Commercial Mediation: A Path to Resolving Business Conflicts

by Aled Davies
May 27, 2024

Introduction to Commercial Mediation

Of all the different forms of mediation, the commercial mediation process is considered the most lucrative for mediators because you have commercial parties who are looking for another process to resolve their commercial disputes that doesn't involve going to court. Court proceedings are notoriously costly and it is not uncommon for legal fees to to supersede the value of the claim so it makes a lot of commercial sense for parties in dispute to hire a commercial mediator than spend weeks or months tied up in legal proceedings.

What is Commercial Mediation?

Commercial mediation is a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) that helps parties involved in commercial disputes reach a mutually agreeable solution outside of court. This process involves a neutral third-party mediator who facilitates the dialogue and negotiations between the disputing parties.

At its core, commercial mediation is designed to resolve conflicts in a way that is less formal, less adversarial, and more accommodating to the needs and interests of all parties involved, promoting a collaborative approach to dispute resolution.

How Does Commercial Mediation Work?

At its core, commercial mediation is designed to resolve conflicts in a way that is less formal, less adversarial, and more accommodating to the needs and interests of all parties involved, promoting a collaborative approach to dispute resolution.

In some jurisdictions courts actively encourage mediation where they feel that the dispute might stand a good chance of being resolved with the assistance of an independent third party. The court can also compel parties to attempt mediation before bringing their dispute in front of a judge, this is known as mandatory mediation which is a hotly debated issue among the commercial mediation community.

An Overview of the Mediation Process

Commercial mediation is a confidential process that is both a structured yet flexible approach to resolving business disputes. It typically progresses through several key stages, each designed to build on the last, moving parties from positions of conflict eventually to a legally binding agreement.

Stages of the Commercial Mediation Process

There are generally three phases to commercial mediations.

The first phase is known as pre-mediation and this is where the mediator has private meetings with two or more parties involved in the dispute in order to explain the process and get a general background to the dispute.  This phase is often conducted over the phone or by video conference.

The next phase is the mediation itself which usually takes place in a neutral venue, often a dedicated conference centre or at the offices of the legal representatives of one side. This phase tends to last an entire business day, sometime stretching into the early hours  in order to get the mediation agreement signed.

The final phase really depends upon whether parties conclude their settlement agreements on the mediation day itself. Sometimes parties need to 'sleep on it' and only in the proceeding days do all the parties reach a negotiated settlement. This just illustrates the importance of the mediator's role in keeping the deal on track even if the parties don't manage to reach a negotiated settlement on the mediation day itself.

Initial Joint Meeting

When parties arrive on the mediation day itself they will often be shown to their private room and the mediator will spend a little bit of time with the respective parties to build rapport and get some general background before the initial plenary session. The mediator will then convene what is called the initial plenary session which sets the stage for the mediation. This is where the mediator outlines the process, establishes ground rules, and begins to understand the positions of each party.

Private Sessions

After the initial plenary session the parties then go to back to their own rooms so that the mediator can meet them in private sessions, these are also known as caucuses. During these sessions the mediator can encourage parties to be open and candid with them about their dispute. It's a golden opportunity for each party to meet with the mediator during these private mediation sessions to discuss concerns and explore options for resolution in a confidential manner.

During the private mediation session the mediator will use their skills to tease out the interests of all the parties in order to prepare for the next phase of this dispute resolution process; the negotiation phase.

Negotiation Phase

Well trained commercial mediators are very skilled at assisting parties to negotiate and it's during this negotiation phase that parties might come together to discuss their issues openly, guided and facilitated by the mediator who is there to ensure that a constructive and focused dialogue ensues. Sometimes this phase takes place in a shuttle format, where the mediator moves between the private rooms of the parties exchanging options and offers.

In a commercial dispute there can be a number of complex commercial issues to discuss, perhaps a technical legal point will arise and no doubt there will be financial considerations to make before advancing into settlement agreements.


The commercial mediator's job is to facilitate agreement and this concluding phase of the process requires patience and an attention to detail. The legal representatives of both sides usually come together to draft the settlement agreement which is typically formalised in writing, outlining the responsibilities and actions agreed upon by both parties.

Benefits of Commercial Mediation

What are the Benefits of Mediation in Commercial Disputes?

Commercial mediation is a popular alternative dispute resolution process for resolving disputes where there is an incentive or need to maintain an ongoing business relationship between parties. Construction disputes frequently use commercial mediators to settle disputes for this reason. There are of course numerous advantages over other ADR processes and here are just some of the reasons why many sectors are now embracing mediation:


Mediation is known for being a cost effective way of resolving disputes due to the shorter timeframe and reduced procedural requirements. The litigation process is expensive because lawyers and barristers will bill you by the hour and these legal costs can run for weeks and months on a complex dispute. Whereas a professional mediator might only charge for one day because that's typically how long a commercial mediation takes to reach an outcome.

Efficiency in Resolving Disputes

Mediation can resolve disputes faster than traditional litigation and for entrepreneurs and business owners this is crucial because time is often equated with money and if the disputes is resolved then they can get on with doing business.

Confidentiality and Privacy

Unlike court proceedings, which are public, mediation remains confidential, protecting the reputations and trade secrets of the businesses involved.

The Role and Impact of the Mediator

Professional mediators play an important role in managing the mediation process and assisting the parties negotiate a settlement.

What Role Does the Mediator Play in Commercial Mediation?

The mediator's primary role is to facilitate open and effective communication between the parties. By guiding the conversation and helping clarify the issues, mediators prevent misunderstandings and encourage a constructive exchange of ideas.

Neutral and Impartial Conduit for Negotiations

A mediator remains neutral and does not take sides. Their role is to help each party understand the other's point of view and to explore solutions that satisfy both parties, ensuring a fair process and assisting the parties to move towards a successful mediation agreement.

The Practicalities of Commercial Mediation

There are a number of practical steps that the parties their advisors and the mediator should take to prepare adequately to maximise the chances of a successful mediation.

Preparing for Commercial Mediation

Preparation for commercial mediation involves selecting a qualified mediator, agreeing on the time and place for mediation sessions, and preparing a summary of the dispute, including key points and desired outcomes.

Duration and Legal Binding

How Long Does Commercial Mediation Take?

The duration of commercial mediation can vary widely but is generally much shorter than litigation. Most mediations are completed within a few sessions, which can be scheduled over days or weeks, depending on the complexity of the dispute. It's always a good idea for the mediator to speak with the parties before the mediation day itself, this gives them a chance to hear the different perspectives on this dispute and to build rapport with the parties.

Is Commercial Mediation Legally Binding?

The outcomes of mediation can be made legally binding if all parties agree to the terms and sign a settlement agreement. This agreement is then enforceable in the same manner as any other contractual obligation. One of the key benefits of mediation is that the parties can explore options and potential solutions in a confidential way and only unless and until these options are put in writing and signed by the parties, everything up to that point is non-binding.

Challenges in Commercial Mediation

A commercial dispute can be complex and those involved can become incredibly stressed by the whole process. Whilst commercial mediation is an effective dispute resolution process there are challenges in the process.

Common Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Mediation is a voluntary process, so if one party decides to withdraw and continue with legal proceedings it can be very frustrating for the other side who perhaps are very keen to find a solution in mediation. When a mediation fails it can also be very frustrating for all involved but this is where a professional mediator can help.

Handling Difficult Situations

Mediators are trained to handle difficult situations and strong emotions. They employ techniques to de-escalate tension, ensuring the process stays productive and focused on resolution.

Dealing with Non-Cooperative Parties

Effective mediators use various strategies to engage reluctant parties, such as emphasising the benefits of resolution and the drawbacks of not settling, including potential litigation costs and time.

Costs Involved in Commercial Mediation

There are numerous costs involved in commercial mediation but it should be emphasised that the costs of mediation pale into insignificance when compared to the cost of commencing proceedings.

What is the Cost of Commercial Mediation Services?

Fees can vary depending on the mediator’s expertise, the complexity of the dispute, and the duration of mediation. Generally, costs are significantly lower than those incurred in litigation or arbitration. Fees can also vary from one jurisdiction to another, for example in the US an elite mediator on a multi million dollar dispute could charge fees in excess of $50,000 a day. In the UK however, an elite mediator hired on a similar value dispute may only receive approximately £10,000 per day. So it really does vary widely, however most mediator advertise their fee structure on their website.

Career in Commercial Mediation

If you enjoy working with people and helping them solve challenging problems then a career as a commercial mediator might be for you. It can be hugely rewarding when parties reach a settlement on their dispute through mediation with your assistance and there are a number of steps you can take to become a qualified commercial mediator.

The best place to start if you are new to the field is to educate yourself. There are many mediation courses available from a 1-year masters degree level course to a short introductory course.

How Do I Become a Commercial Mediator in the UK?

To become a commercial mediator in the UK, you must complete an accredited training programme, such as those offered by Mediator Academy. These programmes cover the legal and practical aspects of commercial mediation and include assessments to certify competence. It's recommended ended that you select a training courses that is independently accredited by bodies such as the Civil Mediation Council or international organisations like the International Mediation Institute.

Necessary Qualifications and Training

Training courses typically focus on conflict and mediation theory, mediation process and mediation skills. You will learn about the entire mediation process such as the one outlined above. You will also practice new mediation skills such as active listening, different question types, negotiation techniques and how to managing strong emotions. You will learn about the legal aspects of mediation, and bring all of this new knowledge together in practical exercises like role-playing. Mediator Academy, for instance, offers comprehensive courses that will prepare you to handle complex commercial disputes effectively.

How Much Do Commercial Mediators Make a Year?

Earnings can vary widely based on experience, reputation, and frequency of work. Mediators involved in high-stakes commercial disputes often command higher fees, reflecting the complexity and significance of the issues handled. Experienced practitioners will earn on average £3000/day and at the high end £10,000/day whereas those new to the field might command a day rate of around £1200/day. It very much depends, which is a phrase you will often hear as a mediator!

Recap of Commercial Mediation

Commercial mediation offers a confidential, efficient, and effective method for resolving business disputes, saving time and money while preserving professional relationships.

Next Steps for Aspiring Commercial Mediators

For those interested in exploring commercial mediation, either as a dispute resolution method or a career path, you can learn more about training opportunities by visiting the Mediator Academy website which has a wide selection of courses that can help you begin your journey in this rewarding field.