Mediator Ricardo Cata chaired a panel for The Florida Bar International Law Section at the recent Bar Convention in Boca Raton. The topic, "Escalation Clauses in Cross-Border Dispute Resolution: Why Your Client Wants Mediation," drew interest from the local media.
"Even in a legal market where clients are eager to avoid the heavy costs of litigation, broaching the option of mediation can be tricky for outside lawyers," wrote Monika Gonzalez Mesa of the Daily Business Review. "Some fear bringing it up will make them or their case appear weak. Others may wonder if a faster, less adversarial approach could mean a smaller recovery for their client — and fewer billable hours for their firm."
Panel members who have been involved in mediation as neutrals — or as officers of or advocates for global companies — said parties with a solid case "may have all the more reason (to) seek out a neutral mediator before spending a fortune in legal fees. An escalation clause that sets up mediation as a first step to addressing problems can save time and money, and also a client's business relationship, which is a long-term win for a lawyer's book of business."
Ms. Mesa quoted panel members Olivier Andre, vice president of International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution; Carlos Hernandez, chief legal officer of Texas engineering and construction firm Fluor Corporation; and Teresa Garcia-Reyes, senior litigation counsel for GE Oil & Gas. In-house counsel panelists also included Laura Stipanowich, senior counsel for Bechtel Oil, Gas and Chemicals. Other panelists were mediator Luis Martinez, vice president of the International Centre for Dispute Resolution. "Joan Stearns Johnsen, a University of Florida Levin College of Law legal skills professor and commercial arbitrator and mediator, moderated the panel."
Ricardo arranged for all of the speakers to appear. Some recounted episodes in which money would have been saved and relationships salvaged more effectively had there been an escalation clause in place. For example, Ms. Garcia-Reyes remembered when a customer with $1 million in unpaid invoices countersued. A lot of money was spent on legal fees, she said, but court-mandated mediation eventually spurred the companies to reach a new agreement. What if that court mandate had not been necessary?