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Book Review Series


View From the Middle of the Road: A Mediator's Perspective on Life, Conflict, and Human Interaction 

by Jan Schau


Reviewed by Hon. Jacqueline Connor (Ret.)


Jan Schau, brings blue ribbon credentials to the mediation arena with her new book, “VIEW FROM THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD: A Mediator’s Perspective on Life, Conflict and Human Interaction.” She writes from the perspective of 20 years as a litigator, ten years as a mediator, and accolades as a California Super Lawyer for each of the last four years. More importantly, she writes about practical, real world stories and resolutions for consideration in the often murky and always unscripted world of dispute resolution. She brings her humanity, her experience, her professionalism and her compassion through stories of real life disputes, pain and human drama.

Ms. Schau starts her book with a description of a journey she traveled after 9/11, choosing to give up her life as a “hard-driven litigator” to pursue peacemaking. The shift was an emotional one, leading to a successful transition in this second, successful career. She reflects on the need to achieve the perfect pitch required to reach the tenuous goal of justice, while handling the obstacles of conflicting truths, competing agendas, hidden interests and histories of chronic brokenness.

The book is structured in four sections, dealing with preparation, surprises arising in the midst of the process, strategies for resolution and finally achieving results. Each section is illustrated with three mediation stories, in which the parties are introduced to the reader and the underlying issues are fleshed out.  The mode of conflict and the approach in mediation is presented with a reflection on the final result. Each of the three sections is followed by a very practical set of “Notes” providing very specific lessons and tips on approaches to disputes and the search for resolution. The Master Appendix at the end collects these observations, lessons and tips for easy review and consideration.

The choices of scenarios presented are well thought out and traverse a wide range of experiences, issues and characters. The descriptions of the disputes invite the reader to jump to conflicts that speak to the reader’s interests. The titles provoke curiosity. Romeo’s Ristorante and the Disgruntled Waitress, Family Secrets and the Rights to Papa’s House, the Single Mom Who Missed Her School Family, the Music Attorney Who Could Not Sing a Note, Who Are You Calling Old?, Recovering Bad Investments in a Bad Economy…the appealing titles suggest both character driven issues and very human dysfunctions, both personal and professional.

The legal range of issues covers personal injury, construction defect, real estate and several employment cases. Ms. Schau has also selected her scenarios to develope examples of language miscommunications, family dynamics, emotional time bombs, egos and attitudes, mental health dynamics, along with the range of interactions, not always ideal, between client and attorney, client against client, and attorney against attorney.

Not surprisingly, she starts each “story” with a description of the underlying dispute, then introduces the reader to the lawyers, the parties and the backgrounds. It is clear that she has spent significant time figuring out the personalities and motivations (most interestingly of the lawyers as well), and identifies disconnects, even between client and counsel, which bubble up to make resolution appear unreachable.

As in life, not all of the mediations she presents have happy endings. Even those with resolutions do not always represent happy endings, but in each case, regardless of the ultimate result (or lack thereof), there is progress, and a better understanding of the underlying concerns and problems. In at least one scenario, the final result was not, unfortunately, revealed.

For those contemplating getting into the business of mediation, or those considering mediation either as a client or as counsel, this array of twelve stories provides a realistic and broad base of problems that mediations address on a daily basis.

They include “lawyer problems” such as over-aggressive attorneys, attorneys who have failed to understand the real needs of their clients, attorneys who have grossly oversold or undersold the value of the case, attorneys who have wrongly viewed the request for mediation by the opposing side as a message of weakness, as well as attorneys who are simply unprepared and unengaged. These are balanced by models of preparedness, organization, compassion and calm.

Her selections, naturally, also include “client problems.” For example, her scenarios provide examples of clients who are unprepared for mediation, who have hyper exaggerated and unrealistic expectations of possible solutions through the legal structure of mediations, clients who settle for less than they could, or who have failed to let their attorneys know important information. These are also balanced by clients who are well prepared, realistic and present.

Ms. Schau debriefs after each mediation, reflecting on the process, the right and wrong turns, and very openly discusses what she sees as her own failings and alternative approaches that she believes could have produced a better result.

What is clear from the lessons provided is the value of mediators not giving up.  Mediator’s proposals followed by modified mediator’s proposals followed by renewed negotiations, are an example. Another is the persistence of telephone follow-ups and the value of breathing space. Her tips cover practical suggestions to ensure that settlements remain enforceable if necessary. They contrast the benefits and dangers of joint sessions and timing, illustrate the damage caused by over-aggressive demands, and demonstrate techniques to break through impasses.

This is truly a practical compendium on the power and potential pitfalls awaiting the unwary. Perhaps one of the most powerful lessons she teaches is the most simple: The best mediations occur when the lawyers have done their job of preparing themselves, preparing opposing counsel, preparing their client and preparing the mediator.

Now I need to find that lawyer!

Hon. Jacqueline Connor (retired, Los Angeles Superior Court) is currently mediating with ADR Services,

**WLALA Member Jan Frankel Schau's book, "View from the Middle of the Road: A Mediator's Perspective on Life, Conflict and Human Interaction," is available on Amazon or at Jan also actively blogs on settlement strategies and mediator's tools.  To see one of her recent blog entries, discussing the recent heroism  of Antoinette Tuffs, school bookkeeper, who used mediation skills to stop a school shooting in Decator, Georgia, follow this link**


*If you would like to contribute to this series, please contact the WLALA Communications Officer, Heather Stern at