Most of my mediation sessions take place in the office of one of the attorneys involved in the case. When I am dealing with a commercial, construction or personal injury case, this seems to work very well. By the time the parties have reached mediation, often they have been deposed in that same law office or another one. While not entirely comfortable, they are at least not fearful of being there.
One area where this does not often work so well is in family matters. In those cases, I often find that the party who is “visiting” opposing counsel’s office is very uncomfortable, and they often feel there is some huge advantage to the side in whose counsel’s office we are mediating. My own opinion is that in family matters the participants often have a very dim view of opposing counsel, and that view is on a personal level.
Particularly in family matters, it is important to discuss comfort and safety issues with each party separately at the outset of the mediation before attempting a joint session to make sure no person is being forced into s situation they find threatening or one that imposes a serious power imbalance on them.
Safety is not to be ignored. I once had a mediation where no one gave me a “heads up” that one of the parties had assaulted the other and was in fact in jail due to that assault. My first knowledge of that fact came when the sheriff’s deputies walked into my office with the person handcuffed and wearing an orange jump suit! Why no one told me is a mystery to this day. Needless to say, there were no joint sessions during that mediation.
Luckily, “neutral” locations are out there. I often use the facilities at the Maine State Bar Association to hold a mediation. Our courts sometimes have space, particularly the newer court houses. And, sometimes an attorney not connected with the case will offer conference room space, or public space is available at a library.
While most mediators could conduct a mediation anywhere, the mediator has to be aware that as in the real estate world, it may be a matter of location, location, location.