John Sturrock QC is recognised as a pioneer and consistently ranked as one of the leading mediators in the UK and further afield. He is founder and senior mediator at Core Solutions and a door tenant at Brick Court Chambers. His portfolio includes high-value and complex commercial disputes, sensitive political and policy issues, and Olympic sports. Also recognised as one of the most effective trainers, his writing on mediation and conflict has a world-wide audience.
Describe your career to date.
I had a very successful and enjoyable career at the Scottish Bar as an advocate, later being appointed a Queen’s Counsel. Appearing in the House of Lords (now the Supreme Court) is still a career highlight. However, I discovered a different world when I undertook negotiation training at Harvard under the inspiring Roger Fisher (co-author of Getting to Yes) and then mediation training that same summer with CEDR. I decided I wanted to do something different – and to make a difference. That led me to leave legal practice in 2002, set up my mediation business and begin what has turned out to be a great journey over the past nearly 20 years!
I regard my career as a mediator, facilitator and trainer/coach as an enormous privilege. It has enabled me to expand into areas such as political issues and policy development, using my skills as a mediator, in ways I could not have anticipated. It has compelled me to think in new ways about how we deal with our inevitable disputes and differences, as individuals, businesses, communities and nations.
What attracted you to a career in mediation?
I could see that there was a different way to resolve disputes and differences from the adversarial world of litigation, which was all I had really known. Principled, interest-based negotiation really appealed to me as being constructive, economically sensible, personally more satisfying, commercially sustainable and better for relationships. Becoming a mediator enabled me to help people to find their own solutions to problems, dealing with the real underlying issues and not just the symptoms, all of which resonated with me personally. It was a good fit for me and it played to my strengths.
What qualities make for an effective mediator?
Everyone is different. We need to appreciate that. An ability to build rapport, a genuine interest in people, curiosity, a willingness to be open and to learn (even if perceived to be experienced), great listening (of course) and an ability to ask Olympic-quality questions. It’s the questions that get to the heart of things that really matter. And I think we can now say kindness. There is enough research to support the importance of showing compassion for us to be able to talk about it openly now. It’s not being soft to be kind.
How has the role of mediator changed since you started practising?
The role is better understood, so people are willing to engage more thoughtfully and openly with what I as mediator would like to suggest we try to do. That may include experimenting, doing things a bit differently. Generally, we can get to the heart of matters more quickly these days and some of the process points that needed elaboration a few years ago can be taken as read nowadays, though we must always guard against complacency. The apparent master can become incompetent very quickly!
I think that preparation is generally much better too. Where I can, I spend a quite a lot of time with parties and/or their advisers prior to the mediation day trying to ensure we make the very best use of time on the day.
You have experience acting in a wide variety of industries. Are there key growth areas in terms of these sectors?
This is a perennial question! Boardroom, management, sensitive policy and political matters, infrastructure, construction, professional services – all seem to be more open to mediation as each year passes. But these things ebb and flow.
What would you say is driving the growing popularity of commercial mediation as a form of alternative dispute resolution?
Knowledge, understanding, familiarity, confidence – all of these make it easier for advisers to recommend, and for clients to use, mediation, in addition to the obvious and well-rehearsed advantages of speed, commercial edge, privacy, cost management, rebuilding of relationships and getting on with business. It works and it works well.
As founder of Core Solutions Group, what are your priorities for the firm’s development over the next five years?
We run a tight ship. We wish to continue to offer services of the highest quality in the complex, sensitive and high-quality work we do. Working on improving at the margins of what we offer seems really important. That is where the difference lies. And we aim to make a difference.
What advice would you give to a younger lawyer looking to pursue a career in mediation?
Be bold; be brave; don’t expect it to happen to you; make it happen for you. It is still a road less travelled. Plough your own furrow.
John Sturrock QC is a "fantastic proponent for mediation", comments one respondent. He is involved in high-value commercial and public sector disputes.
John Sturrock QC is founder and senior mediator at Core Solutions, Scotland's leading mediation service and pre-eminent providers of training in negotiation, conflict management and dispute resolution. He is also a mediator with Brick Court Chambers in London.
John is the leading commercial mediator in Scotland with a practice that extends to the rest of the UK, Ireland, mainland Europe and elsewhere. He has conducted hundreds of mediations covering a broad range of disputes in the private and public sectors. WWL: UK Bar (2019) praises John for his “very sharp intellect” and the 2018 mediation analysis lists John as one of the seven Global Elite Thought Leaders, describing him as a “spellbinding mediator and great thinker” and “by far the best in the market”. John is listed in Band 1 of Chambers UK, where he is“singled out for praise by his clients for his relaxed approach at the outset”, while also earning praise for his ability to “push hard to get a deal at the end of the day”. He is described as "'a highly intelligent and skilful mediator' who retains a market-leading reputation”. The Legal 500 notes that he is “the leading Scottish mediator; he has tremendous presence and personality but his technical skills as a mediator are also excellent”.
A distinguished fellow of the International Academy of Mediators, he was a practising advocate (barrister) from 1986 until 2002, with an extensive civil practice, appointed Queen's Counsel in 1999 and holds the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from Edinburgh Napier University. He is a visiting professor at the University of Edinburgh.