Christopher P. Kriesen is a mediator and arbitrator in Hartford, Connecticut, where The Kalon Law Firm is based. He attended the Advanced Mediation Workshop at Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation. He has a J.D. from the University of Connecticut School of Law.
Lawyer Minds: How would you define “story?”
Christopher P. Kriesen: A story is a process in which a person, who has a desire and faces an obstacle to that desire, reaches a crisis where she has to make a difficult decision, and realizes an outcome. If you don’t have those elements, you might have a slice of life, an anecdote, or a description, but you don’t have a story. Implicit in every story is a meaning which is the source of the conflict.
Lawyer Minds: How important is creativity when working on a complex case?
Christopher P. Kriesen: Creativity is very important for a mediator. When lawyers bring their case to a mediator, they usually do so because they have reached an impasse, likely because they are unable to think of solutions (they are wearing the blinders of advocacy). A mediator can look at the case from outside the advocacy and see solutions. That’s where creativity comes in.
Lawyer Minds: Do you believe storytelling in mediation is a game-changer?
Christopher P. Kriesen: Yes, I do. Negotiation is based on people taking positions, but since Fisher and Ury’s Getting to Yes in 1981, mediators have learned to shift negotiators from positions to interests to resolve disputes. Interest-based negotiation was a game-changer because it helped people see what their true interests were and allowed them to move from their positions to new positions to realize their true interests. This resolves the impasses.
But what if people’s interests are in conflict and they are at an impasse?
That is where storytelling is a game-changer.
I think we create meaning through the stories we tell. From these meanings, we create our interests, and from there, we take positions in our negotiations. This idea is not new to me – John Winslade and Gerald Monk discussed it in Narrative Mediation in 2000 (and the idea was used before them in narrative therapy – a therapist helps a patient tell a new, healthier story about herself). To help resolve a conflict, the parties need to understand the backstories they are telling and see how they are creating interests and positions that put them in conflict.
Lawyer Minds: How do you decide to take a case or not?
Christopher P. Kriesen: Generally, I consider the intent of the parties – are they willing to embrace in good faith the mediation process.
Lawyer Minds: As a mediator, how do you use storytelling on behalf of your clients?
Christopher P. Kriesen: When I mediate a case, I use storytelling first by listening to the lawyers and their clients to understand the backstories they have been telling themselves. In those stories, I will begin to hear the meanings they have created, which have brought them to an impasse.
Sometimes the story is very simple, such as, “I want the other side to understand what I’ve been through, but they are not listening to me. They are not being fair.” The meaning here is about “not being understood” and “lack of fairness.” I can help change that narrative by letting each side talk, listen, and explain their thinking about the case. This will create a new meaning, new positions, and hopefully a resolution.
Sometimes the story is more complex, such as in long-term relationships – each side has beliefs about the other side’s intention and the dynamic of the relationship. Those stories require helping each side to understand the other, guiding them to building a new narrative, and with this new meaning, finding new interests, taking new positions, and reaching a sustainable agreement.
Lawyer Minds: What is the number one thing you feel needs to be changed about the legal system in the U.S.?
Christopher P. Kriesen: We need less advocacy and more mediation. Our system in the U.S.A. is built on advocacy. I think advocacy encourages conflict, not solutions. Conflict is expensive and is not a good process to find the best solution to a problem. Advocacy seeks the best solution for your client, which is often the worst solution for your opponent. Mediation is just the opposite: less expensive, less stressful, and designed to find better solutions. I’m not against advocacy (I litigate at the trial and appellate levels myself), but I think we should reduce its role.
Lawyer Minds: How do you determine your prices, rates, and fees?
Christopher P. Kriesen: I usually do a blended system of a flat fee with an hourly rate after a certain number of hours have been spent on the case that results in a fair fee for my time.
Lawyer Minds: What’s one thing you want for the readers to know about you that we didn’t ask?
Christopher P. Kriesen: I founded Kalon to bring to life better ways of practicing law, which includes mediation, mentorship, pro bono work, and workshops.
Thank you, Christopher, for sharing your insights and knowledge with the Lawyer Minds readers!
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