“Leader of the field” William Wood QC is applauded for his “superb, excellent approach” and “great international work”. He is “extremely clever – the first rank of legal ability”, with “a compelling manner and enormous credibility”. He always “goes above and beyond for clients”
Bill Wood is a leading international mediator based in London. He was the 2018 Mediation Lawyer of the Year and is the ADR representative on the Civil Justice Council (England and Wales). Bill was educated at Oxford and Harvard before going to the London Bar in 1980. He became a QC in 1998 and spent over 25 years as a commercial litigator. He is based at leading London set Brick Court Chambers. He began to mediate in 1999 and now practises as a full-time commercial mediator handling some 80 cases each year, many of them (prior to lockdown) in overseas jurisdictions.
How would you describe your mediation style?
Mediators can be very inaccurate sources of information as to their own style. When I think I am being relaxed and friendly, people tell me I have been grand and barristerial. When I try to be austere and grand the word people use is “bouncy”. Like a castle? You can’t win.
I hope my style is based upon developing some form of rapport with the parties and building a calm and respectful space for their conversations. If this question is about evaluative as against facilitative styles then I hope my interventions vary infinitely with the parties, their moods, their issues and their strengths.
If a party with a strong case is readily considering a 50 per cent discount on its claim then I probably will not batter them with legal issues but will concentrate on the other stuff: costs, exhaustion and volatility. But if a party with a weak case is holding out for 90 per cent plus costs then I may have to move into legal analysis. That is not legal analysis as in “you stand no chance of winning on clause 37”. It is more likely to be, “I’m having trouble selling your case on clause 37 in the other room. Can you help me?” If that is a facilitative style, then I am a facilitative mediator.
What possible roles might mediators play in national and international politics?
We are getting used to hearing calls within the ADR community for mediators to step up and play a greater role in facing the big challenges of the day, the big questions like the environment and inequality.
I absolutely accept that as mediators there are values we cherish, in particular decency and mutual respect in dialogue. These values are vitally important, perhaps now more than ever.
What I am less sure about is the idea that over and above that mediators have a special role to play in political life or a natural commitment to a particular set of views.
The most complicated thing that I deal with is, let us say, a 10-party dispute, over a chain of contracts. The number of parties makes it complicated. But the dispute is probably on a legal track and that track has a terminus in the shape of a trial which we can all see up ahead.
Such a mediation may be challenging but it is a tea-party compared to the challenges faced by the politicians, particularly on the big questions. They are engaging in a never-ending balancing of myriad short and long-term aims. There are no rules, no culminating trial. Just the exercise of power in the face of a swirling mass of competing and incompatible interests. I vote, I care, I pay my taxes. But I am still to be convinced that mediators have a bigger role to play in the political world than say police chiefs, or engineers, or surgeons, or teachers or indeed professional politicians and diplomats.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
The more I mediate the more I am reminded of the great wine-maker who said his most important piece of equipment was a chair. “Less intervention, more reflection.” The parties have natural negotiation skills once they have the confidence to use them. And of course, they know more about their interests and their plans than they will ever tell you or you will ever be able to guess.
What difference has covid-19 made to mediation?
When lockdown began half of my mediations went ahead using remote methods and half of them opted to adjourn and wait for a return to normality. Almost all of the latter group have in due course given up waiting and rebooked. Some of them had heard the good news about remote mediation.
It is certainly easier to mediate using remote techniques than it is to litigate or arbitrate. (I would hate to have to assess whether a witness is telling the truth under cross-examination on a computer screen.)
Mediating remotely has definite advantages. Mediations are fixed more quickly. The parties and I are spared our train journeys, flights and hotel bills. Preliminary meetings actually involving clients rather than just lawyers are now the norm. And now in the distance we hear the distant rumble of a wave of litigation on covid-related issues. Mediators are going to have a vital role to play in preventing the system from being swamped and stopping businesses drowning in legal fees. Luckily, they can do their job as well as ever under remote conditions.
"He is definitely one of the best mediators in the market"
"William is an incredibly able and engaging mediator"
Bill Wood is a leading international mediator based in London. He was the 2018 Mediation Lawyer of the Year and serves as the ADR representative on the Civil Justice Council (England and Wales).
Bill was educated at Oxford and Harvard before going to the London Bar in 1980. He became a QC in 1998 and spent over 25 years as a commercial litigator. He is based at leading London set Brick Court Chambers.
He began to mediate in 1999 and now practises as a full-time commercial mediator handling some 70 cases each year, many of them (prior to lockdown) in overseas jurisdictions.
He mediates a wide range of large-scale commercial disputes centred on banking, financial services, oil and gas, and insurance, as well as professional negligence, construction and engineering, IT, competition and regulation, employment and discrimination, human rights, intellectual property and planning disputes. He has mediated in Hong Kong, Paris, Geneva, Barcelona, Dubai, Nairobi, Johannesburg, Mexico, Singapore and New York.
He is a member of the faculty of themediatoracademy.com and writes on mediation matters for The Lawyer, Counsel, Insurance,Day and The Mediator Magazine, as well as lecturing and consulting on mediation matters. Bill delivered the 2020 Harbour Lecture at Hong Kong International Arbitration Week. He is a fellow of the International Academy of Mediators, He sits as an arbitrator and arbitrates (and mediates) for the ICC. He is one of the authors of the 2021 CJC paper “Compulsory ADR”.
Bill lives in Oxfordshire