The Very Hungry Mediator
“…but he was still hungry.”
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (Philomel, 1986)
I am always hungry. If I am not eating then it is likely that I am thinking about food – unless I am mediating.
It has become a problem. Allow me to explain:
Back in the day when I was a hardcore litigator, before I metamorphosed into settlement counsel and a mediator, getting enough to eat was never problem. Court normally starts at around 10:00 a.m. — leaving plenty of time for a hearty breakfast. During a day at court, one could always count on the judge calling a mid-morning break, an ample lunch recess, followed by an afternoon break and then typically wrapping up the day by 5:00 p.m. This allowed for regular snacks and meals outside the courtroom while I finalized my submissions or just re-read the material for the day’s motion, trial or appeal. I would often pack food to take with me or I would eat at an on-site coffee shop or a nearby restaurant.
I even began to associate court in downtown Toronto with Chinese food. If I went to court, chances were good that — at some point during the day — I would be dining at one of the many restaurants that line Dundas Street West near University Avenue, around the corner from the various courthouses.
In the meantime, going on examinations for discovery only got better as the years passed from a food perspective. The various reporting facilities around Toronto each began to outdo the other in terms of putting out a big spread for customers. Given that lawyers call their own breaks during examinations, no one goes hungry. I still attend mediations as a lawyer and many mediations are held at the same reporting facilities. Since mediations have a significant amount of downtime when the mediator is occupied with the other side in a caucus, there is always time for lawyer and client to grab a nice lunch or snack down the hall.
At my firm’s offices, where we regularly host mediations, we do not offer a smorgasbord (since we do not charge extra for the use of our space), but there is always something on which to nosh and, if anyone wants something more substantial to eat, there is a restaurant in the lobby of our building.
In short, the availability of food is important as litigating is hard work, and clients get hungry too during what can be a long and stressful day.
However, when I am the mediator I can forget all about food and eating. The reason is that the mediator is always on. His is an intense, all-consuming role with no pre-set break times or meal traditions — or even a general acceptance that one is permitted to eat.
In any event, there is just no time. As a mediator, I am greeting and meeting lawyers and parties in the morning, often before the scheduled start time, and then the race begins. At the beginning of the mediation, if there is a joint session, I am busy discussing the process and ground rules, asking questions, listening intently to the answers and keeping the peace. I believe that I cannot perform these activities credibly or effectively while eating. In any event, I am not even thinking about food after the joint session and the caucusing begins. I spend hours engaging in shuttle diplomacy, darting from room to room, trying to keep the negotiations moving steadily toward a settlement and putting out the occasional ‘fire’. If I have a moment alone then I am probably spending it by updating my notes or strategizing.
I am lucky if I have a chance to answer the inevitable afternoon text from my wife asking what I have planned for dinner that evening (I am the cook of our household. This should come as no surprise).
Then there are those special times when the mediation turns into a marathon as it goes into extra hours. By this time, there is probably no food left on site (or it is stale) even if one has time to eat.
Now I am not suggesting that mediating is harder work than lawyering. It is just different. I am also not complaining, as I love mediating. When I am mediating, I am ‘in the zone’ –just not in the dietary sense. So I forget about food temporarily. My stomach might growl, but I do not notice. Yet when I reach the end of the day and the participants have left – hopefully, with a settlement in hand – I finally note that I am hungry. It is then time to grab a quick snack and finally head home to cook and eat.
I can work on an empty stomach – provided I am mediating. Yet, I have been reading about how bad it is for you (not eating regularly, that is. I am convinced that mediation is good for you). It throws off your metabolism and can lead to health problems. It is not too late for me given that I am not yet mediating full-time and I am now prepared to listen to my stomach. I also recognize that wolfing down a donut on the run between caucus rooms is not really ‘eating’. So if I am ever your mediator, please bear with me while I eat lunch and regular snacks along with you. I promise that I can listen just as well with a full mouth.
On a serious note:
While it is all fun and games to kid about feeling like you have no time to eat, there are many people who simply cannot afford to eat. Therefore, when I completed this post, I made a donation to the ‘Lawyers Feed the Hungry’ program. If you enjoyed reading this — or even if you did not –please consider doing the same by clicking here. Thanks.
Mitchell Rose is a Chartered Mediator, Lawyer and Settlement Counsel with Stancer, Gossin, Rose LLP in Toronto.