The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) Reforms bill has radically changed the legal landscape. Even in family meditation (where legal aid still remains) LASPO has had a dramatic effect. In this blog, we examine the effects of LASPO for family mediation services. When life deals you lemons, make lemonade?
For family mediation, there have been significant implications as a result of LASPO:
- Withdrawal of funding code referrals. Not only did this provide a payment for each eligible case, it more importantly provided a source of referrals. For services which obtained LAA contacts in December and April, the lack of funding code referrals won’t have such a notable effect. For existing services, this has made a significant loss.
- Drying up of referrals and LASPO changes have resulted in a general misconception that all legal aid has been withdrawn. Consequently solicitors and the general public have stopped referring to family mediation services.
Virtually overnight, this has had a massive impact on family mediation services – especially those providing legal aid. Some family mediation services have reported financial losses for the first time in ten years.
Helping clients choose mediation
After the initial contact, mediation services need to ensure that if appropriate, clients start the mediation process. Where mediation is inappropriate, signposting is provided towards alternative avenues. Initial conversations mostly take place over the telephone, often battling with the client’s misconception of what mediation is. This has to be overcome before the mediation process can start.
Professor Elizabeth Stokoe of Loughborough University has been researching Conversational Analysis for the past ten years, predominantly in the field of neighbourhood mediation. More recently she has been applying her techniques to family mediation with fascinating results. By analysing telephone conversations using the Conversation Analytic Role-play Method (CARM©), she has demonstrated how and where these conversations can break-down. This research has the potential to assist the initial conversations, and draw the right clients into mediation. To demonstrate the relevance of CARM© in family mediation, Liz has been holding sessions with family mediators around the country.
Having attended two sessions, it’s been incredible to see how applying conversation analysis is vital to family mediation. Using audio recordings from community mediation, she highlights how essential the initial conversation in terms of :
- Scaffolding the client’s conversation
- Making space for client projects
- Ensuring correct responses are given to client slots during the conversation
Last month BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Life Scientific‘ featured Liz Stokoe and her research as a conversation analyst. Stephen Anderson having recently hosted one of the sessions, was interviewed for the program. “This was the first training where I was absolutely in awe of the information I was receiving.” he said. Liz touched on the 7% rule – the myth that communication is only 7% verbal and 93% non-verbal, providing examples that prove this is totally unfounded.
With family mediation facing new pressures, it’s clear that CARM© can have a significant impact for family mediation:
- Converting initial enquiries into mediation, then
- Provide practical conversational techniques through the mediation process
Clearly the introduction of conversational skills to the family mediation process is not going to turn around a mediation service on its own. However, changing times calls for changing practices, and this is a practical process which will make a difference.
Having seen first-hand the clear benefits that CARM© bring, next month we will be starting a research project to see how mediation services can practically benefit from improved client communication methods.
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