Meet the Mediator with Phillip Howell-Richardson

Our ‘Meet the  Mediator’ feature continues with Phillip Howell-Richardson and will feature a different mediator in each issue. Here the mediators share suggestions on maximising potential for reaching a settlement (in their opinion), strategies they find useful in breaking a deadlock, a mediation they will always remember and some of the changes they have witnessed in the mediation landscape during their time practising in the field.


Tell us a little about your background as a solicitor and how this benefits your work as a mediator?

I was a litigation lawyer throughout my career as a solicitor. I started as an advocate in the magistrates and county court where I conducted cases that included crime, from white collar fraud to serious assault, motoring, licensing, landlord and tenant, debt recovery and insolvency for individuals and companies.

At the same time, I also developed a strong interest in personal injury claims which led me to doggedly pursue a paraplegic case to full trial when I secured the largest PI award ever awarded in the UK at that time. That result led to me to being instructed personally by several insurance companies who followed me from Bristol to Cardiff when I joined Morgan Bruce and Nicholas. Within three years of my joining, I had responsibility for the leadership of the litigation group and set in motion the growth of the group to over 400 people. During that process as part of my role I moved from personal injury to commercial litigation and thereafter created a construction group, a banking group and a mainstream commercial litigation group for companies, organisations and people in business.

In this period, I vividly remember acting for a government department and connected agencies for 5/6 years in claims for recovery of significant sums of government monies due to an alleged fraud. At its height 19 concurrent aggressive actions were ongoing in the US and UK in that matter.

I ceased practising full time as a solicitor in March 2005 by which time I had practised for 30 years as a hands-on litigator. I stopped to become a full-time mediator and consultant in ADR and mediation with S J Berwin in London. I am still to this day a non-practising solicitor.

The above experience of people, litigation, law in action, managing and decision making continues to be of enormous help to me as a mediator.

What led you to move into mediation?

In the latter part of my career as a lawyer I became more and more dissatisfied by the high cost, delay and unsatisfactory nature of the litigation processes in which I was involved. I yearned to cut through the processes to get to the heart of the matter and to find ways to enable people to find freedom from conflict and a solution they can live with. There was always the thought “surely there must be a better way”.

A chance participation in a mediation meeting in 1990 in a case in which I was acting led me to attend in the same year the inaugural meeting of ADR Group. The rest is history. I was elected as Chairman shortly after that meeting was concluded having put my hand up to volunteer as a member of the first Board of Directors.

What types of cases have you been involved in as a mediator?

I have mediated the full range of commercial disputes both in this country and abroad. Claims mediated include but are not limited to: aviation, commercial disputes involving companies or individuals, construction and engineering, disputes involving government departments or organisations, local government and schools, disputes involving employment, finance and banking, fraud, international disputes, insolvency, insurance, intellectual property, IT, professional negligence, property, sport, environment claims and group actions in a variety of sectors. I have mediated well in excess of 1400 cases over my career.

What are one or two of the mediator techniques that you find particularly useful in trying to break deadlock?

One technique is to call for best proposals from both parties to give to me simultaneously in private. Sometimes the parties may then want me to describe the gap between the proposals I hold which I then do in a way that I will have agreed with them when they agree to my using this technique. In any event the next step is usually both parties then agreeing to a release of the offers to each other thus restarting the negotiation.

Another technique is to change the means of communication. Private caucus sessions are replaced by direct conversation being conducted between decision makers or lawyers or experts or any other combinations of those present in the mediation meeting.  Alternatively, the mediator can convene all parties in a group meeting to discuss an issue identified by the mediator.

A more direct technique which needs to be used carefully is for the mediator to suggest a settlement zone to both sides without disclosing any private information as to how the zone is selected.


Disputes can often be quite complex and multifaceted. To what extent do the various elements – such as industry, size of company, jurisdiction of conflict, etc. – play a role in your approach?

All critical factors need to be considered in designing the mediation process that is to be used in more complex cases.

Thus, if possible, there should be private and joint meetings with the parties and the lawyers well in advance of the actual negotiations. These meetings are invaluable in understanding the history of the dispute, the parties interests that have not been vocalised before, the dynamics between the people involved, the legal issues and the strengths and weaknesses as they are really assessed in private.

This preparation will include establishing effective authority for the decision makers attending from complex organisations and defining the scope and priority of the issues in dispute. It also includes, if necessary, agreeing a step by step process to produce the necessary information in a useable form for the decision makers so that they are put in the best position possible in the final phases of the negotiation.

There is no one size fits all. There is only what the needs of the dispute and the disputants are.

Is there a mediation that you will always remember? What difficulties or examples of excellence did it possess and how did you learn from these?

There are two in particular. One is the Porton Down case and the other is an investor state case.

The Porton Down case involved a mediation between the MOD and the Porton Down Victims Group. After decades of pressure the mediation between the MOD and the surviving claimants took place and I was the mediator involved. This resulted in an apology being given in Parliament, a research unit being set up to investigate and treat the illnesses, and compensation to the surviving victims as well as other initiatives such as a memorial to the people who were affected. More than 30 people were present, and the opportunity was taken for an impact statement to be made directly to the MOD and, through the officials present, the Minister. Hundreds of the victims went to the Law Society Hall to approve the full terms of the agreement before the mediation moved on to formally concluding the settlement agreement.

The second involves a multi-billion dollar investor state dispute between a global corporation and an African state. December 2012 saw the start of the mediation and in May 2013 a framework Settlement Agreement was signed. The settlement involved no money passing but the creation of a new joint venture and all the necessary facilities and processes for industrial production thus bringing the benefit of local employment and export income. The parties strained to achieve full implementation of their ambitions but eventually the parties set aside the agreement and reached a monetary settlement in a large settlement sum. I remained involved throughout and concluded relatively recently after nearly 10 years work.

Both cases involved creative process design, careful interaction with people in conflict, awareness of cultural differences, leadership of the mediation as the parties needed from the mediator and continuing energy and commitment to overcome setbacks.

Do you have any tips or suggestions for participants on how to maximise the potential for reaching settlement?

Prepare, prepare and prepare for a successful negotiation. Know all the essential elements of your side of the dispute. If any information is missing and it is necessary to have it available for the negotiation obtain the information that you need. It is probably not necessary to have detail that is hardly relevant to the issues to be negotiated nor to be so awash in detail that decision makers cannot negotiate effectively.


Also obtain the essential detail you need but which you may not have about the other sides case. Analyse what you consider the real interests and needs of the other side to be. What are the strengths and weaknesses of your case?

Do the same analysis using the other side’s case.  Consider your position from the other side’s viewpoint; what would they say about your case? Evolve a negotiation plan always being aware that you have to stay nimble and alert to the dynamics of the negotiation as it takes place.

Prepare carefully to open the negotiation conversation with the other side in a skilful way so that engagement takes place as quickly as possible and you take advantage of the other side wanting to hear where you are coming from. What are the two or three things you want to use to obtain maximum persuasion impact?

What's the best part of your job?

Giving people the maximum chance to craft a settlement that they can live with so that they can be free of litigation, conflict and dispute.

What changes have you seen in the field in the time you have been practising as a mediator? Have these changed how you mediate?

In the beginning no one knew what the mediation process was. There were hardly any mediators trained in the UK, users were apprehensive of using an untried process and there was hardly any use of mediation. At best it was regarded as an idea that might have potential but surely it would never work here in the UK.

Through parties using mediation and finding that it works, excellent training of an early band of able UK mediators, judges supporting the use of mediation and a series of cases pressing lawyers and parties to consider and use mediation, mediation has moved into the mainstream of UK life.

Now we have a varied and experienced group of professional mediators who practice in many areas; from the full range of commercial disputes for companies of all sizes to family, community, workplace, schools, and restorative justice. Judges have incorporated mediation into the litigation process and international mediation is taking place more frequently.

When you are not mediating what do you like to do?

I sail in boats in Chichester harbour, sing in St Bart’s Choir, mountain bike and most importantly of all spend time with my family. Six grandsons are a great reminder of the joy of life.

All Mediators listed in top tiers of Legal 500 2024