The consulting attorney in mediation – is it worth it?
Mediators almost universally recommend that all parties retain independent review attorneys. But clients often hesitate, wondering if it’s really necessary or just an added expense. Clients understandably worry that involving review counsel will add cost, invite complications, or even jeopardize the proceedings.
Experienced consulting attorneys understand that their engagement is a limited one. The scope of their services is generally defined by the needs of the client. And they strive to provide considerable value for the modest fees they charge. When they identify and raise important issues, the goal is not to complicate but to clarify. And rather than endanger the success of the mediation, review attorneys offer critical support to the process to ensure that clients get exactly what they bargained for.
Why hire a consulting attorney?
- Crucial legal advice.
Mediators provide the parties with lots of important legal information. As neutrals,however, they are forbidden from providing either party with legal advice. But reliable legal advice is exactly what individuals going through a divorce or other conflict often need. And they certainly deserve to have it. Receiving informed counsel directly from a qualified attorney with undivided loyalties provides clients with the specific answers they seek and the confidence they may need to make important and often difficult decisions.
- Protection from misunderstanding.
Separation agreements are long (often 50 pages or more) and dense with legal concepts unfamiliar to most laypeople. Mediation clients are directed to read them carefully before they sign, but given the complexity of the material and the often strong emotions at play, it is easy to imagine even the most diligent client missing or misunderstanding something important. A review attorney is familiar with the type of language in the document and has no emotional distractions to manage. He or she can spot irregularities, explain clauses, and ensure that the agreement says what the client thinks it says.
- Durability of the agreement.
Parties reasonably expect that the agreement they sign will be enforceable and withstand any future attempt to invalidate it. But the absence of legal representation can leave an agreement more vulnerable to challenge. An unrepresented party may claim that they didn’t understand what they were signing or that they didn’t understand the applicable law. The use of consulting attorneys can be a simple way to ensure that the agreement is built to last.
Clients choose mediation, in part, to save on process fees. It can be tempting to view consulting attorneys as nonessential expenses, but doing so ignores the importance of the service they provide. Individual counsel offer clients security and confidence, limit the possibility of mistakes or misunderstandings and make for stronger, more durable agreements. Most clients find the value offered by consulting attorneys to be indispensable.