Legal Role-Play:

Little v. Jenks

Karen Falkenstein Green

Two-party small-claims settlement mediation between two former friends over the sale of a problematic used car

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SCENARIO:

Three months ago, Chris Little bought a used car from a good friend, Tom Jenks. After a week, Chris began to develop headaches while driving the car. A mechanic stated that it was due to a faulty exhaust system which would have to be replaced before the car could pass inspection. When Chris told Tom how upsetting this was, Tom initially agreed to take the car back and refund the purchase price. The next day, however, he called back to say that he had changed his mind. Later that day, Chris filed suit in Small Claims Court to recover this money. Both parties have agreed to try mediation before seeing a judge.

 

MECHANICS:

The organization of the exercise is left to the mediator, who may arrange separate meetings with each side, joint conferences, or both. Between 60 and 90 minutes should be allowed for the mediation. Detailed observation and/or videotaping is desirable. "A Brief Outline of the Mediation Process," Case No. 15003.0 in Other Materials, is useful background reading for the mediator. "An Actual Small Claims Mediated Agreement," Case No. 15004.0 in Other Materials, is useful as follow-up reading for all parties, especially if mediators have been asked to draft any agreement reached. (Hand this out after the mediators have finished their own try at drafting).

 

MAJOR LESSONS:

  • This case tests a mediator's skill at information-gathering and reality testing.
  • Detailed review of precise language, ordering of issues, use of caucuses, and framing of issues can be enormously rewarding. Close observation and/ or videotaping is invaluable, although even student-student review is useful.
  • "Saving face" and legitimacy are both important to any agreement in this case.
  • The skills of separating the people from the problem are especially apropos here.
  • The case raises the question of how one goes about rebuilding a fractured relationship. Does the pre-existing relationship make the mediation easier or harder, or does it depend, and if so, on what?

 

TEACHING MATERIALS:

Role specific:

Confidential Instructions for:

  • The Defendant, Tom Jenks
  • The Plaintiff, Chris Little
  • Instructions for Mediator

 

Teacher's Package:

  • All of the above

 

PROCESS THEMES:

Caucusing; Communication; Drafting; Emotions; Fairness; Information exchange; Interpersonal skills; Mediation; Meeting design; Objective criteria; Partisan perceptions; Reality testing

Little v. Jenks Attributes

Time required: 1-2 hours
Number of participants: 3
Teams involved: No
Agent present: None
Neutral third party present: Mediator
Scoreable: No
Teaching notes available: No
Non-English version available: Dutch