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Mark R. Vogel, CSSC
85 Campau Avenue
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
(800)968-3400 office
(616)450-8882 cell


Structure Strategies

Bridge Plan Helps Jim Learn to “Fish”

Often there’s not enough money in a settlement to take care of someone financially for the rest of his or her life. That was the case for Jim’s family after his wife Jenny died in a car accident when she was hit by a drunk driver with no insurance. Jim and Jenny only carried minimums for uninsured coverage, and to make matters worse, Jenny was the primary breadwinner.

So Jim worked with his attorney and our Ringler advisor to design a “bridge plan” that would help him cover immediate financial obligations and then allow him to go back to school for a certification as a low voltage electrician. The structure was designed with a higher level of income initially to help Jim supplement Social Security survivor benefits while he went back to school, then tapered off a bit once he was able to generate more income as an electrician.

Today Jim is doing well in a field that pays great wages and benefits. “I like to say my structure taught me to fish rather than just providing me with fish forever,” Jim said. “And I really appreciate that my Ringler advisor listened carefully to what I needed and designed a plan that really worked for me and my family in the short and long term.”

(Note: While "Structure Strategies" is based on actual case histories, the names and images of the people involved have been changed to protect their privacy.)

Preparation Key to Successful Mediations

Ron BankstonRon Bankston, attorney and nationally-recognized mediator, shares tips for a successful mediation.

Ron Bankston is a board-certified attorney with over 30 years of first-chair trial experience and 20 years of experience as a mediator. He has served as a mediator in almost every area of civil litigation, including personal injury, wrongful death, commercial litigation, real estate, employment, insurance, and more.

Here are four recommendations on how to prepare for a successful mediation, which Ron graciously shared with us during a recent episode of award-winning Ringler Radio:

1) Know your case inside and out.

Mediation is an opportunity for the people who care the most about the dispute to decide how a case is resolved, and it starts with knowing the details.

Ron: You need to know your case: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Everybody participating should formulate a clear view of the strengths and weaknesses of their position. And supply information to the other side. It’s really hard for people to change their minds or turn on a dime during mediation with new information they didn’t have before they got there.

2) Manage expectations for all parties.

All parties should come into mediation with realistic expectations and be willing to compromise and agree to terms that everyone can support.

Ron: Prepare your client for mediation by managing their expectations. People come to legal proceedings expecting to win. I don’t think we can talk people out of winning, but I think we can persuade them to change their definition of winning because, in mediation, a win is a good settlement. It’s a settlement that you can live with, and the other side is willing to say yes to. I’m very frank with folks at the beginning of a mediation, especially those new to the process, that I’m not looking for terms that everybody loves. The only way a deal gets made is if there are terms put on the table that both sides can accept.

3) Understand the role of the mediator.

Once people understand the distinct role of a mediator, it’s easier to move into a space where they are more willing to resolve the dispute.

Ron: I think it’s key to understand that the mediator has no legal authority to compel either party to agree to particular terms. It is the mediator’s responsibility to make each participant feel heard and understood. They have to feel like the justice or righteousness of their cause has been genuinely understood. Then they feel like, “it’s pretty clear the mediator understands me. It sounds like maybe even the other side understands me, whether they agree or not.”

4) Create an open and collaborative environment.

Viewing the mediation as a collaborative process where everyone gets a chance to speak can help the meeting stay on track toward settlement.

Ron: At the very beginning, it’s a meet and greet, and then I will say it’s a collaborative process. So I don’t like to start the beginning of a collaborative process by muzzling somebody if they’ve come prepared with a specific speech or presentation they want to make. You don’t want people to get into a place of defensiveness. Even though they didn’t come thinking they would do it, you want people coming with a spirit of collaboration. What could we give in to each other to solve this common problem we share?

Listen to the entire Ringler Radio interviewPreparing for Mediation” with mediator, arbitrator, special master, and attorney Ron Bankston.