The past several weeks have flown by with a busy schedule of mediations (and I start a week-long arbitration hearing tomorrow). I love what I do and feel blessed to be able to do this work. I find inspiration and learn something from each case, and the amazing people I meet every day.
Recently I had several multi-plaintiff employment cases set for mediation. They varied from whistle blowing to wage & hour, disability discrimination, etc.). Not all multi-plaintiff cases need to be or qualify as class actions. While they will include extra management challenges, they are still very resolvable.
The needs, interests and concerns of the parties are usually many and varied. In every one of these recent cases, the plaintiffs, while united by their lawsuit, had their own separate and unique reason for being in the lawsuit. They all needed to be heard, and treated as an individual, not just part of the group. The defendant companies were family-built and run, whose principals took the allegations personally. They too, needed a forum to be heard, and for their concerns to be taken seriously. Probably most important was that in each of these, the lawyers for both sides allowed full direct access to their clients without trying to "speak for" their clients. Once we cut through the "legal" stuff, factual disputes and damages, we had real "human" dialogue, and were able to focus on resolving specific issues. All the cases went late, (1 past midnight), but got resolved.
The take-aways from these cases are that multi-plaintiff (or multi-party) cases are similar to single party cases in that everyone still needs to be heard, there are just more people. Everyone needs to have patience with the process, as it does take extra time to help people achieve what they came for- airing of their feelings and needs, being listened to, and resolutions that take all of those needs and interests into consideration. Lawyers should be prepared to decide if they want numbers presented as one lump sum, or individually to each party. (e.g. how much does confidentiality among the plaintiffs matter? Are there disparate damages or claim valuations? Might there be jealousy among the parties? etc). Be prepared to stay late if necessary. Lawyers should also meet in advance with their clients to determine any intangible needs or special interests. Those should be shared with the mediator in advance. Multi-party cases are very resolvable, especially with a little preparation and lots of patience.