Mediation is meant to be a way of solving a legal dispute in an economical and timely fashion. However, a successful, timely, and economical mediation doesn’t just happen. It requires careful planning and preparation. The more prepared you are, the more likely you are to walk away satisfied with the results.

Step #1 – Understand Your Case

Prior to engaging in mediation, you must have a concrete understanding of your case. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be, or have, an attorney. But it’s critical that you know the facts of your case, the applicable laws, and the issues that are in dispute.

In other words, if you can’t provide a summary of the dispute to your mediator, then it’s going to take a lot longer to identify the key issues and provide solutions that will work for everyone.

If you don’t entirely understand the legal issues in your case, you should consider consulting with an attorney who can help you.

Step #2 – Organize Copies of Key Documents

When you first meet with the mediator, he or she will need to review the key documents related to your case or dispute. This might include a copy of the complaint and response, as well as other legal pleadings. It can also include pieces of evidence, such as contracts, copies of emails and text messages, insurance policies, letters, memos, employee handbooks, and more.

Whatever the case may be, you should have copies of all key documents (both digital and paper versions) and store them in an organized fashion for easy reference and review.

Step #3 – Familiarize Yourself with the Mediation Process

If this is your first experience with mediation, it will be especially important to prepare by familiarizing yourself with the process. You should have an opportunity to meet with the mediator privately prior to any joint mediation sessions. Here, the mediator should go over his or her rules, guidelines, and standard procedures. This is your opportunity to ask questions and make sure you understand exactly what the process looks like and what’s expected of you.

If there’s something you don’t understand, or you’re not sure about a specific rule or procedure, ask or look it up prior to the opening session. If you walk into mediation confused or hesitant, you may miss out on a key opportunity to find a fair resolution.

Step #4 – Prepare for the Opening Session

The opening session was discussed earlier in the series, but it’s arguably the most important phase because it sets the tone for the rest of the mediation.

Very simply, prepare what you’re going to say. Preparing an articulate, well-organized statement of your position will serve you well through the entire rest of the process. Carefully consider your arguments and key issues and write them down. Read your statement aloud and make edits until you’re confident that it makes sense and stays on point. Practice what you’re going to say. Jot down notes, if you feel like you’ll need reminders. This is your chance to start off on the right foot. Don’t squander it by being unprepared.

Step #5 – Differentiate Between ‘Wants’ and ‘Needs’.

It may help to sit down and make a list of everything you’re hoping to negotiate for. Then do an honest assessment of which items you ‘need’ in order to feel like the resolution is fair, and which items you ‘want’ but aren’t necessarily critical. Knowing the difference between the two will come in handy when you must make an important decision (or two) during negotiations.

Step #6 – Get Your Mind Right

Last, but not least, get yourself in the mediation mindset. This means approaching the process with all your prepared documents and arguments and lists, but also with an open mind and patience. No matter how prepared you may be, if you’re not willing to compromise in the moment, hear the other party out, and respect the mediator’s professional suggestions, all your planning may be for naught.