Alicia Khoo, Attorney and Certified Neutral Person, holds her own practice in the sunny state of California. In mediation and arbitration, she mainly handles contracts and business disputes; however, living between the U.S. and Singapore, Alicia also performs in-house counsel work for her family’s businesses in the Southeast Asian Republic.
Alicia became involved in MBBI as a mere coincidence. While running her private mediation and arbitration practice, she watched the signing of the Singapore Convention on Mediation treaty and came across a link for the MBBI Bali Peace Conference of 2019. She contacted someone within the organization to find out how she could become involved. Delving into MBBI, Alicia is now part of the press team on the Organizing Committee of Peace Congress 2021 in Quito, Ecuador alongside her Attorney and mediation practice as well as traveling the globe.
The Magic Unfolding
When asked how she became a mediator, Alicia replies, “I literally stumbled upon mediation.” As a Health Sciences undergraduate majoring in Psychology at Curtin International College in Perth, Australia, Alicia’s journey took her from aspiring to be a social worker to becoming a mediator and lawyer. She explains that she decided to take a mediation class as an elective during her Juris Doctor (J.D.) program, thinking it would serve as a time filler to her more rigorous law-focused classes; “Before taking the mediation elective, I thought mediation was ridiculous, we all hold hands and sing kumbaya,” she laughed. She then went on to receive her J.D. from Trinity Law School and her attorney’s license from the State Bar in California. But Alicia soon discovered that mediation was more than soft-policies. It taught her how to become an effective negotiator and facilitator, and real skills for life. She became a certified mediator through the Trinity Law School program approved by the Dispute Resolution Programs Act (DRPA). During this time, Alicia also volunteered with Waymakers, a nonprofit organization, and the Orange County Superior Courts. She began mediating at the courthouse, and explains feeling out of her element in her first few solo mediations, as “sometimes you are mediating between parties who are represented by aggressive attorneys, and these attorneys are dismissive towards the mediator.” After her first two cases did not settle, Alicia, feeling discouraged, told her supervisor, who is an accomplished mediator and attorney in private practice. Her supervisor brought the parties back to the conference room and facilitated peaceful dialogue. Alicia explains, “I saw the magic happen, what this mediator did in there.”
The Power of Mediation
Alicia explains that before becoming a mediator, she believed she would only be employing soft skills, but she learned through experience that “mediation is not soft at all.” She clarifies, “It is powerful stuff. These are hard negotiations that happen and the skills of the mediator are key.” An effective mediator must also be an issue spotter to facilitate the negotiations, helping the parties arrive at a solution satisfactory to both sides. Walking into a courtroom with hatred in their hearts, the contentious parties are oftentimes given the opportunity to reconnect and reconcile their differences during mediation. “Many times, it’s not just that they settled, but that their relationship was able to heal”.
Throughout Alicia’s career, she has had to dig deeper than what is on the surface. The true issues may not be what the parties realize, “sometimes the lawsuit is about revenge, anger, or pain, not really about the contract or money itself.” But through her practice, Alicia sees that employing skills such as listening can foster a reconnection between people. With a background in law and counseling, Alicia utilizes her entire arsenal of skills: non-judgmental listening, issue spotting, and strategic questions to facilitate peaceful dialogue between the members.
When asked if she preferred litigation to mediation, Alicia responded that although she possesses strong litigation skills, she prefers using mediation in disputes. She compares herself to a pitbull in litigation, aggressive when needed, and willing to fight to bring about the best outcome for her client. But mediation, she explains, “is more than settling cases out of court, it’s a sort of public service as well”. It is a path for peace. Her mentor once told her, “justice is expensive, but peace is priceless”. Alicia highlights the importance of mediation, as it offers parties an alternative to oftentimes expensive and time-consuming lawsuits with uncertain outcomes. Mediation, she explains, can be a way of parties having control over their own outcome.
Neutrality is Key
“One important thing about being a mediator is remaining neutral”. At times mediation can test one’s ability to remain neutral, but Alicia mentions that this neutrality does not mean that you can not be on either side, in fact, for her it means you are on both sides. “My vision of neutrality is being involved and being for both parties, to have them both win”. As Alicia recalls in mediation cases at the courthouse, she explains that at times parties walk into the meeting already determined not to settle. When one is a mediator which is part of a program mandated by the court, the parties may feel as though the mediation will not be in their best interests. But many cases Alicia has handled have ended up settling out of court, especially when people feel that their voices are heard, and that is when peace has a chance to prevail.
Article by Emily Shultis, MBBI Writer