Interview of Mediator Leigh Ann Roberts
A Resource for Nonprofits and Communities in Conflict
Content courtesy of Inga Fricke, Manager of the Loudoun County Animal Shelter
When I first learned of this interview requirement, I contacted my County's mental health services department, who referred me to the legal services department, who advised me that the County does not utilize any type of formal mediation services (much to my dismay!). Having never had occasion to utilize mediation services myself, and having run out of leads, I turned to the internet to look for mediators experienced in working with non-profit organizations. My search quickly turned up a woman named Leigh Ann Roberts, the co-founder of Forward Focus PLLC (now called Papa & Roberts PLLC), a mediation, legal, and consulting services firm based out of Brentwood, Tennessee.
I was drawn to Ms. Roberts' website because she describes herself as an "attorney-mediator & nonprofit consultant" with a "service-oriented approach to helping her clients." She is a practicing attorney who specializes in providing legal and conflict resolution services for various types of clients, including all types of non-profit organizations. I had the pleasure of interviewing her on Monday, February 2nd, 2009, over the telephone. Our interview is summarized below:
1.What is your background/education, and how did you get your start in mediation?
Ms. Roberts took one class in alternative dispute resolution during her final year of law school in 1998 and knew that she had found her niche. She developed and improved her skills by studying under the tutelage of Robert Benjamin, M.S.W., J.D., a leading authority in the field of negotiation, mediation and conflict management, and co-founded her own mediation services firm soon thereafter.
2.What types of conflicts do you mediate?
While her partner focuses largely on family disputes, Ms. Roberts devotes her time to mediating civil and business matters. The parties are typically referred to her by other attorneys who believe that the intervention of a neutral third party will help their client achieve a satisfactory resolution to their conflict.
3.What type of approach do you generally use in mediating a dispute?
Ms. Roberts is a fan of the "facilitative" approach to mediation, in which the parties come to their own resolution to the conflict, which she believes creates a more durable and lasting resolution to conflict. However, because conflicts are multilayered, she stresses that a good mediator will always have a variety of techniques at his/her disposal, and can be directive (guiding the parties to a conclusion), evaluative (helping the parties to more realistically view their positions), or transformational (helping each side recognize the needs of the other) as the situation warrants.
4. How do you see your role in terms of administering the mediation process (e.g. handling logistics, etc.)?
Ms. Roberts views the "prep work" involved before the actual meeting between the parties as an opportunity for her to gather information that adds value to the process. She also uses it as an opportunity to educate the parties about her, and the mediation process itself, and about what they can expect from her efforts. She typically arranges to have the parties come to her office, since it is a neutral location for all sides.
5. What do you find is your biggest challenge as a mediator?
Ms. Roberts reports that marketing her services is her greatest challenge. While interest in mediation services is rising, largely due to peoples' desire for a process that fits their on-going relationships better than litigation, it is still a process that is not well known or understood. She spends much of her time giving presentations to local community groups, businesses and other organizations, about the mediation process and the benefits it can provide.
6. What advice would you have for people to avoid conflict and the need for mediation services?
Think ahead! Ms. Roberts sees many conflicts that could have been avoided had the parties thought through their relationship at the start, and considered and discussed all of the potential contingencies and difficulties they might encounter through the course of their relationship.
I found my conversation with Ms. Robert to be very enlightening. She is clearly someone who takes great pride in her profession, and who has gone to great lengths to hone her expertise in the field. Demand for mediation services is growing, and I share her hope that more people will recognize it as a valuable, cost-effective, and relationship-preserving alternative to litigation. While I hope that the need for mediation services will not arise during the course of my own career, I would certainly consider it in the event of disputes with contractors, vendors, and other potential litigants.