Whether as an employment lawyer, coach, facilitator or mediator, for Julian Roskill, what is always crucial is encouraging people to think long and hard about the issues at hand. That may sound obvious, but too often, when faced with a problem, people go with their first reactions when a period of considered reflection and consulting some supporting material would serve them better. (Readers of Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman will be familiar with this concept.) Such a simple philosophy has served him well in his career as an employment lawyer, in his current work as a coach and, together with another A&O alumnus, Charles Holloway, as a mediator.
A long friendship and long careers as lawyers advising clients in contentious situations persuaded Julian and Charles to pool their skills to create a mediation business. Consensum was set up towards the end of last year with other like-minded individuals. Both Julian and Charles believe that there is a need for such services, particularly for small and medium-sized companies.
Charles says: “Disputes will always happen in the world of business. They are expensive and time-consuming, which is bad enough for big business. But, for an SME, every pound really counts and hurts. That is where mediation can really make a difference; it is cheaper and quicker – or at least it should be. Mediation won’t help in every dispute, but our firm belief is that there is a big demand for mediation in these types of business disputes.”
Julian adds: “Mediation is still an underused tool for dispute resolution, but the interest is definitely there. However, my experience is that it is not always used as effectively as it could be. Too often people come to a mediation hearing without having prepared sufficiently. What I mean by this is that they have not nailed down what exactly it is they are arguing about, what really matters and why and what issues need to be resolved for good. That, in turn, requires them to explore in great depth what the problem is and often this prolongs the hearing.
“Our approach at Consensum is to speak to the parties before the mediation hearing starts and focus on these questions. By the hearing we are already two or three steps up the ladder. That makes the process more efficient and therefore cheaper still.”
Charles agrees. “By focusing on the core problems at issue, we put the mediator where he or she should be. You don’t waste time looking at pleadings. You can get to the heart of the issue and facilitate properly.”
Coming together again
Julian and Charles carved out different careers for themselves. Julian joined A&O in 1969 (as one of the very last articled clerks to complete a five-year training period), whilst Charles joined four years later, also as an articled clerk. They shared an office until the partner, Sir John Charles, split them up after complaining they made too much noise!
Each qualified into the Litigation department. Julian was encouraged to find a special area of interest and opted for employment law. “I chose employment because I am curious about people and what makes them tick.” Julian says. “Employment laws were few and far between compared to today and advice was largely about industrial disputes. Then came a new wave of legislation introduced by the Thatcher government.
“What I have always enjoyed about employment law is not just about finding solutions, but understanding what caused the disagreement in the first place, so that future ones can be avoided.”
Charles left A&O in 1978, in order to work for a firm in East Anglia, which eventually became part of Eversheds. He advised on insurance claims arising out of personal injury cases, on construction litigation and professional negligence. Career highlights include acting for a major Spanish Bank, which resulted in a secondment to Madrid, and his involvement in the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, the official inquiry into the events of January 1972 in Northern Ireland. Charles says: “The inquiry was one of the longest running in legal history and involved engaging with a huge range of people from very different backgrounds and political persuasions. Listening and being sensitive to the issues played an enormous part in the successful outcome of the inquiry. These skills translate well into the mediation arena.”
Julian left A&O in 1985 and developed a successful employment practice at Rowe & Maw (now part of Mayer Brown). After deciding to step down as a partner in 2008, he was a consultant at Russell Jones & Walker (now part of Slater Gordon) advising senior management.
Both Julian and Charles acknowledge a strong debt to Allen & Overy for laying a platform for their subsequent careers. “A&O taught us both about taking responsibility and thinking on our feet,” notes Charles. “We were often thrown in at the deep end, whether being told to go to a trial on our own early on in a new trainee seat or being sent to Yugoslavia with no real instructions.
“However, it was also to some extent deliberate, trusting everyone – no matter how junior – to rise to the challenge. It was an enlightened approach. What it did was help shape our future approach as advisers.”
Both Charles and Julian gravitated towards mediation and each qualified as a mediator several years ago. Julian also became a business coach and now runs his own business. Charles advises businesses, law firms and general counsel on litigation support, strategy and areas such as electronic disclosure following his time as a director of a UK-based litigation support provider.
There are links between coaching and mediation, as Julian explains. “What I am really doing is facilitating. What attracts me is that there is a big overlap between being a mediator and being a coach. The skills are similar: facilitating in a mediation is about talking out loud and getting the parties to think. That is a skill that coaches use. When you are a coach, you are not telling people what to do, you are posing questions so that they can think out loud.”
He continues: “A key part of the role of the mediator is representing, as an independent person, the thinking of one party and persuading the other party to think about responding effectively. As advisers, Charles and I have sat where they are sitting, so we are familiar with the thought processes that are involved.
“There are advisers who are not as good listeners as they would like to think. (Taking notes and preparing the next question are high on their to-do list, and it is hard to build a consensus when focusing on points of disagreement!) So advisers risk not hearing what their clients are really saying and considering the other side’s point of view. If they did this more, they would get a better perspective.”
Julian and Charles both acknowledge that neither coaching nor mediation are new concepts. But they both believe that their approach to resolving disputes is distinctive. Charles says, “Our prime motivation is to put our skills and our experience to good use to help others – and have some fun at the same time!”
For further information, contact Julian and Charles or see www.consensum.org.