The Italian Mediation Explosion: Lessons in Realpolitik


Giuseppe De Palo is the president of the Rome-based ADR Center, a member of JAMS International and the largest private mediation firm in Europe, and an International Professor of Alternative Dispute Resolution Law and Practice at Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul. His e-mail address is

Lauren R. Keller is an attorney and visiting fellow at ADR Center in Milan. Her e-mail address is


Between the time that the first modern Italian mediation statutes were issued in 1993 and March 2011, when mandatory mediation procedures under Italian Legislative Decree 28/2010 went into effect, an interesting paradox emerged in Italian mediation: mediation usage was virtually nonexistent despite the high success rates of mediated cases. Clearly, the mere availability of mediation was not sufficient to attract disputants away from the courts, even though the Italian court backlog skyrocketed to 5.4 million cases during this period.

Decree 28/2010 was issued by the Italian government to address this paradox through a mandatory mediation requirement, but the law has faced significant opposition from some members of the Italian bar in the form of public strikes and legal challenges. Legislators have responded to this dissent with reactionary amendments to “cure” problems in the regulatory structure, even though there has also been significant positive attention paid to the Italian mediation model at the European level.

As the opposition to Decree 28/2010 now appears to be diminishing and recent data indicate that mandatory mediation is achieving its objectives (to the tune of tens of thousands of mediated cases since March 2011), two lessons in realpolitik emerge for mediation proponents. First, nothing less than compulsion can rapidly increase mediation use. Second, the legislator who compels mediation without openly engaging the opposition is not mediation savvy, for even in compelling a policy choice, one should be respectful and mindful of the opponent's position, if for no other reason than to minimize his or her opposition to the final result.