Let’s face it. Business partners don’t always get along. Rather like marriage, figuring out how to get along for the good of the children, I mean the business, or figuring out how to split amicably have obvious advantage over the expense, distraction and uncertainty of duking it out in court. Being right and winning may sometimes be a worthy intention, but more often than not it leaves both partners battered and the business in shambles.
Sometimes partners wanted to do it right by each other but are just unfamiliar with the options that might be available. Sometimes the issues can be resolved by better communication. Sometimes the issues cannot be resolved and what is helpful is information and choices and to how to move in different directions. I cannot tell you how many 50-50 partners I’ve experienced who want to buy out their partner for a sum that they would themselves never accept if they were being bought out.
I will mediate such issues with partners, shareholders and LLC members who are motivated to get passed the dispute by resolution which may involve fixing the problem and staying partners or fixing the problem by ending the partnerships. In this role of mediator I do not act as either partner’s attorney or advocate, nor do I make a decision that either partner is bound by. A mediated resolution happens ONLY when both partners agree.
The mediation process would look something like this: After both partners choose to engage me to mediate the dispute we will have a pre-mediation meeting, either in person or by conference call, to better define the dispute, to determine what information and documents would support the process and then we would schedule a mediation that both parties would be present in person. Before the mediation I would be sent the documents and whatever letters each partner chooses to write me explaining their position in advance. I would review that material in advance.
The mediation itself would take place at my office and while typically we would be together in the same room, it is also possible to meet with partners separately and shuttle back and forth. Hopefully I would be able to bring my 40 years of experience of working with small businesses to shed light on the situation and offer options for resolution. To encourage candor, meditations by law are confidential, which means what is said by the parties as part of the mediation, can’t be used in court. Hopefully, during the mediation process we will reach a resolution, which I will put in writing and then the partners will sign.
My preference is to only mediate disputes between two or more owners of the same business who both believe that mediation may help resolve the problem and who have both chosen not to be represented by their own legal counsel in the mediation process. If one partner contacts me to inquire about mediation I will only allow that partner to give me the barest outline of the dispute and defer hearing a more detailed version until both partners are present and accounted for. It is not a good idea to call me to check out if I agree with your position before asking me to mediate. In that circumstance I will not form an opinion and If I had one I would not share it. Mediation works best when the mediator is respected by both parties as truly neutral and capable of bring some insight to the process.