Woolf at Door over Mediation Reform; Lawyers in Fear of Losing Fees

By Duckers, John | The Birmingham Post (England), September 17, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Woolf at Door over Mediation Reform; Lawyers in Fear of Losing Fees


Duckers, John, The Birmingham Post (England)


Lawyers will be forced to encourage their clients to mediate instead of ushering them through the courts, as changes introduced by the Woolf reforms begin to bite.

But the lesson will be hard to swallow for many of the region's lawyers, says a joint survey of West Midlands companies by the Centre for Dispute Resolution and law firm Dibb Lupton Alsop.

Despite a high awareness of other options to commercial litigation among 500 top companies surveyed in the region - 76 per cent claimed they were aware of mediation and understood its workings - more than 60 per cent said they had not received any advice from their solicitors or other mediation organisations on the matter.

What is more, just 16 per cent of the companies surveyed had been advised by their lawyers to consider inserting mediation clauses in their standard terms and conditions and only eight per cent of their solicitors had ever discussed with them the possibility of resolving a dispute through mediation.

According to Mr Jim Sharkey, a partner in the litigation group at the Birmingham office of DLA, the results were "very surprising", particularly in the light of the emphasis given to Alternative Dispute Resolution in the recently introduced Woolf reforms.

One of Woolf's intentions was to make court a last resort.

Mr Sharkey said: "The legal profession has failed to play its full part in educating local businesses about alternative forms of dispute resolution, despite the overwhelming awareness and demand for such options. Lawyers' reluctance to embrace mediation is based on a number of factors, including the fear of losing fees and ignorance of the new procedures. This attitude will need to change in the light of the recent changes to the court rules and their emphasise on ADR."

In contrast to the stance taken by lawyers, 37 per cent of companies surveyed claimed to have considered using mediation clauses themselves.

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