Women in Mediation – an interview with Laurence Krief

In my fourth Women in Mediation interview, I am in conversation with Laurence Krief, a talented French mediator who has moved from family law towards commercial law. We find out a bit more about mediation in France, how and why it has grown during the pandemic and some innovative ideas for increasing the number of women in commercial mediation.

Women in Mediation is a series inspired by International Women’s Day where I interview successful women mediators on their journey in mediation. When I first thought of becoming a mediator, I was initially told that I could not be a successful commercial mediator unless I was male and middle-aged. At the time, this was pragmatic, well intentioned advice. In recording a video for International Women’s Day for We Are The City as one of their #ChooseToChallenge100 women, I chose not to focus on that story but instead use my mediation skills to help people learn HOW TO CHALLENGE – to empower them to challenge more (you can watch that video here ). It made me curious about other women’s stories in mediation and inspired me to begin a series on women in mediation. As part of that series I have interviewed a number of successful women mediators on the challenges of being a female commercial mediators and how to overcome them. Other women I have interviewed include: Jane Andrewartha, Rosemary Jackson QC, Samantha Lowe, Gillian Caroe and Jane Gunn. 

The interviews are based around the following 5 questions – but they do tend to wander in other interesting directions too: 

  1. Tell us about you and your practice? 
  2. Tell us a bit about your journey in mediation as a woman? 
  3. What advice do you have for other women in mediation?
  4. What are the struggles that women, in particular, face in commercial mediation? 
  5. How have things changed and what still needs to change to make mediation more accessible to women?

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In case you prefer to read instead of watching, the transcript of the interview is set out here:

  • Mia Forbes Pirie: Hello and welcome, thank you for being with us here today Laurence Krief, I’m Mia Forbes Pirie and we’re talking about women in mediation. And this came about because I did a video for We Are The City and decided not to tell my story about being a woman in mediation and how I was advised to not be a commercial mediator ’cause I wasn’t male or middle-aged and it came from a very good place and I was curious what other people’s experience was and so we’re very fortunate to have with us today a very experienced lawyer and mediator, Laurence Krief, who is as you might have guessed, not just from her scarf but also from her name, who is French. And so we’re gonna explore a bit of a different system of mediation and see what it’s like across the channel. So Laurence, please tell us a little bit about you and your practise, both in law and mediation.
  • Laurence Krief: Thank you for your invitation, I’m very happy to be here and to answer to your questions. I came to mediation after over 30 years of practise in criminal and family law. I used to be tough and to have tough cases and once I won custody for a man who got young babies full time at his house. He was very happy when he got, this case was a success but I felt very uncomfortable. And at the same time, a couple of years ago in France arrived alternative way of resolution and I was trained to do this alternative. It took me, for mediation, two years to be trained. For commercial law, for collaborative law, sorry, four days. And since then in parallel to my practise, usual practise, I try to develop meditation and alternative resolution. I felt much more comfortable but also very often scared because when you work as mediator, you never know how the meeting is going to be held: if it’s going to be a success or failure or how the parties are going to behave, you never know. And you never know how you will be also. It’s a artistic work, I feel like an artist. And sometimes I have a feeling to entering an arena and like if I were in a… and I will be in front of bulls, you you know? You never know.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: True, it’s very exciting, you walk into the room or the Zoom room and you don’t know what to expect until you’ve had that first conversation with whichever party you’re speaking with, so yeah that’s true.
  • Laurence Krief: Exactly, exactly. Zoom has changed a lot and gives us much more means to solve and to intervene as mediator.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: Yeah

“We give parties the time that justice of today can’t”.

  • Laurence Krief: Much more and it’s… So we juggle between meeting in the office or Zoom meetings. And what I can say is that after one year of experience of Zooming mediation, is that parties for the first meeting feel much more comfortable to start very quickly once, where we have presented them on Zoom, what mediation is, what is the process. Because in France the way to get cases are two ways, either people know you as mediator and they call you like you call a doctor or a lawyer and they want you to try, to give you this job. Or either your name is suggested by a judge and the judge can’t make mediation compulsory. He can only give orders to parties to meet a mediator to get information on mediation. And the gift of the mediator is to convert this meeting of information into a real mediation. So sometimes after 10 minutes, the parties can say they do not want to enter into mediation, into the process and sometimes once you have convinced them and once we see all the parties on the screen, the parties, the lawyers and the mediator in the middle sometimes they’re not frightened. They feel comfortable, protected by the presence of a lawyer and also because what we say it’s on the screen and so sometimes after 10 or 15 minutes of information and presentation of mediation, we start right away. And sometimes it’s… and we can feel that we give parties the time that justice of today can’t give to parties. We give the time to listen to each other to make sure that the party understand what the other one says and the point of view of the other party. And what I can say is that we offer time to communicate, that’s what mediation mostly offers. Especially the first meeting and sometimes after first meeting that could last two hours for example, sometimes either the parties start meeting each other to try to solve a problem or they call you again to say, well we want an extra meeting, two hours also and we meet on Zoom or on a physical basis.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: Thank you so much for explaining a little bit about the system and I have the advantage of having had a pre chat with you, so I’d love it if you said a little bit more about sort of how you manage to get the clients to sort of jump straight in and also a little bit about what’s changed with COVID in the court system, that means there’s more mediation than there was before.

“At the beginning of the lockdown in France justice was dead”.

  • Laurence Krief: Yes because during, for one year now, at the beginning of the lockdown in France justice was dead, it didn’t work at all. So after a few months of lockdown, there have been a lot of pile of cases and a lot of delay. And the, especially the tribunal that deals with the emergency cases decided with the influence on it of the president of the jurisdiction to develop mediation and when a case come to her first time before court, the president of this jurisdiction orders – systematically – orders to meet mediators only to get information on their process. And it has been, we have been, that’s what I talked to you… that’s what’s happened mainly since June 2020.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: So to encourage justice to continue to function because the courts weren’t functioning fully, they have encouraged much more mediation.
  • Laurence Krief: Much more mediation and since the systems work since the tribunal opener, they maintain and then they try to develop these, I would say private, private way of solving problem in parallel of justice.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: Wonderful, thank you very much and in the UK, I think that probably in, sort of workplace mediation and family mediation there are quite a lot of women but in commercial mediation, historically at least there were a lot fewer women and now it’s increasing and I think women are sort of gaining sort of “market share” so to speak but we’re only around 30% of women in commercial mediation. What’s the situation France and how is that developing?
  • Laurence Krief: It’s nearly what you have described. Before commercial court, much more men are designated as mediator. I don’t know if it’s a question of their gender or if it’s a question of knowledge of the field in which matters of occurs, or if it’s a question of competence in the field in which the matter occurs. I don’t know but like in arbitration, arbitration or mediation, when big cases are involved, I say big case with regard to the amount involved, you find more often men than women but progressively, slowly things are changing. And maybe women have more and more confidence in the skill to.. they are not afraid to conquest this new field. But it’s true that with regard to family matters, we found, we find much more female as mediator rather than in commercial business.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: So more women in family, fewer in commercial and we’re wondering, is this a reflection of just there are more male commercial lawyers or, when we were talking before you mentioned also the approach that men bring in, that women bring in and maybe sort of people being used to a more aggressive style.
  • Laurence Krief: But it’s also possible for a mediator to work in a couple. we call this co-mediation.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: We have that also, yeah.

“Men [could] ask maybe for women in big cases to work with them as a co-mediator”.

  • Laurence Krief: And maybe if men introduce, men also have to do also the job and ask maybe for women in big cases to work with them as a co-mediator. And you have this, we have this also very often in criminal cases. Before the Cour d’Assise when we plead to a jury, very often you’ve got a couple of lawyers, men and women and we share the defence. One pleads the facts, the other one plead the personality. maybe we can develop as it could be also an interesting way of women to conquest new fields of mediation, especially commercial cases. But right now, thanks to The Court of Emergency we call it in France, Référés, La Juridiction des Référés – the president, we discover as mediator cases where only companies are involved such as the payer or lease, unpaid rents and so.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: So since, because of the emergency courts, the Référés, you are now doing more commercial mediation because the court is referring that to you.
  • Laurence Krief: Yeah, exactly, exactly.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: So there are various…
  • Laurence Krief: Usually I used to be designated by the Court of Appeal or by lawyers only for inheritance matters or family divorce matters and now it’s changing thanks to the commercial court, to the sorry to the Référés.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: To the emergency court, so the emergency court has sort of recognised you as a good mediator in other areas, which has meant that they now say, actually this is just a good mediator and whether it’s commercial or not they’re happy to refer to you. …We may have frozen.
  • Laurence Krief: I can answer?
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: Yes.
  • Laurence Krief: Yes so, it’s a yes, that’s and that has a link with the question we spoke about a few minutes ago, what is a good mediator? Someone to be.. what do we need to be a good mediator? Do we have to know the field of, professional field in which the matter occurs? Do we have to know the law in which matter occurs? But parties have lawyers. What are the quality to be a good mediator and do we have to be lawyers to be mediator? Of course not. So it’s it opens, it’s opened the um, it open fields for mediators. I mean you don’t have to, maybe perhaps we don’t have to know the professional background to intervene. Maybe?…
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: We don’t necessarily have to be specialised to work in a certain area and it sounds like that is what the court is recognising in saying “this is a good mediator, I will refer commercial matters to her as well as noncommercial”. And it sounds like, you’ve given a couple of ways that women could become more involved in commercial mediation: co mediation with maybe someone who is established in that field, and then also just becoming recognised as a mediator. And then the courts will help just because you’re good And I think we’re seeing in the UK also just more female lawyers across the board and so that means that there are more female mediators coming into the areas where before the were less or fewer. So what advice do you have for women who are starting out in their mediation careers and would like to maybe work, I know it’s not your main field but work in the commercial field in France?
  • Laurence Krief: To be a mediator is.. you have to like not to know, I mean, because when you’re a mediator, there is always a part of “aléat” you never know. You never know how it’s going to work.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: Yeah

“Start as soon as possible training for mediation”.

  • Laurence Krief: Whereas when you prepare a case for before a …when you plead, you know you have to make research, legal research, you know what to do, you know what to say. Whereas when you start a mediation, you are like a surfer on his board, you never know how it’s going to happen. And you can, I mean what I would give as an advice?… I would say start as soon as possible training for mediation, because it’s a useful means for your professional life but for also for your everyday life.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: Start training as soon as possible, I like that and I’m very interested actually that in France you train in mediation and negotiation together, that sounds very, very interesting.
  • Laurence Krief: Oops, excuse me.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: No problem.
  • Laurence Krief: Sorry.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: No problem. And I think just, if anything needs to change in the system in France to encourage more female mediators, do you have any thoughts on what that might be?
  • Laurence Krief: I mean could judge could say, could designated, could give two name, a list of men, a list of women, I said well you’ll have to work together and to share the field, that’s the way.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: So yes, designate the co-mediation. Yes, judges could encourage that. And actually not in any sort of positive discrimination sense, I have interviewed another female mediator who said that the parties just did ask her to mediate with someone else and she’s a very successful mediator so I’m sure it was nothing to do with trying to promote female mediators but they just wanted two mediators and these were the ones that they wanted. And so it’s very unusual to not let mediators choose who they work with, so that’s interesting. Laurence it’s been so lovely talking to you, any final words that you would like to leave us with about mediation, about women in mediation or anything else?
  • Laurence Krief: Women in mediation, let us conquest other fields than family or social or labour law, labour matters. We can be good in other fields also so we have to be confident on that, that’s for sure.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: So having that confidence that we can conquer other fields and that we can work successfully in other fields.
  • Laurence Krief: Yeah of course, not only family.
  • Mia Forbes Pirie: Laurence Krief, thank you so much, it has been so delightful speaking with you, thank you.
  • Laurence Krief: Thank you very much Mia.