Tv Show Fairly Legal – Highlights Mediation Fairly Well

I finally caught the first two episodes of the television program called “Fairly Legal.”  The show is about a mediator, and, as a mediator, I was interested to see if the show accurately portrayed my profession.  Just as viewers of “CSI” expect crime professionals to solve every murder in one hour or less (often based on a tiny piece of fabric or bug that places the murderer at a specific location in the world), viewers of “Fairly Legal” may base expectations about mediation on this show.

In the show, the mediator, Kate Reed, is a former lawyer who has determined that mediation is superior to litigation as a means to achieve fair results.  We first see her mediation skills displayed in a scene where she prevents a robbery from becoming violent.  She asked what the robber wanted ($500.00).  She then helped the robber determine what he really wanted (beef jerky and beer) by asking him carefully posed questions.  This process is called separating positions from interests.  When the robber agreed that what he really wanted could be satisfied by something less than his original demand, the mediator was able to negotiate a resolution at minimal cost to the store owner.  While mediators are not usually put in the position of mediating when one party has a gun (that would be considered a “power imbalance”), and one wonders what Kate would have done if the robber would have wanted drugs instead of beef jerky, the scene did show off some actual mediation skills.

However, as the show continued, it became clear that Kate was more of a ‘really good problem solver’ than a mediator.  While mediators help parties find their own solutions, Kate often came up with her own brilliant solutions to the delight of the mediation participants.  In reality, people are more likely to “own” a solution and abide by an agreement if they generate the idea themselves.  It is the same concept featured in the movie “Inception.”  Leonardo DeCaprio’s character went so far as to plant ideas in people’s brains, so they would think the ideas were their own and follow through.  Mediators’ methods of helping people generate reasonable solutions are a little more subtle.  But, the point is:  people do not like to be told what to do.  Judges tell people what to do.

Second, Kate was an expert investigator who tracked down facts.  Mediators are not fact finders.  While mediators help participants exchange enough facts to allow settlement to occur, we are not running around gathering evidence.  Kate actually achieved one resolution by finding an incriminating photograph and blackmailing a disputant into doing the right thing.

While “Fairly Legal” may give people inaccurate expectations about mediators, my view is that at least the show is bringing mediation into the public’s consciousness.  Most people still do not know mediation exists and, therefore, too many people unnecessarily suffer through litigation or unresolved conflict. “Fairly Legal” shows that mediation can be used to quickly and fairly end conflict.

Alona M. Gottfried is a mediator and attorney in Arizona.  If you have questions about mediation, she can be reached at: 480-998-1500 or  This is a general interest article only and is not intended to be legal advice.  See a legal professional before making legal decisions.

Simmons & Gottfried, PLLC
8160 E. Butherus Dr., Suite #7
Scottsdale, AZ 85260

Speak Your Mind


Simmons & Gottfried, PLLC
8160 E Butherus Dr, Suite #7 Scottsdale, AZ 85260
Phone: (480) 998-1500