In the mediation class I teach at a local law school, I will ask the class how many would offer a free initial consultation as a mediator and how many would charge. I am always surprised that the breakdown is almost 50/50 of those that would charge and those who would offer a free consultation. I see a free consultation as crucial. Let me first explain what the free consultation session includes. During this session, which typically can last from as little as 10 minutes to 30-45 minutes, I explain the process, give the clients information about my background, my philosophy about mediation and why I do it and give clients an opportunity to ask questions about any of the above.
What the initial free consultation is not is a free meeting to dispense legal advice. First, as a mediator I cannot and do not provide legal advice and secondly, this meeting is limited to discussion of process. I do not get into substance with clients at this meeting.
Sometimes clients are shopping for mediators. Maybe they have the names of 2-3 mediators and they are trying to decide. I think that is great. Clients should feel comfortable with their mediator. After all, they are going to be engaged in discussions that can be very personal and likely to involved private information about money, children, health, infidelity and more. If clients are shopping I appreciate when they tell me so straight out. Due diligence is important.
A free consultation also allows me to make sure that this process is appropriate for this couple. It may be that for various reasons, I think mediation is not a good fit. Maybe there has been or continues to be domestic violence. Maybe they are not really sure they want to divorce and what they really need first is counseling. In any event, the first session allows me to assess the clients before me as well.
Sometimes, clients come to the first meeting and after my explaining the process to them, they have no questions. Often, I find that maybe they have been referred to me by someone or multiple people and they are pretty sure they want to begin that day. In many of those cases, we may start right then and continue with a paid session. Normally, I would have clients sign a mediation agreement and I charge them for whatever time is spent from that point forward. The first substantive session is spent with my getting basic information from the clients and finding out what they have talked about and what information we still need to get.
If potential clients call and they are not sure about whether mediation is right for them or their spouse or partner is not sure, I encourage them to come in for the free initial meeting. That's what it is for. As a friend of mine once said, "Information is power!".
So, if you are considering mediation, please call me to set up a free initial consultation.