Trial Lawyers and Mediators Host First Litigator Mediator Forum

It was my honor to co-emcee the first Litigator Mediator Forum on April 1, 2021. Nearly 60 judges, litigators and mediators came together via Zoom to discuss new and innovative ideas for making mediations more efficient and productive. The partnership created between the Trial and Mediation Sections of the Hillsborough County Bar Association, (HCBA), was even more important this year due to the backlog of over 1.5 million cases caused by the pandemic which is currently challenging Florida courts.

The Forum was led by a panel of three trial lawyers and three mediators. The trial lawyers, who were chosen for their experience and diverse practices included Tom Scarritt, Cory Person and Trial and Litigation Section Chair, Chad Moore. The three mediators, who also brought a wealth of experience, included: Judge Martha Cook, (who trained under Professor Roger Fisher at Harvard, the author of “Getting to Yes”), Dale Sisco and myself as Chair of the Litigation and Mediation Section.

Several controversial issues were debated, often with mediators and trial lawyers voicing different sides of the issue. This ultimately promoted better understanding of each side’s position. For instance, the efficacy of opening statements was debated and nearly all of the participants polled were in favor of preserving opening statements. 49% of respondents, however, favored openings where the parties focused on joint problem solving over traditional opening statements where each side argued their position. In order to reduce the historic backlog of cases, the majority of poll respondents favored courts implementing new, mandatory alternative dispute resolution proceedings including 62% which favored mandatory mediation at the start of litigation. The audience was also polled on whether mediators should “press” parties towards settlement by giving opinions about the strength and weaknesses of each party’s case and asking questions to expose weaknesses in each side’s position.  97% of respondents favored mediators employing such measures.

The panel took the comments from the Forum, along with suggestions from over 190 respondents to a survey circulated earlier in the year, and utilized this cumulative knowledge to begin drafting the first “Florida Mediation Best Practices Handbook.” The HCBA hopes to release the Handbook this summer to help litigants, mediators and lawyers throughout the State of Florida resolve their claims more quickly and help Florida judges with the formidable case backlog they are facing. The Handbook will be continuously updated to reflect current mediation best practices as they are developed. You can always email me your ideas for improving mediation for this, or a future handbook, by messaging me through my website at

Harold Oehler

Harold Oehler is a full-time, state and federal court mediator with over 30 years of experience representing clients in employment, personal injury, product liability, insurance and commercial litigation claims.    He is the Chair of the Mediation and Arbitration Section of the Hillsborough County Bar Association. He serves on the Executive Council of the Florida Bar's Alternative Dispute Resolution Section.   Harold is a former trial lawyer and general counsel of a national public company where he oversaw all litigation, attended all mediations and negotiated the company’s agreements, nation-wide. For more information, visit

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