Hilary Linton is a Toronto-based lawyer and mediator who is passionate about designing dispute resolution processes that best suit the needs of her clients. She believes that the mediator’s approach to conflict should be more embedded in the legal system, and that mediation does not necessarily exclude adversarial approaches to dispute resolution. She sees the future of mediation as one that better acknowledges and respects international, Indigenous and African-Canadian conflict resolution teachings and processes.
Hilary grew up in a small agricultural town of about 6,000 people in southwestern Ontario. She explains that she grew up in a different time, when none of the technology that today allows mediators to do their jobs existed. Her town, she says, was devoid of any apparent cultural diversity, at least to her awareness at the time. Hilary attended journalism school in Ottawa. She says that the training she received in journalism school has greatly contributed to her success and happiness as a mediator; she learned to write short-hand, touch type, write well, actively listen, and speak to others in a way that will help them feel comfortable giving her personal information.
After graduating during the recession of 1982, she decided to attend law school due to a lack of available journalism jobs. In law school, she learned more skills that would later contribute to her success as a mediator, including an understanding of the legal context of disputes. Following law school, Hilary practiced civil litigation and family law for about fifteen years, becoming a partner at a law firm in Toronto. Although she loved being an effective advocate for her clients, Hilary felt worn down by the role, which she explains was not a good fit for her anxious personality. She enrolled in a master’s program in dispute resolution at Osgoode Hall, an experience Hilary describes as “life-changing” because it exposed her to the intellectual and academic side of dispute resolution. With this education, Hilary was able to transition into full-time dispute resolution work, which she continues to do.
Accommodating Adversarial Approaches
Though she found the adversarial nature of her legal career to be draining, Hilary believes that this would not have been the case if she had been trained in negotiation theory and mediation prior to working in law. “Everybody should be a mediator first,” she says, as mediation is predicated on a more fair and balanced perspective from the beginning of the process. Hilary believes that there is a place for adversarial bargaining strategies in mediation, strategies that can be effective if undertaken with the approach of a mediator. For Hilary, this means that the needs of all parties are accounted for and treated equally, “empowering each person to bargain for what is important to them.” She loves the process of designing a method of dispute resolution that will empower everyone involved, regardless of their negotiation style or what they bring to the table. Hilary explains that mediators are by definition better able than lawyers to see a conflict from all sides, and can better account for power imbalances between parties. She sees the role of mediator as one of honor and responsibility, as parties divulge private information in an environment of trust the mediator must build. This, she says, “is what motivates me to do right by these people, because I’m holding something very important to them.”
International and Indigenous Approaches
Hilary sees mediation as a field that is rapidly changing in a variety of ways. Though online mediation has become ubiquitous in the age of COVID-19, Hilary says that she used to be curious and somewhat skeptical about its effectiveness. Now, however, she recognizes the ways in which online mediation can mitigate accessibility barriers that many of her clients face, including lack of childcare, limited time and financial resources and limited English language ability.
Along with the shift towards virtual mediation, Hilary sees internationalism as a growing aspect to mediation, one that is represented by organizations like MBBI. She explains that mediators are paying more attention to Indigenous, African-Canadian and international approaches to and processes for resolving disputes. She would like to see “conventional” dispute resolution attitudes and approaches become more informed, accommodating and supportive of other approaches. She believes that this part of the mediation world will continue to grow, in part due to the work of MBBI, which Hilary finds to be “a wildly powerful organization, and it’s led by truly remarkable people, it’s an inspiring thing.”
Article by Tess Hargarten, MBBI Writer