For me, the most important think about being a mediator is caring. Not just caring about getting results, or being successful. It means caring about people – about all the people who are impacted by disputes. The parties, counsel, and all the people in their lives who share their stress and uncertainty.
I learned an important lesson about caring when I was a litigation associate in a large law firm. My career was going well, but I was missing something in the practice of law, and I didn’t know what it was.
And then I met Gregory.
Gregory had been a student an Ivy League college. But in his second year of college, Gregory developed a debilitating mental illness. He was unable to continue his education. He left college and moved back in with his mother. Gregory went from a future full of promise and excitement to being unable to work or live independently.
But this wasn’t Gregory’s only problem. Gregory had student loans. He couldn’t repay his loans. The collection agencies were calling, and he and his mother had no idea what to do.
I met Gregory through the Public Law Center where I volunteered to do pro bono work. Gregory’s legal issues were not complicated. It didn’t take long to find a regulation forgiving loans for people who were permanently disabled. I was able to successfully petition on Gregory’s behalf. A paralegal could have done what I did for Gregory.
But when I told Gregory and his mother that his loan had been forgiven, I could hear the relief and appreciation in their voices. My attitude about being a lawyer changed that day. I had done something that they had not been able to do. I had helped to make their lives a little bit better, a little less burdensome. And I cared. I really cared. I cared about Gregory.
Boy oh boy, did I feel like a lawyer on that day. I’ve tried to hang on to that perspective as a practicing lawyer and as a mediator, by putting people at the center of what I do – every case and every mediation.
And that is what Gregory taught me about caring.