One of the great advantages of mediation is that a case can be mediated at any time, from before a case is brought to court to any point in the process. The US Court of Appeals for the eleventh round even has a program to mediate cases that have been appealed.
While an appeal to federal court doesn't seem like the optimal time to mediate, the program's administrators tell me it was a surprising success. You can now get in touch with professional mediators who form a winning business negotiation strategy.
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In many cases, the timing of mediation reflects the tension between limiting litigation costs and having all the information on the table necessary to assess the case. However, this is not always the case.
Theoretically, the optimal time for mediation is as soon as both parties have sufficient information to assess their case and its probable outcome in a detailed and reasonable manner. This time varies from case to case, but does not necessarily require that the discovery be completed and all the latest information collected.
If informed mediation can be carried out earlier, the parties can be more flexible due to fewer "sunburn fees" and the arrangement avoids additional costs. In some cases, such as where confidentiality and speed are desired, the parties may consider exchanging information outside of the initial legally controlled investigation. In such circumstances, mediation can be used to establish a process of exchanging information and then resolving the case.