Many people outside the legal world are unfamiliar with what mediation is and what it entails. It is substantially different from traditional litigation (ie going to court) and has an inherently different set of rules and procedures. The main difference is that mediation is driven by the parties in a dispute. This means that, unlike court proceedings that take place according to the schedule of a judge and the courts, medication can be done at a time that is most convenient to all parties. This means that the parties can even mediate before a case is filed. Because mediation is driven by the parties, the process can change to fit the needs of the parties.
Another difference is that in court proceedings a third party, such as a judge or jury, decides the outcome of your case. Mediation does use a third party (a mediator), however, that person does not decide what the outcome will be; rather the parties do. The mediator is there to provide neutral and objective guidance to the parties to help them agree upon a settlement, not to decide the case and what they parties will do.
Mediation is much less formal than court proceedings. Unlike court where attorneys are present and do the majority of the talking, in mediation the parties are negotiating. While assistants can be present, it is not necessary, meaning that mediation can happen with the parties alone with the mediator. Because of its informal nature, mediation can take place at a time that works best for the parties involved.
Unlike court proceedings, mediation is usually less involved. When a dispute goes to trial, there is often an extensive discovery phase, meaning compiling documents and evidence, and taking depositions. With mediation, the parties decide what documents are necessary to exchange so both parties are able to make informed decisions. Mediation is not necessarily a one-time event. The parties can participate in as many sessions as necessary to exchange documents, obtain appraisals, talk to other people or their attorneys, etc. Because of the decreased amount of time spent on discovery, mediation can resolve a dispute in a much faster time frame than litigation. This could result in a real cost savings to the parties.
Mediation is conducted confidently. With a Court proceeding, the "dirty laundry" is out in the open for others to see which can cause either party to feel ashamed, angry or defensive. Mediation focuses on the present and future, not upon past actions.