A Thankful Attendee of the Cross-Border Mediation Masterclass

This article is written by Chloe Chua Kay Ee - National University of Singapore, Faculty of Law

On 16 October 2019, a couple of friends and I attended the Cross-Border Mediation Masterclass jointly organised by PracticeForte, ALSA Singapore and SMU Law International Relations Club. As final year law students who are keen on going into family law, this 4-hour workshop was deeply enriching and beneficial to us. Furthermore, it managed to be what most typical law classes have failed to be, it was fun!

The Masterclass could be broadly categorised into 2 categories – the seminars, which equipped us with the fundamentals of cross-border mediation and gave us insight into practical experiences, and the role play, which allowed us to directly apply our learnings from the preceding seminars.

The Seminars

It was a true privilege to listen to and interact with the 4 guest speakers.

Ms. Susan Tay and Mr. Rajan Chettiar, both seasoned veterans in family law, condensed the law on international mediation for us greenhorns and infused their seminars with personal anecdotes that kept us engaged and receptive. They made us realise that, given the unstoppable force of globalisation, cross-border disputes are no longer the exception these days. Furthermore, they helped us see the benefits of mediation as opposed to litigation. Not only did we get to hear from their perspectives as mediators, we also received a very instructive 5W1H rundown on being a mediation advocate by Ms. Tay. This was particularly useful as it gave us insight to a lawyer’s role in mediation such that we would be better placed to serve our future clients.

In addition to building up our legal foundation on this alternative dispute resolution, the Masterclass also provided us with a holistic perspective of mediation through Dr. Peter Loke and Mr. Lai Mun Loon’s seminars.

Dr. Loke, an accomplished medical mediator, told us that the biggest driver of complaints against medical practitioners stem from dissatisfaction with their patient-communication and the rationale behind this is a mismatch in expectations and reality leading to disappointment and anger. Through this, he emphasised the power of empathy, care and/ or remorse and how these tactful emotions can make a world of a difference. His advice crosses contexts and seems to be universal to all who wish to be effective communicators.

Mr Lai, with his background in social work and experience with both counselling and mediation, showed us how the two disciplines intertwine and diverge. Instructively, he taught us how to identify which type of cases are ready or suitable for mediation and which are not as well as how to identify when cases should be referred to for counselling. Given the wealth of practical advice we had received, we were all very thankful that we had the opportunity to attend such a fulfilling workshop. 

The Role Play

The simulation exercise we were given involved us role playing as mediators, observers and parties to a cross-border family dispute where one party had begun Hague proceedings (a civil remedy to parents seeking the return of a child wrongfully removed or retained across international borders) against his spouse for refusing to return their children to their country of residence.

Although most of us had little to no experience with mediation prior to this Masterclass, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in our various roles. As the ‘mediator’, I found myself relying on what I had just learnt from the seminars to help me in my role. I listened actively to the parties, showed empathy, and reframed their own words back to them when I was in doubt. Personally, it was a rather exciting first attempt at mediation.

One of the biggest highlights of the workshop was witnessing a fishbowl exercise with Mr. Lai as the mediator and Ms. Tay and Mr. Chettiar as the parties. The latter two’s commitment to their roles brought forth the complexities and tensions in real life mediation. In the short but effective exercise, Mr. Lai seamlessly employed a great number of useful techniques such as asking hypothetical questions and reality testing the parties’ suggestions, normalising what the parties are going through and breaking into separate sessions to better deal with each party. The general takeaway from this would be the importance of the control of the mediator in order to successfully apply the mediation tools.

At the end of the workshop, participants received a beautiful certificate of appreciation as well as the option to have the slide decks from the workshop emailed to us. Full of guiding tips and helpful information, these valuable slides coupled with the invaluable workshop experience will definitely come in handy as we make our foray into the legal profession. Indeed, on top of the sheer number of takeaways from this one workshop, the entire experience was a true delight. The atmosphere was welcoming and friendly and the environment was highly conducive for learning. The 4 retrospectively short hours spent at SMU were so beneficial and enjoyable that this attendee would like to convey her sincerest gratitude to the organisers of this Masterclass.

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