Presence, preparation and passion guide Morrow's mediation practice

By Kate Wallace, Contributor

Toronto mediator Bernard Morrow’s motto is simple: “Be heard.”

“I try to be present,” the principal of Morrow Mediation, the full-service dispute resolution firm he founded in 2011, tells “That might sound really obvious, but as a mediator, you need to give it all you’ve got. You have to be really attentive to everything that is happening.”

Long before mediation rose to its current popularity, and before the late 1990s, when it became mandatory in Ontario for certain types of litigation, Morrow was practising mediation. Originally, he took dispute resolution training to enhance his employment law practice. When he began integrating mediation techniques in his practice, it felt right.

“One of the reasons I explored it was it appealed to my natural instincts to be a problem-solver and a helper,” Morrow says. “I felt that I could do more where I helped people on their terms.”

Many people don’t necessarily need or want a legal outcome, he says.

“What they want is to solve their problem, and they want to do it relatively quickly, and in a way that meets their interests,” says Morrow, who was called to the bar in 1988.

He recounts how his late father told him he could see him becoming a psychologist because of his interest in people and the human condition.

“I’ve always been a curious person and fascinated by what makes people tick, why they think or feel a certain way,” he says.

Mediation is Morrow’s dream job, well suited to his skill set and training, but also to his nature.

“When you take on the role of a mediator, your interest is in helping people and working with them to resolve a conflict,” he says. “You have to be a glass-half-full kind of person. I go in with a sense of hope, curiosity and optimism.”

Following his early experience of integrating mediation and other alternative dispute resolution techniques into his practice, Morrow moved on to mediating disputes.

“It just blossomed from there,” he says.

Morrow has provided mediation services to various public and private-sector organizations, including the Financial Services Commission of Ontario, the province's Dispute Resolution Office, and the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario where, for over 10 years, he served as an adjudicator.

Morrow has designed and delivered his own training programs, including an advanced negotiation course for the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies, and a certificate program in ADR for the Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology.

Last year, Morrow’s original two-year appointment as the Complaints Resolution Commissioner for the Law Society of Upper Canada was renewed. He calls the part-time ombudsman role a perfect complement to his ongoing private dispute resolution practice, which focuses on commercial matters, employment disputes, human rights issues, partnership dissolutions, construction disputes and personal injury cases.

Regardless of the case, Morrow’s approach is based on the same principles: "presence, preparation and passion," he says, chuckling at the unintended alliteration. And key to any successful mediation is gaining the trust and confidence of the parties, Morrow says. That means, firstly, putting them at ease.

“I show a great deal of interest in getting to know the participants in the process,” he says. “Sometimes you can find a road of entry just making a connection with someone on a personal level. They see the humanity in you.”

After more than 20 years and 1,500 mediations, Morrow enters each new session with an open mind.

“I try not to prejudge,” he says. “While I may form a certain impression when I read the parties’ briefs, if I base my expectation only on what I read, I may not be open to what I see and hear during the course of the mediation. And, it’s during those discussions with the parties, whether in joint session or caucus that I get a real feel for what is driving the dispute and the key interests that each party hopes to achieve.”

Any dispute has at least two sides, he says.

“So, the question is, how do you get the two sides into the sandbox, to have that conversation?”

Sometimes, he says, it’s a matter of time. Morrow gives each file the time it needs, bringing a blend of persistence and patience to the process, even working beyond the allotted time to arrive at a resolution.

“I’m in it for the long-haul,” he says. “I let the process unfold. That comes from a general sense of hopefulness, and my belief that if people are given enough time, eventually I will lead them there.”

He finds great satisfaction in reaching that end goal of resolution.

“I like the challenge of the journey and how it feels at the end, that sense of relief and catharsis that comes from closure.”

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