Many of us will be familiar with the stories in the press where a simple dispute between two neighbours over a garden fence can end up in court. Or of the business owner who can’t let go of a commercial dispute even though it is harming his business. These disputes can often cost both parties huge amounts of money if they go all the way to court.
It is so often the small things in life that can lead to a big dispute that can appear impossible to resolve. But Joseph Mulrooney, a dispute resolution and mediation specialist, is an optimist by profession.
As director of Mediatelegal in Liverpool, Joseph has helped to find solutions to what may appear to be intractable disputes. Since becoming a trained mediator in 2013, he has managed to successfully settle more than 100 disputes, a figure that marks him out as one of the most experienced mediators in the region.
Joseph qualified as a solicitor in 2009 and still practises law for Liverpool firm ACSL Solicitors, of which he is also a director. But it was a former colleague, who persuaded him to go down the mediation route.
“She went on the course herself,” said Joseph. “And she came to me afterwards and said ‘you have to do this, this fits your personality perfectly’. And so I did and she was right. It opened up a whole new avenue for me.”
Mediatelegal offers mediation services to clients referred by law firms or from direct approaches from members of the public. Joseph added: “It might be a workplace dispute, or a commercial dispute or it could one between two neighbours.
“The split is probably around 50/50 between people coming to us direct or requests for mediation coming in from law firms. The mediators on our panel are all extremely experienced. The only thing we don’t cover is family disputes. That is a separate discipline.
“In a typical mediation we will get the parties together in an open session at the beginning of the day to lay out their views. Then the different parties will split off into private rooms and I will start to talk to them about their own perspective and what outcomes they are looking to achieve.
“During these private sessions I will occasionally ask challenging questions to have the parties consider the dispute from all viewpoints.
“At the start of the day it can seem like no solution is possible. But it starts to dawn on people that there is a way out of the dispute. We ask them to consider the best and worst possible outcomes to their dispute, and then we start looking at the range of possible outcomes in between the two.
“We don’t offer unrealistic expectations. We’ve seen some other providers market mediation as a magical process which will bring everyone together and restore relationships completely. A lot of the time that isn’t realistic, but we can often find an amicable solution that allows them to resolve the dispute, put it behind them, and focus on more productive things.”
“The courts have a very narrow set of options that they can employ but, through mediation, the parties can be a lot more flexible and come up with a solution that fits everyone.
“The average national success rate for Civil & Commercial is 89% and ours is above 90%. Everything said during mediation is ‘without prejudice’ which means if a dispute isn’t resolved none of it can be used in court later.”
Joseph said it is amazing how many long-drawn-out disputes, particularly in workplaces, start off with something really trivial. He explained: “We had one workplace dispute that had dragged on for two years and it turned out it just went back to a single off-the-cuff remark which had unwittingly caused serious offence.
Mediation is well suited to commercial disputes too, “We will say to businesses ‘look , there may be a cost to settling this today but it is a better alternative to dragging it out for another 100 hours when it will cost you even more time and resources.
“For those involved in a successful mediation the overwhelming feeling in the days following it is one of relief – that problem that has dominated your time has suddenly gone away on terms that you helped to create.”
Mediatelegal offers a discounted mediation service to Knowsley, St Helens, and Liverpool chambers of commerce, a big benefit for their members. Joseph, who qualified as a civil and commercial dispute mediator in 2013 and a workplace mediator in 2014, is now also a trustee of the national Society of Mediators.
“Training as a mediator has been transformational for me in both a professional sense and in a personal context,” he said. “You almost feel like you can see the strings behind the process of interaction between people. It is a great skill to have.
“The Society offers training to everybody from business owners to university students, and I think a lot of business owners and managers would really benefit from the skills they would gain.”
There has been a suggestion that it could become mandatory for certain cases going through the courts to be referred to mediation first. But Joseph is not so sure. He added: “It is better if people come to the process voluntarily. If they are forced into doing it then it runs the risk of some medications becoming a tick box exercise in the litigation process – which would be a waste of everyone’s time.”
“The process is increasingly popular with law firms. Yes, most lawyers will be happy to see a case quickly resolved and get it off their desk with a happy client. So many of them are so overworked these days anyway. Mediation is becoming more widely-used with each passing year, but I do think there is still scope for it to be used a lot more.”