Q1: How did you first begin your journey in mediation?
When I did my Bachelor’s degree at the London School of Economics, I didn’t really hear any talk of mediation at all. However, when I did my Master’s degree at the NUS, it was different. Everyone I spoke to seemed to know about mediation in some form.
Based on the recommendation of other students, I decided to take the mediation and negotiation courses with Joel Lee and Marcus Lim. Once I started the class I realized just how much I enjoyed it - trying to collaborate, trying to negotiate, trying to come to a settlement. The approach was very different from the litigious mindset I was taught in law school.
After completing my master’s degree, I went on to take the mediation certification course at SMC. I found value in participating in the SMC courses because I think they imbue valuable interpersonal skills which can be used in everyday life, not just tools to be used in legal practice.
The mediation courses helped me think about how I interact and speak not only with my clients, but others in my life as well. I’ve been an advocate, and an advocate of mediation, since.
Q2: What are some of the challenges you have overcome so far in your mediation career?
I’ve been an advocate for about 2 years now. Based on my limited experience, I see buy-in as a major challenge at this point in time. I'm not sure if all practitioners in Singapore necessarily buy into the value of mediation. I think most of the time people see it as a cost-effective way of settling disputes, but I think there are other parts of mediation that are not focused on as much.
I see mediation as being about preserving and repairing relationships or underlying emotions, which are less tangible elements.
I mostly engage with mediation as an advocate in the mediation process, primarily in the family law context where children are involved.
In most cases, parties are able to reach a settlement, but in cases which don’t get settled at mediation, it's often because the other party is represented, and the other solicitor doesn't seem to buy into the mediation process. I’ve had cases where parties have had to attend 4 or 5 mediation sessions, but the other solicitor remains positional throughout and the entire process just gets dismantled. In such cases, the children are the ones that suffer at the end of the day.
Q3: How do you see gender as playing a role in the mediation process?
I’ve found that female mediators are more likely to address emotions, which has its good and bad sides. Sometimes this makes it difficult to stay on task, but on the other hand it allows the parties to feel vindicated and thereby moves the process along.
For parties, I don't think there is necessarily a difference. I think both men and women can be equally emotional or positional. I think differences have more to do with personality than with gender.
Q4: Who are some of the people you look up to in the field of mediation?
I’ve only just started my mediation journey, and Joel and Marcus are the two people I look up to most in this field. They have been great mentors and teachers — they know how to teach mediation to someone who has been completely removed from it.
You do not need to know anything about mediation at all before they introduce you to it. They also are very cognizant of people's different strengths and weaknesses. They have helped me recognize how to play to my strengths and how to make the best of my weaknesses.
Q5: Do you have any advice for someone interested in getting involved in mediation?
Don’t just read about mediation – actually take a practical course on it because I think there is so much more to gain. I think what I truly gained from doing the practical courses are negotiation skills, which I think are very important life skills. I have learnt things like how to reframe, how to recognize and address emotions and how to identify underlying interests.
Even for non-lawyers, mediation skills are useful in any aspect of life. It can be helpful with a girlfriend, parent, boss, or business partner. As long as you have a relationship with another person, you are bound to need these skills.
Q6: What are your hopes for the mediation movement going forward?
In Singapore, especially in the family law field, I really hope there is a lot more buy-in from younger lawyers. I sometimes get the feeling that the older generation of lawyers are committed to mediation, but for the younger ones there still is some hesitation.
Especially in family cases when children are involved, being opposed to mediation is not good because it hurts the possibility of maintaining what can certainly be a long-term parental relationship.
Q7: How do you think we could help lawyers buy-in?
For those wanting to become lawyers, I think attending the mediation course at your respective law schools will be very helpful. At NUS, the mediation course feels very exclusive at the moment because the class size is very small. This is partly because of the lack of resources available, which I understand is a difficult problem to address. If it could be extended to more people, it would help increase exposure and produce lawyers who are already equipped with these skills by the time they start the practice.
As for lawyers already in practice, I think a lot of the push has to come partly from the courts and partly from the members of the fraternity. I think there is already a push, but, I suppose it will take time for this to translate into buy-in from more lawyers.
(Published 19 March 2018 by the Singapore International Mediation Institute)