Interview: Tara Ollapally of CAMP Mediation: “We go to law school to become dispute resolvers, not gladiators” #Agami

Centre for Advanced Mediation Practice

Started by Laila T. Ollapally, is run by a group of legal professionals who are committed to resolving disputes efficiently and successfully. CAMP believes that people have the capacity and ability to resolve their own dispute, however complex, when placed in the right environment and given the right tools.

Therefore, much thought, effort and energy has been spent to create an environment that is welcoming and safe to clients. CAMP has been created with the intent to make a place where people find closure, resolution, and peace.

CAMP was shortlisted for the Agami Prize 2018.

Interview by Maitreya Ghorpade of HNLU, Raipur.

Editor’s note: Apologies to Tara, Maitreya, and our readers for the super-delay in publishing this. 🙁




1. Please introduce yourself to our readers.

My name is Tara Ollapally and I am the Executive Director of CAMP Arbitration & Mediation Practice Pvt. Ltd. I graduated from Bangalore University and later pursued my LLM from Columbia Law School as a Human Rights Fellow.

I have previously worked in the US for 10 years as a human rights lawyer and immigration/asylum lawyer before returning home.

2. What led to the establishment of CAMP?

Laila Ollapally’s experience as Founder Coordinator of the BMC undoubtedly played a crucial role in the establishment of CAMP. While the increasing number of Court-annexed mediation programs played an important role in introducing mediation to our legal system, we felt that the scope of mediation was being restricted.

It is at this point that I returned to India from the US, with a desire to do something different in the legal field. When Laila, my mother, received the JAMS Fellowship, I felt a calling towards alternate dispute resolution.

It is with a view to increase access to mediation as a tool for dispute settlement that we set up CAMP, so that both private individuals and companies could take recourse to mediation even at a pre-litigation stage.

3. What CAMP does it do?

We have two primary objectives: first, to provide disputing parties access to the skills of highly trained and skilled mediators so that they may collaboratively resolve their dispute, and second, to help establish mediation as a lucrative career option.

In India, most mediation work is done on a pro-bono basis, whereas in the United States, a senior mediator is able to earn as much as a senior partner in a firm. It is our aim to elevate mediation as a profession to that level.

4. How has CAMP Mediation’s journey been till now?

It has been a pioneering journey thus far. Needless to say, it is not easy being the early bird. When we started CAMP, there was no awareness of the scope and extent of mediation in the community and we received calls inquiring after our ‘meditation’ classes ever so often.

However, there has been a remarkable change in the last 3 years. More mediation institutions are coming up and parties are more aware of the process surrounding mediation.

Further, more contracts now contain a mediation clause and there has also been an increase in the efficiency of the commercial mediation process. Additionally, the advent of Supreme Court referrals to mediation, and to CAMP specifically, have undoubtedly played a role in the growth of mediation.

4.A. How has the initiative become what it is today?

What is of foremost importance is the commitment and dedication of a small group of lawyers/mediators who have experienced the adversarial system and see the value to provide options for dispute resolution to Parties in dispute.

The support of lawyers who understand the process and support it by effectively persuading their clients is an integral aspect of making CAMP what it is today.

Furthermore, the support of international partners such as JAMS, the Singapore International Mediation Center (SIMC), and the Edwards Mediation Academy (EMA) has also played an important role in helping us reach where we are today.

4.B. What have been the successes till now and what do you think caused them?

CAMP has mediated a number of complex commercial disputes. We have a panel of experienced and trained mediators and our initiative is only encouraged by Court referrals, including those from the Supreme Court.

We also manage the Consumer Court Mediation Desk, where pro bono services are offered, and mediations are conducted at the court itself. This is an important example of a public-private partnership in this field.

CAMP has been involved in policy work as well. We have submitted a Model Mediation Law to the Ministry of Law.

Further, on the recent issue of formation of a Commercial Court Ordinance on Mediation, we have been working with the Ministry as well as with NALSA. We have, therefore, repeatedly provided our services and opinion to the Government.

Additionally, we have provided high-quality training through JAMS and the EMA for about 50 highly qualified legal professionals and conducted conclaves where individuals have been introduced to the concept of mediation.

However, one of our biggest achievements is the recognition we have received from the International Mediation Institution (IMI).

We have been approved for a Quality Assessment Program (QAP), in accordance with which we can accredit professionals as “IMI Approved Mediators” if they meet the professional and educational standards that we set. This is particularly noteworthy when kept in mind that India has no country-wide standard for professional mediators.

The credit for all this undoubtedly goes to the fact that we were one of the first places to provide for mediation as an option for dispute resolution and to our tireless team.

tara ollapally, camp mediation
Image from here.


 4.C. What are the challenges facing mediation as means of dispute resolution in India?

  • A lack of awareness amongst lawyers means that they see it as Assured Diminishing Return and fear that they will lose files. Further, the perception that mediation is a soft skill that does not use the skills and training of a lawyer and is, therefore, only suitable for matrimonial disputes, is detrimental to the field as a whole.
  • A lack of awareness among parties means that they often see it as a compromise or something you do only when you have a weak case.
  • There is no substantive law on the issue as passed by the Parliament; neither is there any central leadership managing the growth and development of mediation in the country, which is growing in a haphazard/ad-hoc manner.
  • The quality of Mediators is often not at par with international standards.

5. How is the current scenario in India regarding Mediation and its image in the country?

Mediation is growing. There is an increased understanding that disputing parties need options.

The currently available option is heavily burdened and cannot meet the needs of our population. Therefore, we are seeing more mediators, institutions, and laws on the subject.

This is embodied in two seminal changes that have taken place in the field of mediation over the last two years:

  • Section 442 of the Companies Act, 2013, makes it compulsory for the Government to maintain a panel of experts called the Mediation and Conciliation Panel. Parties can take recourse to this panel at any time during the proceedings by submitting the required fees.
  • The Commercial Court Ordinance of 2018, which came into effect on May 3, has inserted Section 12A to the Commercial Courts Act, 2015. Section 12A (1) provides that the parties to a dispute cannot take recourse to the courts unless pre-institution mediation and settlement have first been exhausted.

That said, quality is a serious concern, which is evinced by the experiences of many people who are disgruntled with the process of mediation. This is only aggravated by the fact that there is a lack of awareness of the mediation process.

6What is being done to alter the image and spread awareness about Mediation in India by organizations such as yours?

There are numerous awareness programs carried out in the community both with corporate organizations as well as with students.

We undertake training sessions on advocacy in mediation and the Mediation process to help lawyers understand the different role that they play in resolving a dispute in today’s day and age. It is no longer the case that disputes are to be always dealt with in an adversarial manner, but rather that the option of peaceful settlement must be clearly presented to parties. This is done both to facilitate resolution, and to lessen the load on an already overburdened judicial system.

We have also built a panel of quality mediators who carry out mediations in the most professional and efficient manner. Thus, we ensure that our clients have a positive experience in mediation. We also push the importance of including mediation clauses in contracts.

 7. You returned from a life of Human Rights practice in US to work on Mediation in India. What prompted such a move and how do you look back at your decision?

There is a strong co-relation between the two fields. Mediation has a strong Access to Justice/Rule of Law component. As a human rights lawyer, I worked on several “Access to Justice Projects”, and my work at CAMP has sustained a strong Access to justice component within it!

This is definitely the best decision I have made, I have absolutely no regrets. There are enough people working in court, but not enough people working in alternate means of dispute resolution.

8. Given that there are no Indian mediation regulations as in other legal regimes, how adversely does this affect the prospect of choosing mediation?

A law would greatly aid mediation. Legal backing will give tremendous confidence to parties to try the process.

We also believe that India must become a signatory to the Singapore Convention on Mediation, which is the first international convention regarding the enforceability of international Mediated Settlement Agreeements (iMSAs).

This will no doubt help elevate mediation as a means of dispute settlement.

9. Please tell us about your team.

We are a small team of 4 full timers and 2 part-timers. Most of us are lawyers – some still practice in courts. Some of us mediate at the court-annexed program.

What brings us together is that we are an incredible group of experienced legal professionals, committed to giving disputing parties the chance to collaboratively resolve a dispute.

10. Which events and occurrences have informed or inspired you the most to choose a life in mediation?

The holistic (subjective and objective) intervention of a dispute through the mediation process makes complete sense to me.

My mother, Laila, who co-founded the BMC, was also a practicing lawyer. So, as a law student, I would spend a lot of time with her and would consequently see the variety of cases that she dealt with.

There was this one case, where a lady was constructing her house in Mysore. As a result of the Mysore Urban Development Authority (MUDA)’s carelessness, there was a live-wire left unchecked on the property, which caused the lady’s husband to get electrocuted to death. Rightfully, she sued the MUDA for negligence. Initially, the case was filed in court, and I forgot about it as I moved to the US.

Many years later, after I had returned, I was sitting in my mother’s office when the same lady walked in, looking much older than I remembered. She had boxes of sweets with her, and she was thanking us for finally getting her justice 12-13 years after the incident had occurred.

Despite having received a favorable order from the court, her face was not one of a winner or of someone who had been done justice to by our legal system. Though she was to receive compensation, the time had passed, and her need for the money had diminished significantly.

Rather than 13 years into the dispute, she had needed the money in the immediate aftermath, as she had been left alone to raise and provide for 2 young children. It is this which made me wonder if she had received justice in spite of receiving the money.

On the other hand, mediation stories form a rather stark contrast. I have seen a case that went on for over 10-15 years resolved in a matter of 5 mediation sessions; warring families, where brothers have thrown each other in jail, have been able to reconcile their differences and resolve their business in sessions lasting no longer than 40 minutes.

I have also had the privilege of attending some fabulous mediation training programs and meeting some of the top-notch mediators in the world. Over the course of these experiences, it is the humanity with which they manage and ultimately resolve a dispute which has inspired me to continue pursuing this passion of mine.

I am of the opinion that my professional development as a mediator strongly complements my personal growth as a human being, something very few professions are able to do.

The holistic (subjective and objective) intervention of a dispute through the mediation process makes complete sense to me. In order to thrive, I need to connect with my work on multiple levels and mediation allows me to do just that.

12. How does it feel after being nominated for the Agami Prize and how has it affected your work.

There is a strong need for innovation in the legal space. Our legal system is in distress and needs transformation. Multiple approaches need to be incubated and developed to facilitate quick, effective and appropriate resolution.

The Agami Prize is a breath of fresh air for innovators in the legal space as the industry needs more such initiatives to recognize and support the work of individuals/institutions doing innovative work in this space.

13. How can law students and young lawyers contribute to your initiative? 

It is important to build awareness and understanding of the process. As Maslow’s Law of the Instrument goes, if all we know is adjudication, the only solution we can find for our clients is through the adversarial process. After all, we go to law school to become dispute resolvers, not gladiators.

The Global Pound Conference (GPC) is one of the biggest conferences dedicated to the advancement of alternative dispute settlement as a profession. In its 2016/17 edition, it found that there was a fundamental disconnect between what parties wanted from their lawyers and what lawyers thought was expected of them.

This disconnect is because parties are slowly starting to want an efficient resolution of their dispute above anything else.

Our role as lawyers is to be effective dispute resolvers. In a time when there are multiple ways to resolve a dispute, law students and lawyers must learn all these diverse ways and know when to use which method to arrive at the most effective solution.

After all, we go to law school to become dispute resolvers, not gladiators.

14. The future road-map for CAMP Mediation.

There is a bright future not just for CAMP but for mediation as a whole!

In 2018, the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) Mediation Audit revealed that in the UK, a staggering 96% of cases that had been concluded in the past year had been settled by either mediation, arbitration, negotiation, or another form of ADR. Consequently, only 4% of the total cases settled were settled by trial.

It is our belief that mediation in India has the same potential to take over the field of dispute resolution.

15. Your advice/message for future entrepreneurs, innovators, and change makers.

Stick it out! It’s a tough space, especially that of legal innovation. Further, since there isn’t much innovation going on, it’s a pretty lonely space.

Due to a sense of security, most graduates nowadays end up pursuing similar fields and interests after graduating.

However, considering the kind of innovation that is happening abroad, this is the space that needs most innovation in India. I hope that this is the beginning of a new wave in the Indian legal field.


Interviewer’s Note: My name is Maitreya Ghorpade, a final year student at Hidayatullah National Law University. Conversing with Ms. Ollapally expanded my horizons and made me understand the sheer scope of the methods of dispute resolution. That is not to say that I was unaware of the very existence of Alternate Dispute Resolution methods, but I never considered such as a viable alternative to the traditional Adversarial system of Courts. My conversation with Ms. Ollapally undoubtedly highlighted the importance of mediation in our society, and in fact, showcased how the underprivileged are in greater need of such methods of dispute resolution than the affluent.


Read more #Agami Interviews here.


Agami PrizeThe Agami Prize will be awarded to innovations and entrepreneurial initiatives that can exponentially increase quality, effectiveness, access, and inclusion in and around law and justice. Read more here.

This post was first published on: 3 Mar 2019

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