"It's not about the money!"

How often have you heard that from a client? Or from a friend who’s embroiled in litigation? Or had the thought yourself? Probably fairly, often if you’re “in the business”; and at least on occasion if you’re not. It’s a pretty common refrain, especially in the context of disputes between family members, business partners, or anyone else in a relationship that has gone awry.

You might think, since a lawsuit usually results in a monetary settlement, that of course it’s about the money!  And money may be an issue.  It’s certainly the means by which we calculate the value of righting a wrong.

But maybe money isn’t the only issue. Maybe the lawsuit is also about anger, resentment, hurt, disrespect, or just plain unfairness – whether real or perceived.

Traditional lawyering doesn’t address emotional issues. Emotions don’t prove anything. They don’t support legal theories. And they don’t have a place in the courtroom.

But people in the throes of a dispute don’t think about proof or legal theories. They want what’s right, what’s fair, what makes them feel respected and understood. Things a lawsuit can’t always provide for them. As a result, they can come away feeling dissatisfied, even when the outcome has been in their favor.

Mediation looks beyond legal positions and strategies. It asks, What do the disputants really need? If someone’s anger prevents him from agreeing to anything his adversary says, he can’t express it in a courtroom, but he can in mediation.  And the opportunity to do so and to feel heard may allow him to move forward. If a bewildered litigant is demanding an apology or an explanation, she is unlikely to find it among the settlement terms. But an apology or an explanation can be offered in mediation, without the other side worrying about losing ground.

So, the next time a client or acquaintance of yours tells you it’s not about the money, think about mediation. There’s room on the table for more than just the money.