Suzanne Wooten | A Mediator’s Guide to the Process of Mediation

Today on the Texas Family Law Insiders podcast, our guest is Former State District Judge, Suzanne Wooten. 

Judge Wooten has 27 years of experience in civil, family, and business law in the roles of trial attorney, mediator, arbitrator, and District Judge.

Her experience has given her a wide range of knowledge and techniques designed to help her resolve even the most difficult disputes. In the last nine years, through her company, North Texas Litigation Solutions, she has handled over 1600 mediations.

She’s joining us today to walk us through mediation dos and don’ts from a mediator’s standpoint, including:

  • In-Person vs. Zoom—which is better and how attorneys can help with the mediation process using either format
  • The biggest mistake she has seen clients make during mediation (and the one that shocked her) 
  • The 4-letter f word to avoid for a successful mediation
  • And much more

Mentioned in this episode:


Suzanne Wooten: Mediation is not the battle, it’s the opportunity to compromise. Right? So you’ve got to get your mindset correct because otherwise your clients won’t either.

Voiceover: You’re listening to The Texas Family Law Insiders podcast, your source for the latest news and trends in family law in the state of Texas. Now, here’s your host attorney Brandi Crozier.

Brandi Crozier: Welcome to the Family Law Insiders podcast. I am Brandi Crozier. I’m a partner at the Draper Law Firm. Unfortunately, Holly Draper who normally handles our podcast was not able to conduct the interview of our guest today and so I am going to, so I feel a little bit like someone’s sitting in for Ellen today. So I feel like maybe I’m a little cool. Um, but today we are very excited to welcome former District Judge Suzanne Wooten to the Texas Family Law Insiders podcast. Judge Wooten received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas and her JD from St. Mary’s School of Law.

And after spending many years in private practice, Judge Wooten made history by challenging an incumbent District Judge and winning an election to the bench in a landslide in 2008. During her many years as the presiding judge of the 380th District Court in Collin County, Texas, Judge Wooten presided over 1000s of cases on both the criminal and civil dockets, including family law cases, because we’re here for the family law insiders podcast. And she now owns North Texas Litigation Solutions, a mediation firm featuring three attorneys with over 100 years of combined experience. So we have a pretty big family law icon in our presence today. So I feel very fortunate that I get to do this podcast interview. Well, welcome Suzanne. Is okay, if I call you Suzanne?

Suzanne: Your Royal Highness or Suzanne is just fine, whichever.

Brandi: We’ll go with Suzanne, for today.

Suzanne: No problem.

Brandi: All right. So could you tell us a little bit more about your background, other than the little blip that I just gave?

Suzanne: Certainly. So I actually started off my career in advertising in Manhattan many, many years ago. But I’d always wanted to attend law school. So I went back, went to law school, and out of law school, I started as an insurance defense attorney. And I did that for a number of years. And I think that actually kind of helped me hone my skills on procedure and evidence and those kinds of things. But pretty slowly, but quickly, at the same time, turned into a family law litigation practice. And after doing that, for a total of about 14 years, I took the bench. And after leaving the bench, I continued my mediation practice, which I’ve done some before. I probably mediated maybe three cases a month back before I took the bench. Now I’m doing oh, gosh, I think last year 286 was my number. Every day all the time.

Brandi: That is a lot!

Suzanne: But I really. It is! You know, I need a vacation. But yeah, so I did general jurisdiction, like you mentioned. So I’ve heard criminal, felony murder, divorce, which sometimes is worse than murder, family law, modifications, CPS, you name it. So I think I got a pretty rounded experience on the bench.

Brandi: All right. Well, you definitely have quite the background and for your mediation practice, right now, are you only focused on family law cases?

Suzanne: So no, I actually. So I’ve got three on the team. There’s myself, I do civil, federal, probate and family law. I’ll tell you it’s pretty heavily more family law than the rest. But because I’ve got that civil background, I can draw on that. Then I’ve got Keith Becker, who’s our board certified family law attorney, he does family law. And then John Stooksberry, who’s a 50 year 45 year board certified civil trial lawyer who does a lot of our civil stuff. And he is wonderful as well. So we’ve got kind of a rounded team on that side.

Brandi: Yeah, that’s great. Now, we’re not going to dive into this too much. But I did want to ask a little bit more about your experience as a judge while you were on the bench. Can you give us maybe some highlights from your time while you were there?

Suzanne: I’ll have to write a book about this. The crazy things I saw. But I’ll tell you, I learned quite a bit of stuff on the bench that I think I’ve been able to translate into a mediation practice. And the biggest thing is knowing that as a judge, you see a tiny window of every case, that is a sliver. There were times I would leave after hearing maybe a family law case or maybe even a criminal case, thinking I missed something. Someone didn’t tell me something. It’s a terrible nagging gut feeling.

But because you’re limited by the evidence and the testimony that’s presented, you may not hear the whole story. That’s a scary place to be and that’s why at mediation, you know, we can talk about all the different things whether admissible or not, knowing that we can explore them safely. Without worrying about a Judge seeing a tiny sliver and not really getting the the impression that you want, especially for a client to portray.

Brandi: Sure.

Suzanne: So, I think I think I learned that the limits of the judges, they have a lot of stress. And it’s a lot of anxiety over these kinds of cases. But they’re so limited to what’s presented, that that should weigh when people are deciding whether settlement’s a good deal or not.

Brandi: Again, I mean, that makes a lot of sense to me, given if you’re going to trial. And it’s even if it’s a full day trial, realistically, by the time you get all the procedural stuff done, you’re looking at what maybe five hours of total trial time in a day, as opposed to, yeah, if you’re lucky. And if it’s a full day mediation, most of those are eight hours, just scheduled and they can go longer.

Suzanne: Correct, right.

Brandi: Okay, so another question I would have from you, since you do have a unique perspective, since you really have seen the practice of family law, in particular, from all angles. What would you, advice would you give to young attorneys specifically, as they’re starting out, and maybe it’s the first time in the courtroom?

Suzanne: So number one, I think, people get kind of lost in the details. Because you have clients who really want you to bring up every single thing that they feel is important. You have to really focus on what you think the courts going to consider most important. And I like that short, but simple, keep things concise. It helped me on the bench too. Because when you start trailing off into things, people lose attention. Judges do it, where humans, you know, it happens. So I think for new lawyers beginning, remembering that not every single thing your client wants to put on is really going to be helpful. And if you detract from the big key points, the court may miss it. So staying focused, and being concise is my probably the best advice I can give a new lawyer.

Brandi: Okay, that’s really that’s really helpful. I’m sure there are lots of young listeners who will find that very, take that to heart, I hope. So your current practice is focused mostly on mediation. Do you represent any clients still, in your current practice?

Suzanne: I do, I keep a very small number of cases intentionally because as I mentioned, I’m I’m a little busy doing dealing with everyone else’s problems, I do keep a small caseload of four cases or less, because I want to be able to give as much time dedicated to those cases, because we have to as lawyers. Can’t neglect your clients. But also have the flexibility for people who need my services, whether it’s weekdays or weekends, or whatever, or right before trial. You know how that works. That trial’s tomorrow. Sure, no pressure. So yeah, I do keep a very small practice, but I’m predominantly focused on mediation. I do trial litigation stuff, like support. I sometimes testify as an expert on like attorneys fees or mediation msa’s, I did one of those not too long ago. So trial consulting the predominant mediation and arbitration.

Brandi: Okay. Now, as far as your mediation practice goes, That’s what I’d like to focus the majority of our chat today about, because mediation is so prevalent in family law cases. And as you know, at least in our area in the Dallas area, most courts require you to go to mediation if you want to have more than an hour per side for final trial. And so, personally, I think as both a mediator and someone who represents clients in mediation, that there are a lot of things that a lot of attorneys don’t take into consideration. And there’s some definite mediation, do’s and don’ts.

Suzanne: Agreed. Yes.

Brandi: So now, on the don’t side of things, what can lawyers do to make their mediations more successful?

Suzanne: So, truly, number one thing to me is make sure your mindset is right for mediation. A lot of us are trial lawyers, I will get in there and give you a big fight too. But that’s not the time mediation is not the battle, it’s the opportunity to compromise, right? So you’ve got to get your mindset correct, because otherwise your clients won’t either. If you come in thinking, you know, we’re gonna do it our way or, or quite honestly, this is a box being checked. We just we’re doing this because we have to, your client is going to have that same attitude, like, why should I even bother listen or consider it?

Because this is just either a waste of time or if I don’t get everything I want that it’s not fair. That is a terrible four letter word, fair. And I don’t know if I borrowed that from Coye Conner. So Coye if it’s you, thank you, but I use it. It’s a four letter F word, make sure that your clients know that it’s not going to be what you consider fair, it’s going to be what you can live with. So having your mindset is to me, number one, for the lawyers come in there knowing this is not the time to have a battle.

Brandi: I think that’s really good advice. I think compromise is the key during mediation, and everybody needs to give a little at mediation, otherwise, you guys, the clients are gonna end up spending 1000s and 1000s of dollars on trial.

Suzanne: True and I will tell you 100% of the time at least 50%, if not 100% of the people are mad at what the judge did. So if you can at least have the control by settling the case, then it takes away some of the additional not only anxiety but frustration, because you weren’t able to control what the outcome was at trial like you can in a mediation.

Brandi: Yeah, I agree with you on that big time. So, from your perspective as the mediator, what would you like to see attorneys doing to better prepare their clients for attending mediation?

Suzanne: Oh, good. That’s a good question. Because there, there’s a variety of things I’ve seen kind of over the course of the last however many years. Number one.

Brandi: I’m sorry to interrupt but let me ask you this. Is it different preparation advice that you think attorneys can give their clients? Whether it’s a Zoom mediation or an in person mediation?

Suzanne: Well, I think the basics are going to be the same. So basically, in person or Zoom. Everyone needs to exchange their information. That is, and I’m sure I think, Brandi, you may have mentioned that when you talked about mediation, that you cannot be unprepared. The mediator does not have access to your records, we don’t have files and files of your proverbial crap, right? We just don’t. So make sure your client is prepared or has access to things if we need to get a copy of that one bank statement month, or whatever it is, because this is not the time to play, hide the ball, because you’re going to spend your time spinning in a circle, right. So that’s the same whether you’re Zoom or in person.

For Zoom in particular, and some of this is just kind of silly. We’ve seen things on YouTube or whatever. It’s informal, because it’s a conversation and we’re working through it. But make sure your clients are not wearing their pajamas. I had a guy who didn’t realize his video was on yet he was not naked, but in his tighty whities getting under a blanket on his couch. And so I just kind of pretended oh, hey, there you are, because I didn’t want him embarrassed. But goodness, I didn’t really need to see all that. So making them understand that it’s still a formal process, because the outcomes, so dress appropriately. You don’t have to wear suit or prom dress. But wear pants, that’s nice.

Brandi: That’s always good advice. Just generally, when we’re practicing law. Pants, or at least something to cover your bottom half.

Suzanne: That’s correct. Replace your smoke detector battery. Oh, my goodness, that beeping in the background is annoying. But also make sure they’re in a place where they’re quiet enough where you don’t have kids or pets making lots of noise. A cat once in a while, a dog, no big deal. But the biggest thing that I’ve seen lately, are extra people. You know, most mediators don’t want extra people. I call them bus drivers. We don’t need an extra bus driver or a pot stirrer off camera. So I’ve actually started putting in my mediated settlement agreements of representation that the parties have to make that says there was nobody off camera, audio, video, whatever. Because we want to make sure they’re making their own decisions. That’s a lot harder to control by Zoom, obviously, because I can’t see if someone is standing behind your laptop. But there’s usually indicators when they’re looking over here talking and muting themselves, you can tell they’re talking to somebody.

Brandi: That’s true.

Suzanne: So making sure your clients also know that that waives confidentiality, we don’t need an extra person overhearing the negotiations because then confidentiality is blown. As well as the fact that it may very well make the other room angry when it turns out, it’s your 19 year old, you know, stripper girlfriend in the background, helping tell you how to raise your children. You know, we always go for the worst examples, but true. So making sure your client understands the parameters and the fact that it really has to be just like if you were in a conference room with the attorneys and the mediator.

Brandi: Now, I think I think that that’s very good advice for people to hear. And I know even as attorneys, when we tell our clients in when they’re doing Zoom mediations that they have to be alone. Sometimes we don’t always have all the control over that either. And so I know of at least one mediator who I’m not going to name here, but they called mediation because they realize that there was somebody on the other side that had a bus driver as you called them present. And I it is a challenge I think with Zoom mediations. I would say most of the time ot’s okay. But and they listen and they go away and the bus driver goes to another part of town. But I think it can be problematic. So what do you think that clients do throughout the course of the mediation that hurt the mediation itself? What are some examples and how can an attorney help the mediator rectify those?

Suzanne: So a couple of things come to mind. One is sometimes the parties believe that they have to convince the mediator that their version of the facts is true. And most mediators make it clear, well look I’m not making any decisions. So I’m not gauging. I make an example. I’ll say something like you know you said it was raining yesterday. He says it was sunny. I don’t not gonna freak out. I’m looking at tomorrow’s forecast. Do we need sunscreen, do we need a coat, galoshes, what do we need? I’m trying to move you all forward. Sometimes they get really bogged down in thinking you have got to persuade the mediator, he is narcissistic, or he is this or she is crazy. No, we are really so focused on is there any light of solution in there we can pull out and make into a settlement.

And I don’t know that lawyers are always as helpful explaining, because sometimes lawyers jump on that bandwagon too. Well, they’re lying. We know our facts. And you’re like, okay, that’s great. But I’m not making those decisions. So let’s focus on what we can actually do. And the fair thing. Fair is a big deal. Fair doesn’t happen. If you start saying the same things mimicking your client. This is not fair. Look what we’ve given. You know, look at all of our concessions. They’ve given nothing. How many times Brandi have you heard that? They’ve given nothing? You’re like, oh, my God. You’re just like, yes, they have. And let’s, okay, let’s go through the litany. They agreed on this, this this. It’s time consuming, when they’re that focused on, this is not fair. And we’re doing it all, when in fact, it is a process.

Brandi: Attorneys, we wear a lot of different hats too. And I like you started this off today saying that mediation isn’t the battleground. So I mean, as your one of your tips, maybe you can explain this, but for attorneys to take off their super hyperfocus litigation hat and put on more of a compromise hat when they come into mediation.

Suzanne: Yeah, and sometimes I describe it as when you’re wearing your trial lawyer hat, you’re really hyper focused. Advocating for your client, your position. When you’re in mediation, it really needs to be more of an open kind of step back. More objective, let’s really look at the big picture. Because often what happens is I end up coming down to okay, now we’re talking trial money. Are we really going to fight over that $5,000 or whatever it may, it may be something as simple as oh, my goodness, a Green Egg grill. I hear that all the time. These must be fabulous, because people fight over them. But letting the lawyer understand, you know, this is a more of a relaxed mindset. Now your brain is still working, because we can’t stop because we’re lawyers. Take notes.

I tell their clients, this is the best deal you’ll ever get out of a lawyer. They’re doing two jobs for the price of one. Helping you negotiate your case, but they’re also prepping for any hearing or trial right. Our minds work like that. That’s why we’re lawyers. So making them realize, okay, we really have to quit being stuck in the weeds, you still have to kind of step back. And remember, there’s stuff that you’re asking for the court can’t do that’s not leverage if the other side, keep saying no. Don’t be hyper focused. Try to kind of be a little more objective and make your client understand look this doesn’t mean, I’m not taking your site anymore. It just means I’m trying to kind of look at it from a global perspective to find this resolution.

Brandi: I think that’s really sound advice. Now, we talked about maybe some things that clients do that harm the process. But what things specifically do attorneys do that are not helpful during the mediation process? And I think we can kind of break this up as we go through and talk about this into specifically actions taken by the attorney in preparation, and then during the mediation and maybe even how the attorney is interacting with their client during the mediation.

Suzanne: Certainly. So when it comes to preparation, like I said, if you’re, I’ve heard people on a number of occasions say, well, they didn’t give us their documents, so we’re not giving them our documents. Okay, well, my job is really not, you’re spending a lot of money for me to be your discovery person. Right? Hey, instead of focusing on the solution? Which a lot of the things, do it in advance if you can.

Brandi: Yeah, so if people don’t have their documents in advance of mediation, do you think that it’s appropriate to come to mediation? Is it actually right to go to mediation?

Suzanne: So that’s a good question. Some cases aren’t. And I’ve certainly seen ones where people are like, look, we just wanted to go to mediation first to see if we can get this done. That’s awesome. If you want to do it before. No, you have to do a bunch of discoveries or depo’s or temporary hearings. I understand saving the money. Absolutely. But if you have a complex case that has separate property claims, commingling, you need some tracing experts you may have I mean, who knows what there’s always some kind of nuance that we you know, that pops up new. Make sure you’re prepared because if not, all it’s going to do is frustrate the other room and make the mediator ineffective.

Brandi: What do you do when there are no supporting documents and people walk in and neither side has them?

Suzanne: Well, mostly I cry no, I’m kidding. First I’ll tell both rooms. Look, what are we what are we doing? What’s our most important stuff we need to see and we need to start gathering this and and I don’t I try not to be mean about it. But I do have three children. So I guess to some extent, I do have that mother voice. Look, I care but I don’t care. You guys need to exchange, get it through me. Let’s look at these things together. Because otherwise we are wasting our time here. And I don’t think it’s good faith, if everyone shows up with nothing having been exchanged, when they need to be.

Brandi: Yep, I agree with you. Now, I know this comes up a lot in my practice, I’m sure in yours, when attorneys have different opinions as to how much time mediation is actually going to take. So what are your pro tips to knowing how long it should take?

Suzanne: So that is a great question. Because I will tell you, this is why I started offering what I call a half day plus, which is six hours. So I do a four, six or an eight. I have to tell you rarely does anything ever settle in four hours. Because you have to do your spiel, I don’t do joint sessions, people hate each other enough. They don’t need to be staring at each other for 10 minutes while I tell them the rules. So that takes some time getting the background, getting there. Sometimes the emotional, you know, they have the cathartic part of mediation, you know, doing the petting instead of okay, yes. Sure.

Moving on, moving on. So it’s hard with four hours anyway, unless you really honestly either have a very simple situation that both lawyers agree won’t take, both lawyers agree won’t take much time. Or you’re checking the box. If you’re checking the box, please let the mediator know in advance. I think it’s a little sad, I guess is the nicest way to put it. When I started mediation, oh, they just both said we’re just here to check the box. Okay, because I’m still gonna try. I’m still gonna give it my best and try to get this done for the sake of the parties saving money and stress and anxiety and time. But if you’re honestly there with no real interest in getting it settled, I mean, you’re teetering on that bad faith itch. Because.

Brandi: Agree.

Suzanne: You may not agree. Yeah, you may have very opposite opinions of what’s right. And it may not settle. That doesn’t mean bad faith, but showing up and deciding, we’re just going to check the box. Too bad. I think that’s problematic. It’s really, it defeats the purpose of mediation.

Brandi: I agree with you on that, too. So do you think that, some cases do depositions, some don’t, doesn’t matter. Some, whether they do or they don’t. But for the cases that do have depositions, do you think that mediation should occur very quickly after the deposition or should there be a little bit of a cooling off period after the deposition is taken?

Suzanne: That’s a good question. Timing issues, super important because especially family law, there’s always that emotional level, no matter what. And if you’ve got allegations of, you know, adultery, gambling habits, drug addiction, we could go on all this stuff we hear all the time. And you just took a party’s mediation the day before. I mean, pardon me deposition the day before mediation, you think they’re in a good mood to settle? No, they’re going to be so wound up that it’s going to take the mediator time just to try to get them calm, and their lawyer usually too.

Timing is super important. I have found, usually depositions after mediation may work better, because you’ve got that little added pressure of well, if we don’t settle, you know, we’re gonna do depositions, etc. Or well enough before that people aren’t still sufficiently hacked off about the very personal sex questions that were just asked them in the deposition, because that’s always how it comes up. So yeah, timing is very, very important, I think and be mindful of that, because we want to have the best opportunity to settle that we can, on every level.

Brandi: Yeah, and I agree. Now, what do you do when a lawyer during a mediation, asks you about your opinion, regarding their position, or the facts that they have on their side? And they’re asking the mediator for an opinion? Should a lawyer do that? Is it appropriate? I mean, I have my opinion, but this is your interview.

Suzanne: So thank you. So ethically, mediators are not supposed to interject their judgment or their opinions, period. I mean, that’s just ethical 101. However, I do get asked periodically, because I used to be on the bench. What are your thoughts? Or what’s you know, do you believe this? Or what would you think? My answer pretty much unanimously is like, I can’t give you my opinion. Because quite honestly, I don’t have an opinion. I am not listening today in that regard. I don’t have that judge hat or arbiter hat on to be listening for is that credible? Are you looking at me when you answer that?

Yeah. So I couldn’t answer it anyway. I can tell them I’ve seen cases where this is a very persuasive argument. But I usually always also go on the other side. But I’ve also seen this as not a persuasive argument, because I want them to know they have risk. You know, no one’s got a slam dunk case. But I think it’s really hard for a lawyer to ask the mediator, what do you think about our facts? Because the mediator should say, I don’t have any opinion about your facts, because your facts aren’t the same facts the other side has. So I’m not making that judgment call on who’s more persuasive.

Brandi: Okay. Now, I know sometimes when I mediate cases, that and I don’t need mediate 286 a year like you do. You’re going for a record.

Suzanne: I need therapy, I admit it.

Brandi: But I know I will sometimes have the attorney that will come in and they won’t let me get through the offer that’s being presented, and they’ll automatically jump to the conclusions or the motivation behind why the offer is being presented. Why is it harmful to the mediation process for an attorney to do that?

Suzanne: Good question to a couple of things. One thing I tell people, please do not ask how the sausage is made. So if you come over and say they’ve offered, you know, $10,000, or whatever, to give the dog back, let’s say there, you can help your client and have the dog. Well, that’s because they know they’re wrong, and they just immediately because they know their case is weak, and they just lose it over that, like no, no no. First of all, don’t jump to conclusions, it could be that I’m magic. And I convinced them in that room, hey, instead of the dog, maybe the cat is a better solution for an apartment, they’re keeping the house.

You know, maybe I found the solution in a different direction. It’s not related to their motivation to harm their client, it might be a logical resolution. So jumping to those kinds of conclusions only kind of fuels the fire. Sometimes the parties have of the motivations of their ex or the other person, whoever it may be grandparent, whatever is on the other side. And that just again, it for stuff. It’s, I’ve means I’m not working hard, and I am. But really, honestly, it’s that you cannot speculate what anyone’s motivation is anyway. And if it’s nefarious, how is that helpful to your client’s position on settlement? Then they’re not going to trust anything that comes from the other room.

Brandi: I think that’s really good advice to help people kind of keep things in the back of their head, as they’re helping their clients through the mediation process. Now, I know that this happens from time to time, I like to think that most of our colleagues would not do this. But why should attorneys not file pleadings, or other court documents during the course of a mediation? And I know that that might be a silly, obvious question. But I do think that this comes up. And I think people need to be aware of it, and maybe how to deal with it.

Suzanne: So in our world of electronic filing, which did switch over pre COVID, of course, I think it’s just made it easier, obviously, to get things filed than running your clerk or whoever, to the courthouse to file it, and then certified mailing or faxing it to the other attorney, because now you get that immediate notification. This has been filed. It’s really problematic, because I actually had one not too too long ago, well, we’ll say a long time ago. So if anybody’s listening, like, that was my case. Now, where someone filed an amended pleading, and it was, like, aggressive. And the problem is, even though they really were doing it in case, we ended up a trial, instead of settling that just set the other side off, like they’re not here in good faith.

Why are they now alleging this? Where I thought we resolve that issue, and now they’re claiming it. It makes it so much harder. If you can hold off, don’t file things in the middle of mediation. Now, if you’re up against, you know, a deadline, and you say, hey, let the other side know, I’m amending our pleading, please don’t freak out. But the deadline is five, then at least the mediator can send the message over, hey, but this wasn’t an aggressive move. It’s just today is the deadline. That would make sense. But if you can avoid it, don’t do it.

Brandi: Or so when that does happen in a case and let’s say like, use the example from your mediation that that happened in recently. What happened to that mediation? Did it set you guys back, did it take longer? What was the impact it had?

Suzanne: Well, in that one, so I, my motto was I don’t fight crazy. I pet crazy. I’ll put it on T shirts. I’m sure. It just made my job harder. I had to go there. No, no, look, okay. Yes, they filed that pleading, but don’t worry about it. Because what they’ve been saying all day that they really want to settle on whatever the new allegation was, they meant it. So let’s focus on that, ignore what they filed. We’re making progress, we can get this done. It just makes you more of a cheerleader in that regard. And it takes time that you away from settlement negotiations, because now you’re trying to, you know, pet the upset people for what was just filed, when you could have avoided it just by continuing on and filing it afterward if we didn’t settle.

Brandi: Sure. Now, do you think that it makes the mediation process easier if people, whoever the petitioner is comes in with an opening offer?

Suzanne: Somebody’s got to start. I mean, I’ve had cases where the respondent starts first or the defendant if it’s a civil case. Personally, I don’t care who starts because someone has to make an offer and there will be a counter because you don’t have to accept the first offer, you probably wouldn’t be going to mediation if it were that simple. But if there’s been settlement negotiations prior to mediation, first off, let the mediator know it’s nice for us to see, hey, what were the sticking points. Because you’ll be able to see oh, these things match. Oh, this is a problem.

But when you come in with something even worse, you know, like, hey, he can have standard possession. Then you come to mediation and your first offers I want sole managing and you can have one hour a year supervised. You know, where did that come from? The other room is like what happened? You know, and then the mediator has to spend a lot of time calming down the no, no, no and getting to a reality offer. So my suggestion is, please don’t make offers right off the bat that are worse than your informal settlement negotiations, unless something actually happened.

I mean, there could have been someone was arrested for DWI, or drug possession or failed a drug test if that’s part of the temporary orders, or there could be a reason. But coming in way high, when you’ve been talking more on the earth instead of in the atmosphere just makes the process longer and a lot harder, because then don’t forget, the mediator has to work in both rooms. And I think sometimes lawyers forget that. I have to work in both rooms. So if everybody’s hair is on fire, you know, I only have so many fire extinguishers. And when it’s remote, I can’t even put it out. So yeah.

Brandi: Yeah. Now, as far as attorneys coming into the room with their client, and either bad mouthing the other side, or bad mouthing the other client, and we all know it happens, you know, attorneys are human, but what can, are there any tips that you have other than don’t do it that maybe can help the process go a little bit smoother for mediation?

Suzanne: So I’ll tell you when, when attorneys are bad mouthing the other party, I it concerns me because that means they’re a little too emotionally involved in the situation. And as lawyers, we’re still supposed to be detached to some extent, we’re supposed to be objective enough to give our client good legal advice that’s not wound up in the emotions. That’s problemsome. Is that even a word? That’s, that’s challenging. Write it down. If it’s a word, I I just created it.

Brandi: I think you can combine troublesome and problem, you know, a problem together, but I like it, I think we can have a new word.

Suzanne: There you go. I’m tired. So if you can make ginormous a word there you go. But it, it’s really a problem, because then you’re not seeing the case, you may not see the weaknesses in it. You may also not see the advantages in it if you’re so entrenched with your client’s emotions. So that’s problematic by itself. But when you’re bad mouthing the other counsel. I mean, we’ve all had cases where we, you know, we’re warriors, this is what we do. You go fight. I think family law is a little more unique and that then we all go have lunch before COVID. Or go to advanced family and hang out, because we’ve seen all the sides. We work in all those different capacities, that if you badmouth the other attorney, not only is your are you, in a way, damaging the legal practice that we’re in.

And family law, because family law is tough. It’s not simple. It’s emotional. It’s traumatic for everybody. You diminish the value of the family law attorneys, number one, and number two, you’re kind of setting your client up for thinking, okay, well, if they’re so horrible, you must be awesome. And you might be awesome. But what if you go into court on the date that the judge is super unhappy about something and pours you out? Then your client is like wait a minute, you said that attorney was a piece of junk, but they beat you in court. So I always take the position, opposing counsel, they’re excellent lawyers, they’re very effective, even if in your heart, you don’t believe it. If you kind of build up the other attorney, then if you go in and get a victory, your client’s going to be like, oh, my gosh, that lawyer was great.

And look what you did. I think the positive is so much more beneficial than the negative. Plus, honestly, it puts me in a position because I love everyone, as you probably know. I like to be the neutral. I do. I’d like to be able to help everyone and know all the lawyers and be friendly with everybody. I don’t want to be put in a position where they’re expecting me say oh, yeah, isn’t she the worst? Oh, my God, Brandi Crozier. Oh, my God. Yeah, I’m not gonna do that. Why would I? It puts a weird, puts the mediator in an awkward position as well, when you just are saying negative, you know, bad mouthing the other attorney.

Brandi: Now as the mediator, if you feel that an attorney maybe needs to have a chat or something like that, do you ever pull them out and talk to them one on one? If you feel like maybe they’re not wearing the correct hat that they should be in their mediation?

Suzanne: Yeah, I do. So whether it’s Zoom or in person, I’ve got extra conference rooms here in Zoom, I always set up another conference room just in case. I will tell you, I love Zoom, because not only is it safe, but if you’re not next to your client, I can chat you something. I can send you a chat that says seriously, does your client really believe that? I mean, what? Yeah, not bad stuff. But because you don’t want them to tell their client what you just chatted, it’s always politically correct. But it’s nice to be able to chat hey, did you get that document? Or did you check your email and not make the client feel like you’re not listening? But it’s also nice to be able to pull them into a room and be able to say, look, usually it’s, is your client really feeling this way, I mean what’s going on?

I don’t do it often though, because I’m not their mother. So I really don’t want to want any lawyer to feel like why is she chastising me? Or why is she ringing in here? But usually it’s, hey, you want to talk about something? It’s usually why is your client? What’s happening? Help me. How do I help your client get off that position or the atmosphere, whatever it may be. It’s nice to be able to take them out. So and often lawyers just say, look, I, I’m really advocated for them. But I hate this client. I mean, we’ve seen that. I hate them. They don’t listen to me. They don’t do what they’re told. And then I’ll ask how can I help you with your position, so they do listen more, to kind of work together as that part of the team process in mediation, to help them get that resolution for their client.

Brandi: Well, any other tips and tricks that you might have for attorneys as, you know, ways that they can help the mediation process go a little more smoothly?

Suzanne: Well, I’ll tell you, one of the things that is really helpful is like I said, number one, when the lawyers get along, that’s great. Because once in a while, I’ll bring the lawyers together, say, hey, we’ve got a discovery issue or whatever. A lot of times, I don’t, because I don’t want any kind of argument to develop between the lawyers, because then I’m just refereeing them. So I really do try to keep everyone in their neutral corners. But I think your attitude is so so important for your client. If you really go in there thinking with your arms crossed, we’re not settling, we’re not agreeing to anything, there’s no way to budge, your client is going to adopt that position.

And then the mediator is going to be beating their head against the wall trying to get somewhere. But there are cases that you can’t settle. I mean, if one parent wants to move to California, with the children, the other parent is a soccer coach and the room mom and all that other stuff. Clearly, there’s no middle ground there, a judge is going to have to decide that. But when there is just really digging in, or doubling down, especially on positions that have no leverage. My client insists on having the tax exemption. Okay, well, that’s federal law, and this court can’t do it. Well, too bad.

This is mediation. That’s the worst thing I hear. This is mediation, we can do anything. Sure to a limit. If they’ll agree to give your clients grandmother’s inherited house to the husband, yeah, we can get that done. It’s not going to happen at the courthouse. So if one side keeps saying no, the other room is like well, they have to say yes, they have to say yes. Well, they actually don’t. So can we move on? Trying not to fixate and getting bogged down on things that really aren’t leveraged and can’t happen at the courthouse. That’s just wasting everybody’s energy.

Brandi: All right. Well, and then, Susan, I have one other question for you. Because we do know that a lot of young attorneys listen to this podcast, from the feedback that we’ve gotten. And so what advice would you give to especially young attorneys as they’re coming in to maybe their first few mediations, or maybe even their first mediation ever?

Suzanne: Oh, so I think the first thing is, be confident. You’re lawyer, you’re smart, you’re there for a reason, right? So make sure that your clients understand the roles. You do work for them, and they do make the decisions. So if you’re a little too overly controlling, and doing all the talking, and the client doesn’t get to speak, not only does the mediator not really get to know, what the that particular party’s, you know, boundaries are, I’ll do that I won’t do this because the lawyers talking too much. Or sometimes the parties feel like they just been rolled over with a steamroller like maybe their spouse did during their marriage. So being very cautious of the dynamic, but also making sure your client understands that you’re not going to blow sunshine up their skirt.

If they’re way out on a limb, you need to have the courage to tell them. No, look, we’re not wasting your time on this, this can’t happen. Because if you make the mediator do all the work and be the bad guy, it’s just challenging because we can’t give legal advice as mediators. I mean, I’ve had the chat, can you jump in please, can you can you help me? Be part of the process, don’t do other things and not participate. So be firm, but also make sure your client knows this is their day, and this is for them and that we’re going to try even if it may not be successful. I think it’s all attitude. Like I said, having your mindset being positive, even if it’s a terrible case, we have terrible facts and cases. I mean, we truly do.

Brandi: Sometimes we do.

Suzanne: We do but and your clients are nervous and they’re anxious, and they’re not really sure. Make sure your client understands what the process really is. Because they may be fearful. I have more people say, oh my gosh, I didn’t know we weren’t going to be in the same room together. Of course not. They lose sleep. I mean, and they get upset because they didn’t really understand. Because we send them letters that are pages and pages long and crap, no one reads. They don’t get it. So as long as your client is comfortable and you show this air of confidence, but comfort. I think that makes it so much more productive from the beginning.

Brandi: So really, the attorney needs to take the time before coming into mediation to really explain the mediation process to the clients.

Suzanne: I think so. I do agree. I think that’s true. Because I mean, there’s certainly different movies out there with mediators and I know if you’re like me, I can’t watch those. Like that’s not, no. That’s not what happens. No.

Brandi: They’re comedies to me because it’s not right what they’re doing but yeah, they’re comedies.

Suzanne: Yeah, that’s not how it happens. But sadly some people think, well, that’s how it happens, we’re gonna all sit in a room together and we’re gonna, no, that’s not what we’re going to do, we’re going to try to give everyone their comfort zone in their space with their lawyer privately, but have the person who gets yelled at all the time be the one going back and forth. They don’t yell at me all the time, but to try to negotiate it. And if no other reason to help them get on with their lives and not make their life worse. The mediator’s job is not to make the party’s lives worse.

Brandi: Well, Suzanne, thank you so much. This has been really a fun interview to do. I’m glad that I was able to do it, actually. So where can our listeners go to find out more about you and your mediation services?

Suzanne: Certainly, so our website is and my teenager tells me mom, you don’t have to say www, but I’m gonna. And we’ve got a little bio and the three different mediators. We have an online interactive calendar on there, everything’s there. And we’ve got an awesome administrator here. Her name is Jackie, who is the keeper of all things calendar and management. So she’s always available by phone too, she’s wonderful. But if anybody needs us, we’re here and we’re happy to help. Brandi, can I ask you a question?

Brandi: Absolutely.

Suzanne: So how did I do? Was my my English okay. Did I talk too fast?

Brandi: I did. I did understand your English. It was beautiful. You’re very well spoken. So yeah, I didn’t hear you throw in any French or anything like that while we were talking.

Suzanne: And I didn’t use any bad words, except for fair, that’s the only bad word I said.

Brandi: Fair was the only F word, four letter words that you said, so I was really impressed.

Suzanne: Yay!

Brandi: All right, well, Suzanne, thank you so much for joining us today. And for our listeners ,if you enjoyed this podcast, please take a second to leave us a review and subscribe so you can enjoy future episodes. Thank you so much.

Suzanne: Thank you.

Voiceover: That Texas Family Law Insiders podcast is sponsored by the Draper Law firm. We help people navigate divorce and child custody cases and handle family law appellate matters. For more information, visit our website at

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