self-determination are at risk. Consideration should also be given as to whether an evaluation could detract from the willingness of the parties to work at understanding their own and each other’s situation and at considering a broader range of interests, issues and options. Also, with an evaluation the parties may miss out on opportunities to maintain or improve relationships or to create a higher quality and more satisfying result.

[5] On the other hand, the parties may expect the lawyer-mediator to offer an evaluation in helping the parties reach agreement, especially when the most important issues are the strengths or weaknesses of legal positions, or the significance of commercial or financial risks. This is particularly useful after parties have worked at possible solutions and have built up confidence in the mediator’s impartiality or where widely divergent party evaluations are major barriers to settlement.

[6] The presence of attorneys for the parties offers additional protection in minimizing the risk of a poor quality evaluation and of too strong an influence on the parties’ self-determination. An evaluation, coupled with a reminder to the parties that the evaluation is but one of the factors to be considered as they deliberate on the outcome, may in certain cases be the most appropriate way to assure that the parties are making fully informed decisions.

Legal Advice, Legal Information and Neutral Evaluation

[7] A lawyer-mediator shall not offer any of the parties legal advice which is a function of the lawyer who is representing a client. However, a lawyer-mediator may offer legal information under the conditions outlined in paragraph (c). Offering legal information is an educational function which aids the parties in making informed decisions. Neutral evaluations in the mediation process consist of, for example, opining as to the strengths and weaknesses of positions, assessing the value and costs of alternatives to settlement or assessing the barriers to settlement.

[8] The lawyer-mediator shall not, however, make decisions for any party to the mediation process nor shall the lawyer-mediator use a neutral evaluation to coerce or influence the parties to settle their dispute or to accept a particular solution to their dispute. Paragraphs (d), (e), and (f) restrict the use of evaluative techniques by the lawyer-mediator to situations where the parties have given their informed consent to the use of such techniques and where a neutral evaluation will assist, rather than interfere with the ability of the parties to reach a mutually agreeable solution to their dispute.

Mediation

[9] While a lawyer is cautioned in Rule 1.7 regarding the special considerations in common representation, these should not deter a lawyer-mediator from accepting clients for mediation. In mediation, a lawyer-mediator represents none of the parties and should be trained to deal with strong emotions. In fact mediation can be especially useful in a case where communication and relational breakdown have made negotiation or litigation of legal issues more difficult.

Confidentiality and Professional Responsibility Standards

[10] Confidentiality of information revealed in the mediation process is governed by Code of Virginia Sections 8.01-576.9 and 8.01-576.10 and Section 8.01-581.22.

Virginia Code Comparison

There was no counterpart to this Rule in the Virginia Code.

Committee Commentary

The Committee adopted this Rule, not part of the ABA Model Rules, to give further guidance to lawyers who serve as mediators. Although Legal Ethics Opinions [e.g., LEO 590 (May 17, 1985)] have approved of lawyers serving as mediators, different approaches to and styles of mediation ranging from pure facilitation to evaluation of positions are being offered. This Rule requires lawyer-mediators to consult with prospective parties about the lawyer-mediators’ approach, style and subject matter expertise and to honor the parties’ choice and expectations.

The amendments effective December 30, 2009, in Comment [9], deleted the references to Rule 2.2 that was deleted by Court order dated September 24, 2003.

Updated: March 16, 2010