Gill Mansfield is an international commercial mediator and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.
1. Why have you decided to specialise in mediation? What attracted you to this area of law?
I trained and practised as a barrister before moving in-house so litigation has always been part of my professional DNA. Whilst in-house I managed cross-border commercial and IP disputes and litigation in courts throughout the world. I had my first brush with mediation in a Head of Legal role when I represented a company in the mediation of a commercial dispute in the USA.
The process was court ordered and led by a judge, so it was very different from the mediation process that most commercial mediators in the UK would think of as best practice. There was no joint session. The two sets of parties never met and were never invited to meet at any point during the day. However, it did result in a settlement and was enough to pique my interest in mediation.
A friend later recommended a commercial mediator training to me as she thought it would be a great fit with my skillset. She was right. I signed up and the rest, as they say, is history. I was completely convinced of the value of the work and the real benefits of the mediation process for people facing disputes from day one.
2. How does your mediation practice differ from your in-house counsel experience?
There are actually a lot of similarities between the skills needed to be an effective General Counsel and those required to be an effective mediator. Both require excellent negotiation skills, tact and diplomacy, the ability to quickly get to grips with complex legal and commercial issues, the list goes on... Most importantly, both require high levels of EQ (or emotional intelligence) to read people, accurately assess situations and to build trust.
Plus, having sat on the other side of the table, I know what it’s like to be a party in a mediation. I understand the concerns and needs of clients going into a mediation. As a mediator that’s gold dust.
3. What do you consider as the biggest challenge for ADR (or mediation in particular) in the future?
Outside the legal and dispute resolution world there is still a lack of understanding about what mediation is and how it works.
The fact the mediators are bound by confidentiality can make it difficult to communicate why the process is so successful. We talk about the fact that the process is quicker and more cost effective than litigation, the benefits of having a broader range of potential solutions available and the ability to preserve and rebuild relationships but, without concrete examples, these undoubted benefits can often feel a little abstract.
In a culture where storytelling and case studies have become the norm to effectively communicate the benefits of a service, mediation is slightly hamstrung by one of its key principles.
So “sign-posting” within the legal system and the provision of more information to litigants is vital. There will always be a place for litigation, and we should not lose sight of the importance of access to justice, but it is important that litigants understand their options.
I welcome the recommendations in the CJC ADR Working Group’s final report published in November, although it does (in parts) feel like a missed opportunity and it remains to be seen if and how the recommendations will be implemented.
4. Are there any developments in the field of ADR in which you are particularly interested?
The development of online dispute resolution is definitely one to watch. Artificial intelligence and the technology in this area are rapidly developing. Earlier this year an online AI-based system reportedly settled a money claim for the first time. This has potentially far reaching implications for lower value claims although algorithmic bias remains a serious and largely unaddressed issue.
5. What is it like to work in a predominantly male profession such as ADR?
There is no denying that ADR is still very much a male dominated profession and that the lack of diversity, although slowly improving, is still an issue. I sat in the audience of an arbitration event last year where a well-known arbitrator proclaimed that he was optimistic as “this year’s” intake of students included many promising women. He seemed depressingly oblivious to the implication. Of course the issue of diversity is not just about gender diversity – diversity in terms of race, age and social background are all concerns. The leading ADR providers are engaged in initiatives to open up the ADR professions whilst (rightly in my view) honouring the fundamental principle that parties should be free to choose their mediator or arbitrator. It will take time but the profession is welcoming change.
6. What is the best thing about being a member of CIArb?
As a worldwide organisation with a broad membership the CIArb provides wonderful opportunities to meet and network with other ADR professionals and to contribute to the debate on the use and development of ADR. There is a vibrant young members section and there are opportunities to get involved whatever stage you are at in your career. As with so many things in life the more you put in the more you get out. My advice to anyone with an interest in dispute resolution is get involved.
7. If you could experience first-hand one historical event what would it be and why?
My first degree is in English Literature and I chose to study at Warwick University because it was close to Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare and the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Theatre is still a passion of mine. If I could go back in time, I would love to see the original staging of Hamlet at The Globe theatre (although having been to the modern Globe I’d definitely want to take a cushion with me).