Bill Marsh is WWL’s Mediator of the Year for 2019, and top-ranked annually in every independent directory. Formerly a commercial lawyer, he has spent the past 30 years mediating complex disputes and conflicts around the world, involving governments, businesses, multinational organisations, professional firms, pressure groups and individuals. These have involved almost every area of law and business including oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, sport, insurance, construction and engineering, IP, and many others.
What motivated you to specialise in commercial mediation?
I was lucky enough to be involved in commercial mediation in the UK from its very start, and to have had the privilege of playing a role in the growth and acceptance of the process in the UK and beyond since then. It is a unique privilege to be asked to mediate in any dispute or conflict, and I am primarily motivated by the awareness of this privilege, and of the trust that parties thereby invest in me.
How has your experience as a solicitor in the UK and Paris enhanced your mediation practice?
My experience as a lawyer, both in the UK and beyond, has certainly helped me as a mediator. This comes partly from understanding the complex legal issues that are often involved, but also from understanding the pressures on parties who are in litigation or arbitration, especially in an international context, and the sense they often have of being caught up in a seemingly endless process.
What do you enjoy most about working as a mediator?
Undoubtedly the most enjoyable aspect is the people. It is easy to underestimate the pressures on parties in disputes, and I find myself full of admiration for those who are willing to undergo the challenges of a mediation process, to talk seriously about resolution with those of strongly opposing views. I have witnessed many moments of courage and grace from parties in tough circumstances.
The other really enjoyable aspect is trying to make judgement calls about what will help move things forward. Mediation is often a process of reaching an apparent impasse and then working out a way around it, in conjunction with the parties, and this is immensely rewarding.
Why do you consult internationally on mediation issues, and how does it distinguish you from competitors in the market?
It’s one thing to mediate an individual dispute, but I am also passionate about enabling societies to embrace the opportunities that mediation affords. For that reason, I have often been retained to advise governments on how best to develop mediation in their own country or context. I began this work in Russia in 1999 and since then have become involved with many other places. It is a unique privilege and humbling to see how mediation is embraced, and often expressed differently, in so many parts of the world. There is a universality about the risks and power of genuine dialogue.
How would you describe your mediation style?
I try to be relaxed and informal, and to encourage candid and frank discussion. I work on the basis that those involved in the dispute know much more about than I do, but that I can bring a fresh perspective not just to the issues, but also to the process of resolving them. I don’t like to “nanny” or “micro-manage” parties, as I find they are invariably intelligent and committed people, often with some good thinking on how to make progress. Equally, I don’t like to shy away from the tough conversations which can be an important part of the process.
Most of all, I think parties value tenacity – and so my commitment is to be the last to leave!
Where do you think the future of mediation lies?
During my 30 years of involvement in mediation in the UK and beyond, I have found an almost endless range of applications for the process. My own practice, while mainly commercial, has extended in the past 10-15 years to include serious religious, political and environmental conflicts – for example I am currently working with an independence movement as it tries to engage effectively with a national government, and running a mediation in a divided community trying to manage pollution levels from nearby industry (both outside the UK).
The onus is very much on mediators to have the imagination to extend what we can offer to other areas. In my experience, it doesn’t often pay simply to wait for the phone to ring!
What advice would you give to someone starting out in mediation?
Opportunities are slim, and only the most committed will ever stand a chance. You need to be willing to take risks, travel, experiment and not get paid. You need to be creative about finding opportunities – a business card and a natty website will be unlikely to suffice!
On the other hand, there are few things as professionally rewarding as delivering an effective mediation process, so it has to be worth a try.
You have enjoyed a very distinguished career to date. What more would you like to achieve that you have not already?
In common with many mediators, I am often drawn to the impossible – and there is no shortage of such challenges. My experience mediating in religious and political contexts, where issues of identity, dogma and survival are uppermost, continues to be deeply rewarding, but frankly the experience of each commercial mediation also remains a privilege, so bring them on.
I am also working on a book, trying to articulate some of what I have learned from being immersed in other people’s conflicts for three decades. A stocking-filler, surely?
Bill Marsh is a "sensational" mediator according to respondents. He "gets very high-profile work and is extremely experienced and capable".
Ranked by Who’s Who Legal as Mediator of the Year 2019, Bill Marsh is one of Europe’s leading commercial mediators. Practising full-time for nearly 30 years, he has mediated in almost every area of law and business. He mediates in the UK and internationally and has worked with parties from over 50 countries.
He is consistently ranked in the top tier of mediators in all the independent legal directories, and also topped the global ranking for mediators in WWL (2014–2015). He is described in legal directories as “one of the greats”; “right at the top of his game”; “a perfect example of how a talented mediator can overcome apparently insuperable obstacles”; “right at the top of the tree”; “one of the best”; and “top rank”. He is also praised for his “absolute commitment” and “commercial flair”, and is deemed an “excellent shuttle diplomat”, with quoted sources adding that he is “extremely patient and hardworking, but pushes both sides’ positions very hard”.
A former corporate lawyer, Bill has also acted as adviser on conflict and mediation to many governments (the UK, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia) and international bodies (the EU, the IFC/World Bank and the UN) and to the Archbishop of Canterbury. His mediation experience includes religious, political and ethnic conflicts. In 2016, he was awarded the Archbishop’s inaugural award for outstanding service to reconciliation. He has also represented the UK in UN sessions.
He is a distinguished fellow of the International Academy of Mediators, advisory board member of the UK Parliament’s all-party parliamentary group on conflict issues and former executive director of CEDR.