Moving Forward with Mediation

Nicola Crowther, of Crowther Mediation, and Alex Rayner, partner and head of construction and engineering at law firm Sintons, talk to North East Times about the growing demand for mediation services across the region, and how they are helping businesses in dispute to move forward.

Established five years ago in Sunderland, Crowther Mediation has steadily evolved into one of the largest mediation practices in the North of England, with a dedicated team of staff and eight offices across the region.

The business specialises in acting as mediator to assist parties to resolve civil, commercial, family and workplace disputes, as well as offering a range of training services.

Sintons is one of the largest law firms in the North East with a team of more than 200, including 33 partners and in excess of 100 lawyers. As a firm, it is committed to securing the best outcomes for its clients and regularly advises them to attempt to resolve matters through the use of mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution.

Nicola comments: “Mediation is nothing new, it’s been around for hundreds of years, but it is fast gaining recognition by both lawyers and clients alike as a more effective way of resolving disputes than going through a court process.”

Both Nicola and Alex Rayner, partner and head of construction and engineering at Sintons, believe this is largely because clients enjoy the benefits of solving their disputes quickly and cost effectively.

Alex adds: “Mediation is something we would consider in every case; we have a duty to advise our clients about methods of alternative dispute resolution and mediation is one of them. In my experience, it can be a very useful tool in resolving disputes. Having worked with a number of experienced mediators, I’ve witnessed some very good results. As Nicola says, mediation is not new, but it is fair to say that judicial encouragement of mediation has certainly meant that legal representatives are more tuned into it as a method of resolving disputes – hopefully at an early stage and without the parties incurring the costs of full- blown litigation.

“Our role is to support our clients to achieve the best possible outcome and mediation often provides a more flexible framework for exploring outcomes that both parties can live with, but that they might not have previously considered.”

Nicola and Alex have each helped a number of commercial clients over the years find resolution through the mediation process – from commercial, complex construction and engineering disputes to partnership dissolutions and more.

Nicola says: “Being involved in a dispute can be a very draining process for clients, not just affecting their work life, but their home life too. Most of the individuals we support simply want to feel unburdened and reach a resolution so that they can move forward confidently. While this process can take all day, and sometimes into the evening, it’s certainly much quicker than conducting those negotiations via solicitors’ correspondence.

“The sense of relief I see from clients at the end of a long, successful day is very rewarding for me as a mediator and makes this a very worthwhile career.”

The mediation process usually involves clients and their legal representatives attending a meeting with their opponent and their representatives
in the same building. The mediator essentially acts as an impartial ‘go-between’ for the parties, facilitating a conversation that will ultimately lead to resolution.

Nicola continues: “In mediation, the legal representatives form an integral part of the process, providing advice and ultimately preparing legally- binding agreements. It’s always a real pleasure to work with lawyers who are actively encouraging their clients to find solutions via mediation and valuing the role it plays in achieving excellent results.”

Alex adds: “From a client and lawyer perspective, a good mediator will manage the process to maintain a clear impartial role and not allow either party to monopolise negotiations.

“My view is that the clients should be given their opportunity to speak and air their grievances, and this process in itself can break down barriers. If a client feels unheard, they can very quickly become disillusioned with the process.

“A mediator also needs to be intuitive, to think outside the box and offer a flexible approach to problem solving. Quite often, clients are keen to maintain their working relationship, so as well as settling a dispute, the mediator can help to build bridges for the future.”

Mediation isn’t just limited to disputes in the UK and Nicola has also been involved in several cases on an international basis. To be able to use her globally-recognised expertise in the North East is a real credit for the region.

Nicola says: “While travelling can be exhausting, mediations in international cases are always challenging and present an opportunity to put all my skills to the test. I do love working abroad and taking advantage of experiences and opportunities I get, but I grew up in the North East and I am justly proud of our region.

“I really want North East businesses to be at the forefront of mediation, thinking outside the box to resolve their disputes.”

Both Nicola and Alex agree that, with the right professional support, clients can benefit hugely from mediation as a form of dispute resolution.

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