I've been corresponding recently with Eric Galton a very successful mediator in Austin, Texas, who carries on his practice at the Lakeside Mediation Center. I first learned about this wonderful location through an article in the Texas Bar Review and was enthused to hear from Eric about his personal experiences mediating for many years in such a beautiful setting.
I have said in previous posts that it is a shame that the ADR scholarship hasn't given much serious consideration to the physical setting as an area for academic exploration so it is always refreshing to see that many mediators do understand that it is an important part of the mediation environment.
Here is what Eric told me about how the center was founded:
"We all began our careers as mediators inside the bowels of large law firms. Most of my mediations were conducted on the 24th floor of an office building in downtown Austin. My partners cynically referred to my mediations as seances. Why would a lawyer give up a real practice to mediate? This was common thought in the 80's and 90's.
But we did give it up. We were changing. Mediation was transforming us as much as it was the parties. It was time to leave the mother ship and start a business that did purely mediation and dispute resolution. We didn't need the conflicts, the overhead, or the cynicism. We were different. Where should we go?
The concept of environment and mediation had been beyond us. We had grown up professionally in tall buildings and we hadn't given any thought to the impact this may have had on the parties. So naturally we looked at familiar settings for our new home. We looked at many office buildings, but they didn't feel right. The search for our mediation center was not going well.
Although it is now folklore, one of my colleagues was having coffee on the deck of a local coffee shop overlooking Lake Austin. Ben gazed across the deck at what had been a vintage Austin book store and juice bar. Ben stared at a For Lease sign and two hours later we were walking through an empty structure with glass windows overlooking the lake and the boat docks. Ben asked us to imagine mediating with this view, how the parties would feel, and the ability to sit on a sprawling deck overlooking the river. Greg and I imagined the enormous construction loan and note necessary to convert retail into professional office space. But, we were hooked. This looked and felt like what a real mediation center should look like.
With the coffee shop across the deck and two iconic restaurants next door, we would bring mediation to the people. We would be part of the community.
Three months later, we had the ribbon cutting ceremony. We kept the natural wood floors and native stone. And the book categories along the ceiling border were preserved. We went with warm wood , natural colors, and homey furniture. We began thinking about the parties and how to make them more comfortable.
Suddenly, we realized the importance of environment in mediation. We had found a new home we called Lakeside Mediation Center. And this is where our story about mediation and environment begins."
To see this beautiful setting, go to