NZ’s Mediator of the Year on the rise of the resolution

by Sophie Schroder21 Nov 2014
Maria Dew was officially crowned the LEADR Mediator of the Year at the New Zealand Law Awards, held at Auckland’s Pullman Hotel on November 6.
The expert in mediation, employment law and independent investigation is a barrister at Bankside Chambers, and has acted as counsel on a vast number of high profile and notable cases.
Dew sat down for a Q&A with NZ Lawyer to discuss her award, and the trends and challenges that mediators in New Zealand face.
Q. Could you tell us a bit about your background and journey to becoming a mediator?
  1. I came into mediation through employment law and saw how effective it can be for parties at the right time in the dispute. When I went out as a barrister I trained through the LEADR mediation programme initially to hone my skills as a negotiator but then became more interested in the role of mediator.  
Q. How have you seen mediation in New Zealand change since you started out?

     A.  Lawyers have steadily become more comfortable and skilled in the process. Clients also now have more awareness of mediation. My impression is that mediation is now more likely to be an option that             clients want to use. This is driving lawyers to want to improve their own skills in mediation.  In the last few years I have noted greater numbers of lawyers attending mediation conferences.
Q. Why do you think that mediation is a vital part of the judicial process?
  1. I don't see mediation being part of the judicial process. It is a separate consensual process that often sits alongside current legal proceedings between the parties.   Mediation is simply another key option available to resolve a dispute before or during litigation.
Q. What are some of the challenges that mediators in New Zealand face?
  1. I am restricting my answer to thoughts on the challenges for commercial mediators, which is where my experience is.   I have over the years attended several overseas mediation conferences.    The discussion about challenges in mediation are the same for overseas mediators as they are here in New Zealand – including how do you offer parties the most effective mediation experience? How do you retain your independence and neutrality? How to ensure that mediation is a recognised and credible profession.  In attending these conferences I have become convinced that some of New Zealand more experienced commercial mediators absolutely have skills that match those of overseas mediators.  
Q. What are examples of a few future trends that you foresee occurring in the disputes resolution space?
  1. One of the key trends currently is the development of government expertise in mediation. The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment has recently announced that it is funding a two years project for an internal Dispute Resolution Centre of Excellence. The Centre will look broadly across all dispute resolution processes managed by government - courts, tribunals and mediation. I expect that this may well result in more use of mediation within dispute resolution process designed by government.
Q. What is the significance for you of winning the Mediator of the Year award?
  1. What has been a surprising delight is the compliments from peers.  We don't often celebrate each other and what we do.  I am also pleased that mediation is recognised in the Law Awards.  It is important for us to acknowledge that a material part of what many of us do is negotiate and mediate for our clients.

Q. What hobbies do you have outside of work?
  1.  My children and husband are my full time hobby outside work!