For Lynn M. Roberson, the Proof is in the Process
Every Neutral has an “Aha!” moment — that flash of inspiration where they appreciate how powerful mediation can genuinely be.
For Lynn M. Roberson, this epiphany struck when she saw four impossible cases she was sure would never settle, resolve. The linchpin, she reflected, was that you couldn’t always come to a resolution on your own.
Mediation is so effective because it’s a collaborative process with the operative words being “collaborative” and “process.”
Where the law is procedural, mediation is process-driven.
And Lynn knows precisely how to steer that process in the direction of satisfaction for all parties.
Mediation is the Law Made Personal
Lynn has been with Miles Mediation since its early days in 2015.
You could count her a veteran in more than one way: A burnished litigator with over 35 years experience, she is a past president of the Atlanta Bar Association and the Georgia Defense Lawyers Association, has won awards for Commitment to Equality by the State Bar of Georgia, and is a certified mediator — among her numerous other accolades.
Initially, the perception of her long career as a defense lawyer may have led others to inaccurately believe that she has a natural “bias” toward the defense. Lynn counters this by saying that her rich career so far can be seen as an advantage for plaintiffs.
She has a unique understanding of how the defense “side” operates and thinks, and what they expect. Her approach as a defense lawyer has always been to sit down with her clients and provide them with an objective and realistic evaluation of the risks.
She also reminds the parties what they stand to lose if they don’t reach a resolution.
Mediation is deeply personal. From the way people express themselves to the way people choose Neutrals — everything in a mediation is a choice made, consciously or unconsciously, to look for resonance and alignment.
The Power of Speaking and the Privilege to Be Heard
Lynn reflects on a case that involved a pro se African American woman who chose Lynn as their Neutral over so many others. Lynn suspects that the woman’s choice may have been due to a range of factors, including Lynn’s continued commitment to diversity and representation issues. It may have just been the fact that she was a woman — and the case details demonstrated the need for a kind of nuanced understanding a woman could offer.
This woman had experienced heartache, shock, and a searing sense of loss in a way that the plaintiff may have believed only a woman could ever know. But she was going to have a difficult time proving her case in court.
That incredibly personal experience shows Lynn that parties to a suit can and should be participants in their own story.
Mediation is uniquely built for expression and participation in a way that trial is unable to provide. There’s a level of satisfaction — a qualitative sense of justice — which is not necessarily provided by a jury trial where parties are limited in their voice and their participation.
And that’s what parties receive when they choose Lynn as their Neutral. She helps to facilitate the process of mediation, assisting the parties in looking at the case from all sides, facilitating negotiations, and seeing if there is a way for all parties to meet in the middle — wherever that “middle” should fall.
She ultimately assists them with a shared journey where the process is infused with credibility, dignity, and personal power.
Where many Neutrals focus on the ability to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion for all parties as one of mediation’s strengths, Lynn sees an underlying motivation — the need to be heard.
It’s a profoundly human need that mediation responds to — and, indeed, is designed for.
Businesses and insurance companies that are on the defense side usually see the litigation process as another call for risk assessment. But for plaintiffs the litigation process is an alien environment and usually a very emotionally stirring process.
In court, during a trial, plaintiffs are present but only heard in response to questions from attorneys. They cannot tell their story in the narrative form in which most of us relate our most personal and important stories. In addition, in trial, many parties are limited in the evidence they are able to present to the trier of fact. In mediation, plaintiffs have the opportunity to bring up all kinds of details that, in a court of law, may otherwise be considered “inadmissible” evidence.
Lynn has seen firsthand what a cathartic process this pure expression becomes.
To have an unbiased individual, the Neutral, present, and waiting to listen to and extend understanding for the plaintiff’s story is one of the most significant factors in being able to reach resolution.
She’s even seen cases where the individual plaintiffs are so satisfied by the process of mediation that they’ve walked away with a smaller amount — simply because of the satisfaction of feeling heard and appreciated for what they went through, their story acknowledged by another individual.
The Process of Mediation in Action
“For everyone else in this room, except for you, this is business as usual. This is what we do. We evaluate things. We put a price tag on them. We try to resolve it. But for you…this is personal. This may be the only time you’ll be involved in such a traumatic and personal situation.”
Lynn frequently shares this nugget of advice with plaintiffs at the beginning of every mediation. Her experience as a Neutral requires her to be flexible and adaptable. The process itself is a personalized and custom-built structure loosely based on:
- The introductions between parties
- The opening statements
- Starting with the plaintiff
- Following up with the defendant
- Splitting up and moving to different rooms
But, just as frequently, one side might want to do away with opening statements. Or the other side wants to speak directly.
These details require accommodation and adaptability, but the bulk of the position lies in the process, which is about:
- Extending patience,
- Being a sounding board, and
- Helping the plaintiffs to think about their position more than they have.
A good mediator has to persuade the parties to listen to the other side and help them to understand why they don’t have a guaranteed outcome should the case be tried in court, for example. Sometimes, the party just needs to hear the point of view of a neutral to appreciate that their own lawyer has been giving them good advice and perhaps they should settle the case in the range their own lawyer has been recommending.
Regardless of the details, everyone in the room can be a participant in mediation in a way that going to trial doesn’t allow.
Mediation’s process and power is that, even if parties are fussy or angry, it’s ultimately collaborative. You cannot reach a resolution unless both sides agree. And because both sides know that, through the guiding words and work of the Neutral, both sides are equally invested in finding a resolution.
Lynn’s Personal Process As a Neutral
Even though the state of Georgia requires every lawyer who is a member of the bar to be certified and register as a mediator or arbitrator for a case filed in a court of record, Lynn would still choose certification were it optional.
It’s not a “nice to have” in her eyes. Certification is a must-have. Lynn finds an additive sense of confidence and credibility from this certification — something that she can then extend to her clients.
It’s no different for Lynn than having a deep understanding in a particular field of law when she’s mediating. She admits that the depth and breadth of experience within a specialized area of law is something she thinks is important when hiring mediators.
It’s not just about effectiveness — it’s also about her own comfort level. She knows she can speak more confidently if she has experience in a particular area.
Lastly, it comes down to maintaining a balance between what she thinks is fair and equitable versus the legal standards. When guiding, pushing, or reigning in the parties, this knowledge is critical.
Having experience around the legal standards for these issues sets the stage from which both parties can begin negotiating.
The Wave of the Future — On the “Surprising” Ease and Efficacy of Virtual Mediations
There was a time where mediation had a prefix: “Alternative.”
Alternative dispute resolution started as an unusual route — with the unspoken belief that going to trial would be the “main” path.
However, the growth of Neutral-specific firms like Miles Mediation across the country shows how mediation has become the norm. Today, mediation is considered the first option. And, as long as litigation exists, says Lynn, mediation will continue to expand.
So what’s the new kid on the block these days? It’s virtual mediation.
Like people who became believers in mediation after experiencing a successful mediation, Lynn herself became a believer in the surprising ease and efficacy of virtual mediation only post-COVID.
There’s a visual and video component to virtual mediation that merely being on the phone cannot even begin to cover. You need to gauge people’s non-verbal communication and presence just as well — and virtual mediations accomplish that, attests Lynn.
Rather than being lost in translation, Lynn and her parties felt incredibly comfortable.
She also points out that, more and more, insurance adjusters are out of state, or their companies are intent on cutting budgets. They’re not looking to spend time and money on flights or worry about weather delays. Especially for multi-party cases, remote or virtual mediation solves many logistical issues that might otherwise hold up negotiations.
Lynn cites an example where a woman in a mediation wouldn’t move forward with a resolution unless she first consulted her father. He lived in Milwaukee, and, without virtual mediation, may have had to fly in to be a part of the mediation process. With remote mediation on camera, however, a Neutral would be able to arrive at a consensus.
It’s as close to being in-person as possible.
At Miles, Diversity Goes Beyond Representation
Lynn is a natural fit for Miles Mediation, where John Miles’s motto is diversity of Neutral and diversity of thought. So much of her experience as a Neutral on cases is about accurately and fairly representing the interests of all parties involved. She points out that “representation” isn’t always what it seems.
Many people think representation is about seeing someone just like you, who then might be able to “further” your “cause.” But that’s a form of projection, at best, because someone’s social identity doesn’t guarantee empathy with your personal experience.
Instead, Lynn sees that parties who hire Neutrals can choose from a diverse panel of Neutrals at Miles. The neutral brings their own story, their own set of strengths, style, approach, and their own burnished career to the fore.
Miles remains at the forefront of mediation because of their diverse panel of Neutrals and their progressive efforts at marketing these Neutrals and their unique skills and talents.
From here, a prospective client looking to hire a Neutral can make an informed and personal choice about who is representing them, based on their experience, desired outcome, style, and so much more. And that might lead them to choose a Neutral that doesn’t necessarily look like them, yet promises to guide them through the kind of process they’re looking for. It’s this choice that underscores how representation is leading the way at Miles.
The truth is that there are no proxies for a successful outcome through mediation. It is authentic and definitive in a way that few other things can be. There is only the process and the resolution you arrive at through the process. And that’s irrefutable proof of its power.