Every year, the people in charge of the scientific programme of the AIJA Congress give an award to the best session. At this year’s 54th Congress in Munich, the judges voted for the Working Session on Mediation, presented by Eleni Polycarpou, Michael Pauli and Rim Ben Ammar, for their engaging and challenging presentation on litigation and international arbitration mock case.
Delegates were presented with a complicated mediation scenario: a wealthy Indian art collector buys a painting through an art dealer in Geneva for $30m. After owning it for a number of years, the painting is put up for auction, now expecting to attract up to $150m. However, an English aristocrat recognises the painting as one stolen from their family home in the 1960s, and demands its return. So begins a three-way mediation between the two parties claiming ownership, and the art dealer who was supposed to assure its provenance.
“I deal a lot with art law related disputes in England,” explains Eleni Polycarpou, Special Counsel, Head of International Arbitration, at Withers LLP, and one of the moderators of the winning session. “I have had two cases recently where stolen artworks went up for auction and were identified by the original owners in the auction house catalogue. The mock case scenario was based largely on one of my cases, although I changed it sufficiently for it to not be recognisable.”
Delegates received useful and surprising tips regarding cultural differences: “some were obvious, such as don't be late for your mediation if it is against a northern European or US opponent,” says Polycarpou. “And some were less obvious, for example don't try small talk about the weather if your opponent is Japanese – in fact you must go directly to the point and the heart of your arguments immediately.”
However, the application of mediation goes far wider than simply smoothing over cultural misunderstandings. Mediation is an increasingly popular method of resolving disputes in the US and in the UK, and is growing in other countries too. “It is important for young lawyers to understand that some disputes are more suited to this method and to be able to offer it to their clients as an alternative to going to court or to arbitration,” argues Polycarpou.
The session, which used lawyer members of AIJA from different countries as the actors to enact the mock mediation, proved popular amongst delegates believes Polycarpou because, “All lawyers have to enter into negotiation in their day to day lives. Also, the best way to become an expert on negotiation is to take part in one or to see one take place. It was a successful way to demonstrate what mediation is, and what to do and not to do in a negotiation.”