Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bracket Madness

As it's the season of NCAA basketball brackets, I thought I'd take a moment during March Madness and explore bracketing-- in mediation, that is. Bracketing can be a useful tool in breaking through a stale negotiation. Mediation usually begins with offers intended to send messages to each side, but which are frequently unrealistic in a given dispute. Offers in the early rounds typically remain outside the range of numbers likely to lead to ultimate resolution. Parties can then fall into a pattern of mirroring small incremental movements, until the dance stalls in frustration. While not appropriate for every session, Mediators may effectively pull brackets from their toolbox at this juncture. Because bracketed numbers re-frame the bargaining, parties begin to see the negotiation anew. Settlement becomes a Cinderella team in the tourney. During this process, even exploring potential agreement encourages the parties that the other side still intends to make a good faith effort to strike a deal. Resolution can sometimes remain out of reach until the parties find their way to bargaining bracketed by what each perceives as reasonable numbers. Plaintiffs and defendants might similarly argue just how far each has moved from its initial, often pie in the sky position. However, movement toward a number that is realistic has a better chance to settle the matter. Mediators try to keep conversations with the parties and their counsel going, pushing nuances and nuggets of the case, while identifying underlying interests. As a result, information about the respective risks then drives a numerical range within which settlement can most likely occur. Though parties may propose this strategy, it is better if the mediator introduces the concept of bracketing as a neutral and then caucuses to a conditional range, eventually finding common ground. With a win-win, you get a result superior to 63 of the teams in the tournament!