About Us

Victoria Pynchon

As the co-founder of She Negotiates Consulting and Training, I offer my services as a keynote speaker, trainer and consultant....

She Mediates

ADR Services, Inc.

She Negotiates

She Negotiates

The 33 cent wage and income gap is unacceptable and unnecessary. So is the cliché glass ceiling. Bottom line, our...

BigLaw Women on Succeeding While "Doing It All"

Competing? Use What You've Got, Ladies!

From today's Careerist post.

Men take more risks when faced with an attractive female opponent. At least in the game of chess. Research from Stockholm University finds that male chess players take riskier moves when they face an attractive female opponent.(Remember that steamy scene where Faye Dunaway, right, played chess against Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair? Does anyone remember who won?)

Unfortunately, the risk didn't pay off for the male players' performance. Women, however, weren't affected by the attractiveness of their opponent. (Harvard Business Review blog)

In-House Women Attorneys Make 40% Less In Bonus Pay | What To Do About It

 

The women in the ALM/Corporate Counsel survey who held the top positions in their law departments—chief legal officers and general counsel—reported an average total cash compensation of $575,200, while their male counterparts pocketed an average of $723,700. Female deputy chief legal officers surveyed brought home an average of $316,400 in total cash compensation, while men in the same positions made an average $386,700. Total cash compensation was calculated in the survey as a combination of salary reported as of March 1, 2013, and annual cash bonus for 2012.
Smaller bonuses for women accounted for a large part of the disparity between the numbers for top-level men and women corporate counsel. The survey indicated that GC and CLO women and their deputies made around 40 percent less in bonus payouts than men in the same roles.
Read more: http://www.law.com/corporatecounsel/PubArticleCC.jsp?id=1202618551555&Survey_Finds_HighLevel_Women_InHouse_Lawyers_Paid_Less#ixzz2eS7Erhbk

What can I say that I haven't said before?

Negotiate your bonuses!

The women in the ALM/Corporate Counsel survey who held the top positions in their law departments—chief legal officers and general counsel—reported an average total cash compensation of $575,200, while their male counterparts pocketed an average of $723,700. Female deputy chief legal officers surveyed brought home an average of $316,400 in total cash compensation, while men in the same positions made an average $386,700. Total cash compensation was calculated in the survey as a combination of salary reported as of March 1, 2013, and annual cash bonus for 2012.

Smaller bonuses for women accounted for a large part of the disparity between the numbers for top-level men and women corporate counsel. The survey indicated that GC and CLO women and their deputies made around 40 percent less in bonus payouts than men in the same roles.

Read more here.

How Do You Close the 40% Bonus Gap? Here's How

First and foremost, understand that bonuses are negotiated. The Grindstone gave eight tips to help you negotiate your bonus some time ago and the advice is all the more important today. Career coach Rebecca Rapple advised women to remember that they are tough negotiators. "Realize," she said, 

that it is a negotiation! Many people (but especially women) accept their year end bonus, or lack thereof, as a fact, rather than a negotiation. Far too often we hear people saying “You should feel lucky to have a job” and other self-defeating phrases. While, in reality, companies are lucky to have you! And its important to ask – and negotiate – for the compensation you deserve.”

Read the entire Grindstone article and then start planning your "ask" for your year-end bonus. Use our free resources here.

The Smartest Negotiators in the Room Warn Us Not to Make the 5 Top Business Bargaining Boo Boos

In a special free report from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, the smartest negotiatiators in the room offer their advice on the five top bargaining errors. Below is an excerpt with a link to the free report. 

Viewing negotiations as win-lose

When negotiators come to the table assuming it's a win-lose negotiation, it is more likely to break down. Negotiators who are collaborative and willing to understand their counterpart's interests are more likely to negotiate mutually beneficial tradeoffs that result in more successful deals. Discover three proven strategies for finding value in the negotiation process.

Overvaluing your assets and your power

Business deals are built on relationships. When you're personally invested or believe you have more to gain, you can overvalue your assets and your power. Understanding the perspective and interests of your counterpart will enable agreements that benefit both parties and maintain strong business relationships. Learn how to prepare for a collaborative negotiation that avoids a power backlash and leads to success.

Overestimating the outcome and overcommitting to a deal

During the negotiation process, it's easy to lose sight of what you want out of the deal and ovecommit in order to make the deal happen. A keener understanding of what is valuable to the buyer and how committed your counterpart is to the deal will help you make better choices in the negotiation. Find out how to manage your bias and commitment to the deal before making an agreement.

Download PON'S free report - Business Negotiation Skills, 5 Common Business Negotiation Mistakes here.

Raw Economic Power In One Corner and Justice In the Other.

When it comes to paying (or not paying) employees, the cri de coeur of American business is not yes, we can but because we can.

We don't provide our employees with health care insurance because we're not required to. We pay them minimum wage because we can.

We don't pay our interns because they've been convinced by career placement counselors, their parents and American business, that there are so many over-qualified people to perform the largely clerical tasks they're "hired" to do that they have to work for free.

See PayGenY for all the many reasons this is actually, legally and morally wrong. And it pains me deeply to say that friends of mine who could afford to pay new college grads at least minimum if not a living wage, ask them to work for free because they can.

What has happened to our moral compass?

What has happened to our understanding that the wheel of fortune will always turn and that when it turns down for those at the top, it's a feast for sharks unless the fallen has treated his partners and subordinates as valuable members of a team, without whom he could not accomplish the job he's doing, let alone make the money and accrete to himself the power he has taken for himself.

I have seen this in action too many times for it to be a one-off.

The first shall be last.

 It was ever and will ever be so.

The President of PETA, interviewed by Alec Baldwin in his must-hear podcast, Here's the Thing, noted that American business justifies animal cruelty so long as it can connect mistreatement to a penny or two increase in the price of its stock. The same is true for corporate human capital. The shock of the recession and its aftermath (socialize the loss and privatize the gain) has caused everyone from highly compensated senior equity partners to the last-hired guy in the mail room to react the way rats do when the man in the white lab coat throws the switch on the electrified grid beneath their feet. 

They either attack one another or go catatonic. 

Big Law in particular is treating its people very badly because it can. The people from HR, sometimes with security officers beside them, are walking up to legal secretaries with twenty-five to thirty years of experience and terminating them on the spot, hovering over them as they pack their things and walking them out the door.

I call this the new American perp walk.

If HR knew what it was doing, it would know this - people's claim-making inclinations are highly colored by the manner in which they are terminated. As Joan Didion so eloquently reminded us,

We tell ourselves stories in order to live. The princess is caged in the consulate. The man with the candy will lead the children into the sea. The naked woman on the ledge outside the window on the sixteenth floor is a victim of accidie, or the naked woman is an exhibitionist, and it would be 'interesting' to know which. We tell ourselves that it makes some difference whether the naked woman is about to commit a mortal sin or is about to register a political protest or is about to be, the Aristophanic view, snatched back to the human condition by the fireman in priest's clothing just visible in the window behind her, the one smiling at the telephoto lens. We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely... by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the 'ideas' with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria — which is our actual experience.

If we terminate employees disrespectfully, subject them to humiliation and treat them unjustly, the story they will tell themselves about their recollected work experience will be one of disrespect, humiliation, and injustice. If we terminate them respectfully, with sufficient notice and with offers to help them make the transition, the story they will tell themselves about the past will reflect the present and claiming-activity will be reduced.


Continue Reading

Value Pricing the Answer to Gender Bias in Big Law?

What is the one thing male AmLaw200 lawyers possess in relative abundance that women lack?

Time.

And yet, pricing legal services based on the time it takes a lawyer to do her work is the only truly important metric for retention and promotion in the AmLaw. Well, that and cronyism, of course.

But I'm not talking cronyism in this season's issue of the Journal published bi-yearly by the Florida Association of Women Lawyers. As I say at the link, "if measuring value by time had prevented men from marrying and having children, they would long ago have found a different way to measure the worth of their work."

I'm talking value pricing. 

Check it out at the link above.

Is Your Bargaining Partner Lying to You?

Excuses, excuses.

Listen.

Americans are way too credulous.

In a recent study of internet behavior, psychologists found that Americans were 20% more trusting than Europeans, 23% more credulous than the Chinese and 33% less suspicious than the Russians.

There's an entire industry that devotes itself to signs of deception. We're told to watch body language, read "micro expressions," analyze speech patterns, attend to eye movement, and a host of other confounding tactics to detect lies. You and I know, however, that if someone had the technology to know whether your spouse's bowling league trophy was picked up in a second hand store or s/he's been spending those evenings with a former lover, they'd be wealthy by now and the world a much, much different (and perhaps scarier) place.

What to do?

If you don't feature yourself an adept at reading faces or jerky body movements to detect deception, do what men and women have been doing since we first began to narrate stories sitting in caves around campfires.

Ask for a narrative.

There's a policy in the company to pay women 30% less than market when they return from parental leave? Really? When was that policy put into place? What was the thinking behind it? Who was involved in the decision making process? Why was 30% decided upon rather than, say, 20% or 15% or 40%? Who in the company approved the policy? Was it run by the legal department?

After wading through a lot of micro-expression and body language tells, the Harvard Program on Negotiation recommends what any first year trial attorney would tell you about deception detection.

Ask lots of questions.

By asking many questions during a negotiation, you can increase the cognitive load of a possibly deceptive counterpart and increase your odds of exposing the truth. In particular, ask him to repeat information, ask for details about points that he should (or should not) know, inquire about several different topics in the same discussion, and ask questions out of chronological order. You also might ask easy questions for which he may not have prepared. And by asking follow-up questions that require elaboration, you create a dilemma for liars, who want to make a good impression by answering quickly but may be forced to stall to fabricate a response.

When taking testimony, you ask for detail. When did you speak with Mr. Jones about your [alleged] 2-year employment contract? Who else was present? Where was the meeting held? Was anyone taking notes? Did anyone bring anything to the meeting? What time of day was it? Who scheduled the meeting? What was its purpose? Was there an agenda? How long did the meeting last? Who, if anyone, agreed to follow-up after the meeting. As best as you can recall, what did Mr. X say? Ms. Y? You? 

Eventually, someone who's making shit up will run out of story-telling details. After all, how many of us are novelists? You wouldn't get far with Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, but most people are unable to relate a coherent, detailed narrative of an event that never took place.

Don't accept excuses for anyone not giving you what you want. Explore instead. You'll have the upper hand when you reveal them for the lame story-tellers they are. But, please, don't gloat. They're your negotiation partners and you can't get a good deal unless you allow them to save face. Wars have been fought for face-saving purposes. Don't underestimate people's need to walk away from a deal without feeling disrespected.

Harvard to Dell Shareholders: Demand Schmuck Insurance

Over at Harvard, the smartest guys in the room are making a play to save Dell's shareholders from predatory purchasers by analyzing Michael Dell's BATNA and recommending negotiated resolutions.

Dell's original plan to buy the company for $13.65 a share has stirred a possible shareholder revolt, the threat of a higher offer from another private-equity firm, and efforts by billionaire activist Carl Icahn to convince Dell to pony up a higher bid. 

Here's the first piece of advice for shareholders from The Harvard Program on Negotiation. Go to the link to read the entire post - well worth studying for all negotiators whether you're bargaining with your home decorator or contemplating the sale of your billion dollar business.

To address shareholder concerns that Dell would be buying the company when it is at its most vulnerable and later making a tidy profit at their expense, Barusch recommends that Dell offer so-called “schmuck-insurance.” Less-colloquially, Dell could offer a “contingent value right,” or the right for shareholders to later obtain a payment in the event of a Dell sale or independent public offering. Such contingencies can help negotiators reach agreement by eliminating the need to agree about the likelihood of a future event, such as a dramatic rise in Dell’s value. Instead, through a contingency, they essentially place a bet on what will happen.

Whenever parties are trying to negotiate a deal whose value is contingent on future events, their radically different views of what the future holds can not only provide "insurance" against cataclysim but can bust through impasse created by continued distrust between the parties.

Intellectual property disputes, for instance, are often settled with an agreement by which one party pays the other a licensing fee for five to ten to twenty years in the future. In one case I mediated, the defendants were afraid that the plaintiffs would flood the market with their product in year six, one year after the settlement agreement provided all licensing fees would expire. The plaintiffs contended that they would be discontinuing product sales in year three.

I recommended that the plaintiff put its money where it's mouth was, guaranteeing a significant percentage of profits from sales made by the plaintiff for five years after the date it contended it was certain to stop manufacturing. If it was true to its word, this concession would cost it nothing, but it would eliminate the concerns of the defendants who were preparing to leave the negotiation and return to litigation.

Sometimes, this tactic calls one of the party's bluff and other options must be pursued. In this case, the plaintiff was happy to give the defendant a large share of its fifth through tenth year profits which it believed would be zero.

The case settled thre and then.

You don't have to be the smartest girl in the room to gain strategic advantages like this in your own negotiations. All you have to do is ask yourself what your negotiation partners' interests are - their needs, desires, preferences, priorities and, in cases like this, their attitude toward the future.

As always, thanks to the Harvard Program on Negotiation for continuing to provide such sound negotiation advice to the rest of us.

Picture It Settled Wows the UK Legal Industry

The Legal Insider has given rave reviews to our friend Don Philbin's settlement application - Picture It Settled. Here's the LI's report on the LegalTech 2013 conference where Don wowed the audience (as usual).

I do have to report that I encountered an application that did indeed tame “Big Data”. My definition of the term is a significant collection of “bits” of information that just form an amorphous mass, unless you have specific tools to mine them.

One such implement was Picture It Settled from the eponymous software company run by Don Pilbin that helps skilled practitioners in the all-important end of arbitration, which is the single day where you try and negotiate a settlement without either side blowing the deal. Different people adopt varying strategies, some open proceedings quite early in the day to allow time for many rounds of bargaining, others play games of financial “chicken” in an attempt to ramrod through their offers at the last possible minute.

Don’s team analysed all the “rounds” of negotiation across all the different courts in the US, for all the different states/jurisdictions, for the different types of litigation, well over 10,000 cases. They also called in psychologists to look at the behaviours people adopt when bartering to and fro. All of this combines into an application where you set up the initial parameters of venue and arbitration type, and the highs and lows of the settlement figure. As the bids flow, you key in the value and the time they were made.

You start with a grid of 8 hours on the vertical axis and money along the horizontal line, after a couple of rounds of bidding you start to see a V extending down (over the next 50 negotiating moves) towards the end of the day with a “fuzzy” intersection around an area of probable agreement. Not a substitute for experience and knowledge, but an aid that shows you the parameters you could work within and increase, (or reduce) the final settlement without “blowing” the deal. Only for US at the moment, but we discussed the UK implications for settlement negotiation, in say the volume businesses.

Check out this video on Picture it Settled Lite below.

Settlement Value of Asbestos Claims: Experts Clash: $1.3 Billion or $270 Million?

The way juries decide which expert to believe is an entire field of study that I won't go into here other than to say that one report concluded that

Jurors [often] try to unravel the factors leading to the contradictory testimony, or to reach their own conclusions about the content of the testimony. In some cases they also made judgments about which expert was the most credible and relied on that expert's testimony. For example, in an asbestos case, one expert impresed jurors because of his credentials and prominent position in the field. The authors observed that, it seems that "jurors in product cases often make these kinds of judgments-personal judgments about the experts and not about the information relayed."

To my mind, this is playing roulette, as most lawyers know since they settle more than 90% of all litigation. So what do you do when you have a $1.03 billion delta between your experts as recently reported by Legal Lines in regard to the Garlock Sealing Technologies bankruptcy proceedings.

Should the parties simply split the difference between experts?

Splitting the difference would result in a settlement of $785 million. As common and compelling as splitting the baby in half is, it either won't provide a fund to pay future claimants who will develop mesothelioma in coming years or it will deprive this bankrupt company's legitimate creditors reasonable recompense from the bankrupt estate.

Here's my advice from Success as a Mediator for Dummies

Splitting the baby is unprincipled and suggests that one party or the other doesn’t truly care about the item being negotiated. If you believe you’re entitled to recover $100,000 from your adversary, why would anyone, particularly a so-called neutral mediator, ask you to take 50 percent of what you’re owed? It feels random, without principle, unjust.

If you have the urge to split the baby, make sure you’ve exhausted all other avenues. Ask yourself whether you have

  • Made a concerted effort to ascertain your bargaining partner's interests (needs, desires, preferences, priorities, attitudes about risk, and the probability of future events) and to include them in the conversation.
  • Conducted a cost-benefit analysis, assigning probabilities to the likelihood of victory at each stage of the litigation or other dispute-resolution process and to the likely range of damages or recompense if you prevail at all those stages.
  • Articulated principled bases for your claims, as well as for the defenses to the other party’s claims.
  • Sought out help in reality-testing the version of events upon which your claim or defense rests. 
  • Ask diagnostic and follow-up questions of your bargaining partner, and restate his answers in your own words to ensure that you understand what he said and that he can listen more objectively to what he’s actually saying.
  • Made an effort to identify hidden value, absent stakeholders, and hidden constraints and interests, pobing for hidden interests, absent stakeholders, and secret constraints?
  • Dealt with emotional obstacles to resolution such as the desire for revenge, the need to restore “face,” the pressure to grieve the loss, and any other strong emotion that would prevent the parties from brainstorming a pragmatic resolution of a difficult dispute.

The rest of the Dummies "Split the Baby" Cheat Sheet is here.

How To Think Like A CEO

Buy this book from the International Association for Contract and Commercial Management.

I know. It's pricey.

But take a look at the table of contents and introduction linked above. This is the advice we've all been waiting for.

I'll be blogging on it as soon as I'm back from vacation. Yes, they DO let bloggers vacation . . . wait a minute . . . 

Here's an excerpt. As you can see, they're singing our song - authentic, relationship-based, non-adversarial, value-added, mutual benefit negotiation.

 

contracting must become a core business competence to assist in understanding, evaluating and overcoming the complexity and challenges of today’s global markets.
This position is reflected in the work of a growing number of academics who show particular interest in the connection between contract management and relationship
Copyright protected. Use is for Single Users only via a VHP Approved License. For information and printed versions please see www.vanharen.net
4
ContraCtandCommerCIalmanagement–theoperatIonalguIde
management. Specific examples include Nobel prize winner Professor Oliver Williamson, author and educator Kate Vitasek, outsourcing guru Professor Leslie Willcocks and a host of thought-leaders who collectively belong to ‘the school of pro-active law’ (Professors Tom Barton, Kaisa Sorsa, Henrik Lando, Rene Henschel and Gerlinde Berger-Walliser being notable examples).
To achieve that end, it seeks to be inclusive of a wide range of viewpoints and to encourage balancing of interests and needs, in a way that is appropriate to the extent and duration of the contract that is being formed. It encourages openness and honesty, but of course we cannot prevent our readers from using the information in whatever way they deem appropriate. In general, we suggest that adversarial or confrontational relationships do not tend to work; but as with all things, this is not always true. Suppliers in particular may choose to stick with domineering customers and learn how to leverage their relationship. But we see limits in how much such a relationship will achieve.
This philosophy leads us in general to warn against unbalanced or inappropriate allocations of risk. It also encourages the parties to question transactional, as opposed to relational, behaviors, recognizing that all choices carry a cost. A good example of this readiness to question is contained in an article by British economist John Kay, entitled ‘It’s time to rip up your unwritten contracts’. In it, Kay suggests that the shift from performance based on long-term relationships to performance based on transactional contracts has reduced input prices, but damaged longer-term profitability.
We seek to explain and bring those costs to the surface, in ways that will assist good business judgment and support sustained business success.

contracting must become a core business competence to assist in understanding, evaluating and overcoming the complexity and challenges of today’s global markets.

This position is reflected in the work of a growing number of academics who show particular interest in the connection between contract management and relationship management. . . 

To achieve that end, it seeks to be inclusive of a wide range of viewpoints and to encourage balancing of interests and needs, in a way that is appropriate to the extent and duration of the contract that is being formed. It encourages openness and honesty, but of course we cannot prevent our readers from using the information in whatever way they deem appropriate.

In general, we suggest that adversarial or confrontational relationships do not tend to work; but as with all things, this is not always true. Suppliers in particular may choose to stick with domineering customers and learn how to leverage their relationship. But we see limits in how much such a relationship will achieve.

This philosophy leads us in general to warn against unbalanced or inappropriate allocations of risk. It also encourages the parties to question transactional, as opposed to relational, behaviors, recognizing that all choices carry a cost.

A good example of this readiness to question is contained in an article by British economist John Kay, entitled ‘It’s time to rip up your unwritten contracts’. In it, Kay suggests that the shift from performance based on long-term relationships to performance based on transactional contracts has reduced input prices, but damaged longer-term profitability.

We seek to explain and bring those costs to the surface, in ways that will assist good business judgment and support sustained business success.

In his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Harvard professor Steven Pinker suggests that among the four primary reasons for the decline of global violence (yes it has declined, think WWI and WWII) is trade.

Check this book out along with Pinker's. It's on the "optimistic news" reading list.

 

#MillenialWomen - Have You Really Given Up On Success?

Or are you avoiding leadership paths because continued inequities and structural workplace barriers make it look like a bad bet?

Here's the data supporting the finding that you don't want to shoot for the top from a recent study reported here.

  • Only 15 percent of 1,000 millennial women surveyed said they would want to be the top leader of a large or prominent organization.
  • 49 percent say the sacrifices women leaders have to make aren’t worth it, and nine in 10 agree that women leaders have to make more sacrifices than their male counterparts.
  • 76 percent of the women surveyed are concerned about their ability to achieve a balance between personal and professional goals.
  • Only 46 percent are willing to sacrifice aspects of their personal life to achieve professional goals.
  • 59 percent of millennial moms agree that the sacrifices women leaders make aren’t worth it, while 40 percent of those without children share that view.
  • Although the survey found that millennial women highly value mentorship, only 60 percent of them have mentors. Women who have a mentor are much more likely to believe they are on track to achieve their professional goal than women who don’t have a mentor (82 percent vs. 60 percent).
  • Millennial moms are six times more likely than other millennial women to say that their career is not that important to them (26 percent vs. 4 percent).
  • 74 percent of working millennial moms say that they’ve had to make personal sacrifices to get ahead, and 52 percent say that the sacrifices that women leaders have to make aren’t worth it.
  • 30 percent of working millennial moms indicate that the inability to balance professional goals with being a parent would hold them back from attaining their ultimate professional role.
  • 22 percent of stay-at-home millennial moms say the inability to afford child care or elder care could potentially keep them from attaining the professional role they ultimately desire.

I'm going to take these statistics at face value and ask these questions of my Millennial Women readers.

If you're in the 49 percent who believe the sacrifices women leaders have to make aren’t worth it, would you change your opinion if you believed you wouldn't have to work harder at home or at work than do your male counterparts? 

If you're in the 76 percent who are concerned about your ability to achieve a balance between personal and professional goals, do you believe your opinion would change if a genie popped out of a lamp and changed only one thing about yourself, your family, your present occupation and your work and home responsibilities - the genie makes you male.

If you are in the 46 percent who are willing to sacrifice aspects of their personal life to achieve your professional goals, what are you not willing to sacrifice. Please be very specific, like, "having at least 5 hours a day with my children until they're at least ___ years old."

If you're among the 59 percent of millennial moms who believe the sacrifices women leaders make aren’t worth it or the 40 percent of those without children share that view, precisely what is it about the climb to or the occupation of a top leadership position that is "not worth it." And why not?

If you're aong the 40% of women who value mentorship but don't have a mentor, what is it that is standing in your way.

If you're one of the millennial moms who are six times more likely than other millennial women to say that your career is not that important to them (26 percent vs. 4 percent) what situation might you find yourself in that would make you change your mind or simply your priorities?

If you're among the 74 percent of working millennial moms who have had to make personal sacrifices to get ahead, please say precisely what those sacrifices are and whether you believe men are also making those sacrifices and if not, why not? s

If you're among the 30 percent of working millennial moms who believe that your inability to balance professional goals with being a parent would hold you back from attaining your ultimate professional role, do you believe that you'd pursue that goal with greater dedication if you believed you could have "balance."

What does "balance" mean to you - specifically.

If you are among the 22 percent of stay-at-home millennial moms who say the inability to afford child care or elder care could potentially keep you from attaining the professional role you ultimately desire, do you also believe that if that care was affordable and readily available that you'd more likely attain the professional role you ultimately desire?

If I told you that the greatest predicator that a woman will end her life in poverty is the birth of her first child, would that data point change any of your opinions or priorities in regard to advancement in your occupation?

Vault's Top 10 Summer Associate Programs

 

The Top 10 Law Firm Summer Associate Programs are:
 
1.      Venable
2.      Troutman Sanders
3.      Schiff Hardin
4.      Paul Hastings
5.      Bingham McCutchen
6.      Dickstein Shapiro
7.      Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
8.      Shook, Hardy & Bacon / Gibson Dunn & Crutcher (tie)
9.      Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz
10.  Irell & Manella
 

“Because the summer associate program serves as a gateway to a law firm career,” said Vera Djordjevich, Vault.com’s Director of Research and Consulting, ”it is important that law students choose the firm and the program that best fits their needs.”

Djordjevich continued, “Among our highest-rated summer programs are those that manage to provide both a realistic depiction of associate life and engaging social opportunities, so that summer associates not only develop an accurate sense of what lawyers do day to day, but also form valuable bonds with their classmates and others at the firm.”

 “What makes Vault’s rankings unique,” Djordjevich added, “is that they are based on the insights of current junior associates who are looking back on their summer experiences, so they have had time to reflect on their firm’s program and the ways in which it has helped them to become better lawyers.”

Here they are for those lucky enough to qualify (or unlucky, depending on what you think of billing 2400 hours a year).

1. Venable

2. Troutman Sanders

3. Schiff Hardin

4. Paul Hastings

5. Bingham McCutchen

6. Dickstein Shapiro

7. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

8. Shook, Hardy & Bacon / Gibson Dunn & Crutcher (tie)

9. Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz

10. Irell & Manella

FYI: this is the last time you'll see the beach during the summer for many, many years. But, truly, go for it!

 

2012 Law Librarian Survey

First the survey, then my slidedeck from last week, then a post . . . later this week . . . about gender in the law library.

 

This Week's Attorney Shero Is The Bad Ass Zimmerman Judge

Who can work the hardest and longest.

That's how legal balls were judged back in the day. I recall court reporters often saying that my adversary had whispered a plea to tell the assembled lawyers and witnesses that she had to get home to her kids.

They couldn't say they needed a break themselves. If they did, they'd lose their reputation as the BadAss King of the Mountain. 

I'm pretty sure this is a thing of the past, but I do know that mediators often push the parties to keep negotiating until the wee hours of the morning to break their will and close a deal.

This is an exercise of physical power, not the immaterial forms of persuasion like ingratiation, rational argumentation, authority, commitment, promises or even threats. It is, however, a particular kind of bodily shaming that's a check-the-box-guy thing. I never heard of a woman asking another woman to be her beard.

This week, the Queen of the Mountain and Bad Ass Attorney Shero of the Week is the Judge in the George Zimmerman trial.

Here's what the Miami Herald had to say about the Judge pushing the attorneys to their physical limits.

And just let me say here that there's some schadenfreude in this story for this woman attorney who was told in her early days of practice that women couldn't be trial lawyers because they "didn't have the taste for blood" or the stamina necessary to engage in adversarial combat.

Tempers flared Tuesday night as the George Zimmerman murder trial was recessed just before 10 p.m.

Defense attorneys complained when the judge ordered everyone back in court Wednesday morning.

"Your honor, we’ve been working very long hours," exhausted Zimmerman defense attorney Mark O'Mara pleaded after a 12 1/2-hour day in court.

"So have I!" Seminole County Circuit Judge Debra Nelson shot back.

"Your honor, we don’t have time to prepare our witnesses," he said.

"We're recessed... it is now 9:57 p.m.,” Nelson said.

Visibly exasperated, defense co-counsel Don West continued to address the judge as she began to pack up. "I don't think I can physically keep up this pace much longer ... weekend depositions and at night,he said."

In the attorneys' defense, the Judge's day ends when she walks off the bench. The lawyers have to go back to their offices and prepare the next day's witnesses. Even if the Judge takes the parties' briefs home to read in bed at night, that's a luxury compared to the work the attorneys face. Many of them will not sleep tonight.

The Women of Bitcoin

Money.

We've used cowrie shells, playing cards, cigarettes, subway tokens, precious metals, paper backed by gold and by trust, numbers on a ledger, plastic cards promising repayment, and now, bitcoins.

According to today's New York Times, bitcoins are "created by a network of users who solve complex mathematical problems — a method known as mining — to generate" the new currency.

Like precious metals, bitcoins rely on scarcity for their value.  As the Times instructs, "Only a finite number of bitcoins can be created — 21 million — with the current count at about 11 million."

Though the name Winklevoss is most closely associated with the first fund for bitcoins, the fund proposal recently filed with the the Securities and Exchange Commission came from the desk of Katten Muchin lawyer Kathleen Moriarty, who played a leading role in the creation of the first exchange-traded funds including iShares, Vanguard Exchange-Traded Funds (VIPERS), ProShares, WisdomTree and IndexIQ.

Another woman lawyer, Carol Van Cleef, who heads Patton Boggs's emerging-payments practice told the Times that “Digital currencies are not going away, [a]nd as bitcoin rises in popularity, you’re going to see traditional financial products and services being adapted to it.”

Van Cleef, who practices in Washington, D.C. represents financial services companies and other clients in federal and state regulatory, compliance, and enforcement matters, including anti-money laundering (AML), electronic payments, federal deposit insurance, and other bank regulatory issues. She counsels banking organizations, credit unions, securities firms, insurance companies, finance companies, money service businesses (MSB), and hedge funds.

If you're looking for advice about the future of money, you couldn't go wrong by contacting Moriarity or Van Cleef. Be prepared, however, to pay their substantial fees with traditional green.

The Negotiation Doctors Are In At The Daily Muse

Starting this week with Questions to Ask Before Negotiating, the co-founders of She Negotiates Consulting and Training will be answering your negotiation questions (men's and women's) twice a month at The Daily Muse.

Our column, Ask the Negotiators, depends on you for its success.Research shows that negotiators learn best when working out their own bargaining challenges instead of attending classes where they're asked to negotiate hypotheticals whose facts are limited and often don't pertain to the negotiation environment in which men and women are required to have an often difficult conversation leading to agreement.

So please, send your toughest negotiation problems to us. We rarely achieve salary increases of less than 20% for our clients whether they're seeking a raise or making a lateral move. We've helped business people sell their small companies to larger ones, assisted others in having difficult conversations with their current employers as a last step before job hunting, and have helped organizations get their people working together as a team again.

There's no negotiation problem too tough for us and if we don't know the answer off the top of our heads, we do the research necessary or seek out the industry experts who can guide us - and you - in the right direction.

Here are my prior columns answering reader questions. Take a look at my co-founder Lisa Gates' profile here and decide who you'd like to ask or simply throw the question up for grabs by sending it to negotiation@thedailymuse.com. 

Ladies and gentlemen! Start your engines! Life is about to get easier and work far better and more remunerative.

We advise HR people as well so its not all employee related. We deal with companies, entrepreneurs, non-profits and individuals who are all seeking to get what they deserve - a happy, fair, productive and just workplace for everyone.

Power of Anger Ineffective against Powerful Negotiators

 

Researcher Gerben Van Kleef of the University of Amsterdam found that only low-power negotiators were strongly influenced by their opponent’s expressions of anger; they made larger concessions than when no anger was expressed. High-power negotiators barely seemed to notice the other side’s emotions; they identified their own true bargaining interests and offered only the concessions necessary to reach a good deal.
How can you gain this advantage?
Immediately before negotiating with someone you know to be emotional and demanding, reflect on a time you negotiated with a strong BATNA. Recall your sense of confidence and control. Generating psychological power can immunize you from your opponent’s angry tactics.

Listen.

We're all somewhat afraid of conflict, at least those of us who are not sociopaths.

Men and women both want their days to pass without having accusations hurled at them, without hearing what a frenemy is saying behind their backs, and without stirring their colleagues or clients to anger.

Women, however, do tend to react to a negotiation challenge somewhat more fearful of an angry response than do men.

I've said before that men can claim to be unemotional only because they don't believe anger to be an emotion and I think there's more truth to that than humor. 

I had a client once who was negotiating her bargaining partners toward a million per year. That's what everyone in her niche was making. The men with whom she was negotiating gave her many reasons why she was an outlier and worth less than her peers (all of whom were men and most of whom were twenty years her senior). But it was she who they listened to at industry conferences. She was the expert. They'd just found a cozy retirement niche.  

Eventually, of course, her bargaining partners grew testy and finally one pitched all all-out temper tantrum worthy of a two-year old, telling her she'd never succeed, never reach the heights of the profession she'd already scaled. Told her she was fooling herself. Told her she didn't deserve it. Told her to get a grip on herself and remember who she was.

We responded with the best negotiation tactic for a bargaining partner who betrays us. We played "tit for tat," punishing the miscreant proportionally by simply going 36 hours without returning his phone call. When he finally did reach her, he apologized and, on top of that, increased his last offer without responding to a counter. In other words, he apologized by bargaining against himself, just about the only rule young attorneys are taught by their elders. Not to bargain against yourself.

So if you're worried that your negotiation partner is going to get angry at you, don't worry. Not only is "tit for tat" a powerful game changer, but recent research cited by the Harvard Program on Negotiation shows that only low-power negotiators [are] strongly influenced by their opponent’s expressions of anger.

Those negotiators who didn't trust their own power made larger concessions than when no anger was expressed. High power negotiators, however, barely seemed to notice the other side’s emotions; they identified their own true bargaining interests and offered only the concessions necessary to reach a good deal.

Here's the best news, anyone who wishes can gain the "high power" advantage. According to Harvard, our best strategy, particularly if we're anticipating an emotion response is to reflect on a time you negotiated with a strong [alternative to a negotiated resolution]. Recall your sense of confidence and control. Generating psychological power can immunize you from your opponent’s angry tactics.

Got that? Add a power pose (arms above your head, hands behind it, standing tall to trigger a flood of testosterone) and you'll be the leader of the pack.

Vroooom, vroooom, vrooooom.

Failure IS An Option

My students' questions sometimes haunt me for days.

My most recent ghost of Christmas Future is the question whether it's ever an option to let an organization fail.

Not only is it an option, there's an entire legal specialty devoted to organizational failure - bankruptcy, particularly that branch of bankruptcy that permits institutional reorganization.

But the question more on my mind for the past week has been personal rather than commercial. Is individual failure ever an option?

If it is, that's good news for all of us who are busy trying to shore up systems that might be failing, relationships that might not be serving us well and careers that are latched onto our necks like Vampires.

I have friends whose jobs have quite literally killed them and they weren't people working with dangerous machinery.

They were lawyers.

Everyone has an indiosyncratic response to the presumed failure vs. pretense of success dilemma. One former colleague told me no one ever left the AmLaw100 for any reason other than failing to make the grade. Since he's now counsel at a major motion picture studio, and one of the best lawyers it's ever been my pleasure to call a colleague, I'm going to assume he's changed his mind about that, particularly since I follow his happy life on Facebook.

Once, in a class at the Straus Institute composed 50% of boomers getting a late-in-life LL.M degree and 50% of law students, the Professor asked everyone to write down their greatest fear and then to pass it to the person sitting next to us.

My 50% - the elders - all wrote "nothing" even though death must surely occur once in awhile as a certain and dreaded event. The other 50%, the kids who still believe they'll live forever, all wrote this word.

Failure.

The boomers had been there at least once and failure was not just someone else's opinion or a vague premonition that had awoken us at 3 a.m. Failure had occurred. In our marriages or with our children. In our careers or our avocations. We'd been laid off or, worse, terminated for cause. We'd lost our money in one recession or another, many of us in the 80s and others in the 90s. Our young adult dreams failed to manifest themselves in our middle years. We'd achieved less than we believed possible. We'd made mistakes for which there were no "do overs."

If that sounds horrible, you're on the other side of 40. Failure, particularly to high achievers, is bracing, tonic, liberating. One survives it. And most thrive in the wake of it. 

Things fall apart and plans go awry when they aren't the best fit for us. The shoes of our occupation may have been pinching our feet for decades and we've gone along assuming it's our fault for not knowing how to lace them up the right way. Or worse, we decide that there's simply something deeply wrong about us. There is no "right" size shoe for our left foot. We're meant to suffer or that chronic pain is something everyone has to put up with.

Why do you think they call it work? 

Here's what happens after career "failure." 

Recovery. Resilience. Happiness. Fulfillment. A higher purpose. Mastery of something we're actually well-suited for. Autonomy. Family. Friends. Comfort. Peace.

Failure turns out not to be an elective in the university of life. It's a requirement.

Yes You Can Be Liable For Negotiating in Bad Faith

I don't believe these arguments would fly in California, but in Delaware where so many corporations are born and with whose law so many contracting parties agree to comply, you can be liable for benefit of the bargain damages if you fail - in bad faith - to negotiate to conclusion agreements memorialized only by term sheets (which usually have too many holes to be enforceable).

Here's Morrison & Forester's case analysis with a link to its article on this important new case law.

A term sheet can play a useful role by allowing the parties to focus on key issues first, without getting bogged down in details. But what happens when a party agrees to a term sheet but insists on very different terms for the final contract?

The Delaware Supreme Court held in Siga Technologies, Inc. v. PharmAthene, Inc., No. 314, 2012, __A.3d__, 2013 WL 2303303 (Del. May 24, 2013), that a bad-faith failure to negotiate a final deal based on a term sheet may have harsh consequences. The breaching party may be liable for “benefit-of-the-bargain” damages reflecting the profits the counterparty would have received if the final contract had been signed and performed. While this ruling is based on Delaware law and the specific facts of that case, the message to negotiators is clear: Don’t agree to a term sheet unless it is explicitly non-binding or you are prepared to continue negotiations in good faith, consistent with the term sheet.

Continue reading here.

Here's DLA Piper's analysis.

If Your Women's Initiative Isn't Working, We've Got Solutions

The National Association of Women Lawyers says your law, accounting or financial firm's women's initiative is not working.

You already know that, of course, and many of you have given up on it altogether. It's so well understood that even the ABA knows about it! Check out Do Women's Initiatives Work in this month's issue of the ABA Journal right here.

It's Just Beginning

But I have breaking news for you. It's not over. It's just beginning.

As one AmLaw 50 senior woman recently told me, until '09, her firm's women's initiative was flowery. In '09, the law firm's women decided to grow it some balls. That's what she said. Verbatim. Those are the women lawyers I remember from my youth. Ballsy. No nonsense. Get it done.

If you'd like to put your poorly funded, management ignored women's initiative on steroids, I've got a panel that is going to tell you how to make it fly. For you. Strategically. 

Not A "Feel Good" Session Nor A Pity Party

This is not a "feel good" session, nor a pity party. But you know what? I've never heard women lawyers throw a pity party from the day I entered law school in 1977 until today.

This panel will also not ask you to expend more energy than you're already expending to be the greatest lawyer you can be. This is a session that will tell you what your law firm should be doing to make your women's careers better.

In addition to the law firm piece, we're going to put the strength of other women lawyers behind you. Because this is not "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" or even "lean in." This is activism.

The panel is not only FREE, but the Women Lawyers' Association of Los Angeles will even validate your parking.

So there are No Excuses not to be there. 

Who?

I'll be there but I'm not the main attraction. Sarretta C. McDonough of Gibson Dunn will be speaking. She is a member of the Board and Program Director for the National Association of Women Lawyers. NAWL underwrote the 2012 National Survey of Women's Initiatives.The survey's findings were gloomy as reported in my post There's Absolutely Nothing Wrong With Women in the Law.

Sarretta is appearing to help you help your firm course correct its women's initiative for your individual advantage which quite directly advantages all women lawyers everywhere.

Along with me and Sarretta, Merle Vaughn of Major, Lindsey & Africa will be appearing. MLA is the organization that authored the equally gloomy 2012 Partner Compensation Survey, as also reported in There's Nothing Wrong With Women

Merle has enough good ideas fill an entire weekend retreat but we're going to help her squeeze her good advice into this single session. Tackle her after the panel is over and pepper her with your most pressing issues.

Continue Reading

There's Absolutely Nothing Wrong With Women In The Law

I want every woman lawyer to know that they do not have to work harder, faster or better to achieve parity in the workplace with their male colleagues.

All we have to do is support one another, which this month includes digging into that ABA Journal Magazine that you usually just toss into the trash.

I'm linking to three reports on law firm women's initiatives and they're all a little depressing.

Still, if you read past the pessimism, you'll realize we're at a tipping point - that the disappointing percentage of women in leadership roles in the law, business and finance (less than 20% in all sectors) is also reason to  be optimistic about the future.

As Gloria Feldt of Take the Lead counsels, if each woman in a leadership role would sponsor one other woman who is poised to take on such a role, we could double those disappointing percentages in five years or less.

The Grim Statistics

A recent study on gender and compensation in the country's largest law firms reports that 

The development of two-tier partnerships, the lengthening of the time periods to make partner and equity partner, the reduction in the number of equity partners, the creation of new categories of permanent associates and permanent non- equity partners, the expanded number of permanent of counsel, and the demand for increased billable hours, have combined to increase income for a shrinking group of equity partners and to disadvantage women in large law firms.

A Major, Lindsey & Africa 2012 Law Firm Partner Compensation Survey reports that cronyism at the top which permits in-group gender bias to influence compensation and promotion decisions presents a significant hindrance to women's advancement and has kept the law firm gender pay gap firmly in place for the past decade.

Finally,the National Association of Women Lawyers' 2012 study of law firm women's initiatives tells a story of underfunding, the lack of meaningful goals and the absence of any metrics to measure the success of those initiatives, all of which would lead a cynical person to conclude that most of those initiatives are more window dressing than they are genuine attempts to address the problems not only of women but of high attrition rates that firms in our new austere economy can no longer afford.

As that study reports:

fewer than half of all women’s initiatives are evaluated annually by management. Similarly, fewer than half of all women’ initiatives submit written evaluations. Moreover, it is not clear that the reporting and evaluation functions focus on specific goals. Some 40% of firms report no specific criteria at all for their evaluation. Of those who report goal-related evaluation criteria, there is often no connection to concrete advancement criteria. Thus, descriptions of evaluation criteria were often along the lines of “accomplishment of goals and activities identified at the start of each year” or “number of events, quality of events, participation level.”

All of that said, I remain optimistic because I've been here before, when I first started practice and some of the firm's clients said "I don't want a woman on the litigation team." My boss, male, said what we women should be saying today, Then you don't want this firm because Vickie Pynchon is the best associate I've got.

 

Thank you, Geoff.

We can do it. We can do it without tying ourselves in knots to conform to outmoded gender roles. We can do it without offending anyone - clients or colleagues. We can do it authentically within our own unique personalities.

We can do it because women's diverse views destroy "group think" and add women's unique collaborative abilities to an entrenched zero-sum system. Most importantly, we can raise the bar of excellence for every firm where management understands that more women in leadership = a more profitable business.

 

National Girlfriends Networking Day: See Soledad O'Brien's Spontaneous Offer to Feature WNBA Star in Documentary

What Are Your Super Powers And What Are You Waiting For?

I just spent the weekend with a group of incredibly engaged, brilliant and successful women lawyers at the Vail Sebastian Hotel where I keynoted the annual Conference of the Colorado Womens Bar Association.

Four questions stirred the greatest interest.

  1. What are your super powers to get things done?
  2. Do you have (or need) the authority to use them?
  3. What can you use them to accomplish to further your own career?
  4. If you're not using them, why not?

Last night at the cocktail party after my presentation (slideshow below) dozens of women approached me to tell me what their "super powers" were.

  • Institutional Knowledge.
  • Ability to assign work.
  • Persuasiveness.
  • Influence over firm power brokers.
  • Willingness to study for and take foreign bar exams (a recurring nightmare in my book, but hey! "how is the firm recompensing you to study for and take it?")
  • Ability to promote younger lawyers.
  • Ability to form relationships with the firm's clients.
  • Speaking ability.
  • Writing ability.
  • Ability to: take a great deposition, write jury instructions, try a case.
  • A large social-professional network that can be tapped for favors and referrals.

And on and on and on.

If you have not made a list of your "super powers" please do so now. Ask yourself how they can benefit your career. Then ask yourself whether you're using them effectively to do so and if not, why not. 

Then go and prosper!

 

Breaking News! There's Nothing Wrong With Women

drowning

Join me, Lisa Gates and Katie Donovan, along with co-host Jana Hlistova and Gloria Feldt for Take The Lead's monthly Smart Women Take The Lead webcast. Register here now. The live webcast will be Tuesday May 14th at 7pm BST, 2pm EDT. You can send questions via twitter using the hashtag #swttl – we’d love to hear from you! And if you miss the live program, you can always click the same link and see it on YouTube.  

Women in the age of of AnneMarieSlaughterSherylSandbergMarissaMayer are drowning in a sea of unsolicited adviceIn recent days, it’s been suggested to me (the generic woman) that I find a way to strengthen my voice (Executive Presence); jettison my womanly emotions in the workplace (don’t cry!); eliminate question marks and exclamation points from my email communications (??!!???); act more like a guy; act less like a guy (in the same article); get the best seat at the conference tableimprove my handshake; ask for more money but to do so with a smile on my face andthe pretense that it’s for someone other than myself;  pay more attention to my family than to social networking; devote more time to online social networking;  learn to golfseek sponsorsseek mentorsbrag about my accomplishments, but modestlyconform my behavior to feminine stereotypes while covertly using man-rules; and, for heaven’s sake never, ever to curse in publicOver at Princeton, it’s even been suggested that young women do what their grandmothers did –find a man who is likely to be a “good provider” while the getting is good (before graduation). My generic woman’s head is about to explode. The solution? Start by understanding there's nothing wrong with you over at the Take the Lead blog here.

WorkLife Seamlessly Arranged By Scandal's Show Runner

This is what feminist heaven looks like.

Do we have to be this successful to rearrange the world to fit one woman's life? Or could we simply realize that this is what WorkLife looks like on the day it stops being a man's world.

Scandal's show-runner Sonda Rhimes' executive-Mommy day.

As part of her Shondaland production company, Rhimes oversees some 550 actors, writers, crew members and producers, and her days are optimized to do so. In the morning, she gets her older daughter, Harper, who is 10, off to school and then contends with whatever is most urgent: writing, giving notes on a script and watching casting videos. The televisions in her office and home are connected to a system that allows her to watch real-time editing by her editors. Both of her daughters have rooms across the hall from her office at work. The younger, a perfectly chubby-cheeked 1-year-old named Emerson, comes in every day, clambering onto Rhimes’s lap during meetings.

I'm not blaming the guys when I say that the historic accident of the modern workplace wouldn't have required men to choose between work and family. They would long ago have figured out how to have both.

Oh, wait a minute. They did. It was called "wives."

In today's economy, few men have the luxury of "wives" and even fewer working mothers have the luxury of the services wives and mothers of an earlier era provided - 24-hour child, husband and extended-family care.

According the government statistics, fifty-nine percent of all married mothers work and 67% of all single women (including those widowed and divorced) work.

Let's celebrate Mothers Day by reimagining the future of WorkLife for everyone's benefit, shall we?

 

10 Reasons To Negotiate Instead Of Suing The Bastards

Now more than ever.

Mediation Awareness Week. See the televised event by clicking on the image and begin at the 57-minute mark.

Ten Reasons To Negotiate Resolution

1. The Los Angeles Superior Court has closed four court houses and dozens of court rooms. 

2. Time is literally money (see the time value of money).

3. The law (and your lawyer) only care about relevant facts - the most important part of your dispute may well not even be addressed, let alone resolved, by a jury verdict in your favor.

4. As your trial date nears, everyone - the judge, your lawyer, their lawyer, your spouse, your friends, and random acquaintances will urge you to negotiate a resolution with a neutral third party (a mediator).

5. Your attorney settles 90% of every case s/he litigates. S/he rarely goes to trial anymore. Ask her about the last verdict she won and then the one before that. If you have a skill (piano, golf, cooking a souffle) ask yourself how well you'd perform if you haven't used that skill recently or often.

6. Litigation is an extremely expensive board game, much of which is simply the cat and mouse exercise of discovery. Here's how it's played. I ask for documents. You object. I write you a letter demanding compliance. You write back refusing to comply and reminding me I have to "meet and confer" with you before we ask the discovery referee to intervene. We meet. We accomplish nothing. I make a motion (write a "brief") to compel you to turn over documents. You write an opposition. I write a reply. We pay the discovery referee to read our papers and listen to our oral argument. The discovery referee splits the baby in half or fourths or tenths. One of us asks the Judge not to sign off on the discovery referee's decision. More papers, more writing, more time, more of your money. The Judge, not a lion of courage, splits the baby again and refuses to award either party the costs of forcing compliance. Two months later (at least six have now elapsed) you get a stack of documents and a privilege log listing the documents that aren't being provided. I write you a letter demanding that you turn over documents on the privilege log. Rinse. Repeat.

7. As if the disrespect of the original dispute were not enough, I now get to sit you down in a conference room with a court reporter and spend a day or two asking you questions you don't want to answer. Often, the questions are asked in a disrespectful manner. When you complain to your attorney, he says "that's just the way the game is played." Focus on the word game. Are you having fun yet?

8. You get a bill for legal services rendered every month but you're no closer to resolution after receiving and paying 12 of these than you were on day one.

9. You're a business person. You negotiate business deals every day. Your lawyer does not.

10. You have given away any power you might once have possessed to resolve this dispute to a lawyer who does not understand your business, your life or the facts that drove you to seek legal advice in the first place.

Had enough? There are people out there - mediators - who are specially trained in helping you first communicate with your attorney and then helping you negotiate the resolution of your dispute with the "other side." Choose carefully. There are as many bad mediators there as there are litigators. My best advice? Negotiate the resolution of the dispute yourself even if it requires you to swallow your pride and to be the first one to say, "let's sit down and figure out how best to serve your interests and mine at the same time."

 

Are Women's Initiatives Meant To Fail?

Nearly every law student in the country from the oldest grad to the youngest aspirant, learns the meaning of "intent" in civil law from the case of Garratt v. Dailey.

You may not want to hurt Bill, but if you put an apple on his head, raise your shotgun and pull the trigger, the law will say you intended to kill him in the highly likely event that your William Tell act causes Bill's death.

The rule that Garratt applies to a five-year old's decision to pull out the chair out an adult woman is about to sit in is this - if the defendant knows with a substantial certainty that his act will result in harm, he must be presumed to have intended it.

Which takes us directly to law firm women's initatives. As the National Association of Women Lawyers' 2012 survey of BigLaw women's initiatives concluded, the programing offered by BigLaw to retain and promote women does not achieve its goals. Not only that, but these women's initiatives rarely have measurable promotional goals.

As the Survey reports, even though women’s initiatives have been in effect for at least a decade, "what such initiatives actually do, and the impact they have on women in firms, is all too often not clear and at worst, open to criticism bordering on cynicism." More particularly,

fewer than half of all women’s initiatives are evaluated annually by management. Similarly, fewer than half of all women’ initiatives submit written evaluations. Moreover, it is not clear that the reporting and evaluation functions focus on specific goals. Some 40% of firms report no specific criteria at all for their evaluation. Of those who report goal-related evaluation criteria, there is often no connection to concrete advancement criteria. Thus, descriptions of evaluation criteria were often along the lines of “accomplishment of goals and activities identified at the start of each year” or “number of events, quality of events, participation level.”

 

Continue Reading

Unemployed Gen-Y Attorney? Stalk Your New Employer With JobProx!

What my email delivers to me. 

It's an app app appy new world!

I wanted to reach out, and let you know about a new smartphone proximity app that allows job candidates and hiring managers to meet by alerting users when they are near one another. Users are then able to request a meetup and the responding party is able to select one of three options; meet now, set up a future meeting or kindly say “no thanks.”

It's a tough world out there, and employers receive thousands of resumes each day. So, how are candidates supposed to distinguish themselves? Well, when users meet with someone via JobProx, they get to present their real self to a possible future employer. The possible future employer gets to see their candidate in person, and not as the many pieces of paper they receive every day.

At the bar?

Can I buy you another? I graduated from Harvard Law in 2010 and have been working at McDonald's since I moved out of my parents' basement last year. This is my girlfriend. She's hot. Want to come back to my place and smoke a joint?

At the grocery store?

I see you're trying to buy a pineapple. Your wife asked you to get a ripe one, I'll bet. Listen, you just turn it over and smell its butt. Yes, that's right. If you can smell its sweetness, that means it's ripe. By the way, I've got my resume on me (reaching into purse) (in Los Angeles substitute the word "screenplay"). Stanford 2014. How's Gibson's summer associate program? I couldn't get an on-campus interview because I'm in the bottom 20% of the class but this kind of dogged determination  is what makes me special and the Law Review editor's a putz if you ask me and I'm sure you wanted to know that because I understand he got an offer.

On the Beach? (women only)

I'll take the straps down on my bikini if you'll put sunscreen on my back. Then we  can talk about my expertise in data privacy breaches.

 

Embarrassing Emails Lead to Settlement of DLA Piper Billing Dispute

I'm Billing Time (video)

On Tuesday, the parties resolved the matter, according to Larry Hutcher, a lawyer for Mr. Victor. Mr. Hutcher declined to discuss the terms of the settlement, citingTh confidentiality provisions in the agreement.

These are the documents law firm associates and contract lawyers dream of finding while sifting through tens of thousands of business communications - associate emails crowing churn that bill, baby  to describe the work being done on behalf of the "deadbeat" client. 

As the New York Times reported last week, "on Tuesday, the parties resolved the matter" and declined to discuss the terms of the settlement agreement, "citing confidentiality provisions." 

The lesson here?

Do not go gentle into that defense. Review all documents, including random associate emails containing the client's name and the words "bill," "churn," "over-bill" and "make my hours." Even if you believe you're clean, hasn't your insurance carrier told you a million times that suing a client for fees is a sure way to get sued for malpractice?

It's inexcuable business practice for a law firm to let its bill fall $675,000 into arrears. Stay in close communication with your client about the steps you're taking on his behalf, make sure he's approved the specific work you've proposed doing in the coming month and call him if your invoice hasn't been paid for more than sixty days.

An ounce of prevention boys and girls.

 

When You're Ready to Seriously Negotiate that 10-Year Case, Read 50 Blog Posts that Will Make You a Better Negotiator

Over at B-School today, you'll find a collection of blog posts that will give you an entire semester's worth of negotiation knowledge, training and (if you practice) experience. Don't miss it. Excerpt below and link here.

Learning to be a great negotiator is a skill that will serve you in a variety of situations. Whether you're buying a car, setting a salary, or in an international business deal, negotiation skills are essential to getting what you want. These blog posts share tips, strategies, and more for becoming a better negotiator.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your settlement engines. Your clients will repay you with more work than you can handle!

The Week at ForbesWoman

We've had a busy week over at ForbesWoman in articles and blog posts covering:

The Davos World Economic Forum

The paucity of women at the Davos Economic Forum despite how rich the ones who attended are as described in this post by Forbes staff writer Louisa Kroll, The Richest Women at Davos.

Women's Davos Wardrobe Dilemmas covered by Moira Forbes as an unfortunate but still critical factor for the display of power necessary to be a player at the World Economic Forum.

A photo gallery of the executive conferences women CEOs love best.

The Continued Assault on the Glass Ceiling

Aman Singh's post on Why So Many Top Women Don't Make it to Executive Leadership.

Jenna Goudreau's Jobs Outlook:Careers Headed for the Trash Pile


Continue Reading

"You Park Like an Asshole" ~ How Not to Commence Negotiations

book.jpgPriming Legal Negotiations is the winner of this week's Golden Asshole Award. /*  An autographed copy of A is for Asshole, the Grownups' ABCs of Conflict Resolution will be winging its way to author Carrie Sperling, Executive Director of the Arizona Justice Project today!  Excerpt below.  Full article at the link.  

Thanks to the Legal Writing Prof Blog for the head's up.

As I left for work one crisp, sunny April morning, I spotted a five-by-seven printed form on my car’s front windshield. The form’s message proclaimed, in large, bold letters, “youparklikeanasshole.” The form had a checklist of infractions like “two spots, one car,” “that’s a compact?” and “over the painted lines.”The bottom of the printed form said,

Parking is far too limited in our overcrowded streets and parking lots, and you happened to park like an asshole. Go to the above web site to see why someone else thought you parked like an asshole. Don’t be too offended, we all do it one time or another—it just so happens you got caught.

My next-door neighbor, who evidently put the note on my car, listed my infraction as “other” with a follow-up explanation written by hand: “You are parking too close to my garage. It’s hard for me to pull my truck in.” I studied the note for a few moments. I felt my heart start to pound and my whole body became uncomfortably warm. I wadded the note and tossed it. I was angry. When I arrived at work twenty minutes later, I was still angry. I told my co-workers about the note.

They all agreed with me; it was rude and inappropriate.

When I returned home that evening, I visited with neighbors who were not complaining about my parking. I showed them the note, now crumpled and dirty. They, too, became angry. One neighbor suggested exacting revenge on the note’s author by letting the air out of his tires. Another neighbor excitedly suggested something involving Crisco. Although I am a trained mediator, I became giddy about the prospect of getting even.

Perhaps it was a moment of self reflection that led me to question why I was even thinking of revenge. But that written demand evoked intense emotions in me and in my neighbors. We did not care about investigating appropriate responses or attempting to resolve the problem; we wanted to make my neighbor pay for his rude behavior. Instead of encouraging me to change my behavior in the way my neighbor requested, the note had an entirely different effect. The written demand prompted me to make my neighbor regret placing that note on my windshield.

This incident led me to question the legal demand letters lawyers write. I wondered if demand letters often evoke similar negative emotional reactions in their recipients. And, if so, do those emotions influence the recipients’ behaviors in ways that hinder settlement?

I'll be providing a template for a negotiation request letter later today.

And all kidding aside, this article should be required reading for every legal writing class in every law school in the country!

Cross-posted at The ABCs of Conflict Resolution Blog.

__________________

*/  The Golden Asshole Award is given once a month to the individual making the greatest contribution to reducing assholishness in the profession.

How to get a raise in 2011 (the bullet point outline with a special note for women)

  • UNCOUPLE YOUR PRESENT VALUE FROM WHAT YOU MADE LAST YEAR
    • your present compensation serves as a powerful anchor of your value to your employer's advantage
    • the following suggestions are a way of re-anchoring that value so that your starting point is greater than what you made this year
    •  recalibrate your value according to what you are worth in your employer's hands, i.e., what does your employer save or make based upon the work you do (this may require research on your part)
    • use that value in setting your desired compensation (also include the cost to your employer of replacing irreplaceable you)
  • ASK DIAGNOSTIC QUESTIONS
    • begin asking your employer and superiors diagnostic questions (questions designed to learn what your employer needs, desires and prefers and what your employer is most concerned about in regard to the continued profitability of his/her business)
      • "how's business" is a great open ended diagnostic question that does not assume the answer
      • more specific questions include "what does the company need to accomplish in the first quarter of 2011 to meet its financial goals?"; "what are the company's first quarter financial goals?" "what do you see as the primary obstacles to achieving those goals?" "what do you see as the primary drivers of success in reaching those goals" etc. etc.
      • don't ask these questions impromptu; write them down as a way of brainstorming the most powerful questions and those that would be easiest to ask

Continue Reading

diversity in the amlaw100? who are we kidding?

Most law firms state their commitment to diversity and inclusivity, prominently featuring on their diversity pages the pathetically few women and minorities in positions of genuine economic power in the firm.  Are they walking the talk?  Let me count the ways.

O'Melveny & Myers ~ We attract, retain, and promote people of all backgrounds, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, age, religion, disability, or any other group characteristics.

201 male partners and 21 women ~ 10%.  In the legal realm, you win awards for this.

O’Melveny & Myers LLP has been named to The American Lawyer’s 2010 A-List, which recognizes the nation’s most elite law firms for stellar performance in the areas of revenue generation, pro bono commitment, associate satisfaction, and diversity representation.  This is the Firm’s third consecutive year on the list of 20 firms judged best at balancing the practice of law with their obligations to the profession.

I don't mean to pick on O'Melveny.  It's representative of the whole.  Any AmLaw100 law firm that would like to crow about its great track record in retaining and promoting women and minorities, please do drop by with your results and suggestions to your peers for improvements in these figures that the smartest guys in the room just can't seem to be capable of figuring out.  

Today, Forbes Corporate Social Responsibility Blog is commencing a series on how a serious commitment to diversity results in improved bottom line performance.  I commend that series to the attention of the real powers that be inside AmLaw 100 law firms and they cannot be found in the Diversity Programs, of that I can assure you.  Here's the intro to the McDonald's diversity program series:

How does a company that serves 56 million customers a day across 118 countries become a leader in diversity hiring and retention? According to the inclusion and diversity team at McDonald’s, it takes a combination of knowing how to leverage a multicultural customer base, a C-suite-led commitment to talent management, and academic-style learning labs.

If you're a woman, like me, we have our own garden to tend.  We leave the Fortune 50 and the AmLaw100 out of discouragement.  But part of that discouragement is born of our own diminished expectations and failures to build serious rain-making activities into our daily practices along with our failures to demand assignments to the types of cases where partners are made.

If your law firm or corporation does not have a serious diversity program, click your ruby slippers three times, say "there's no place like the board room," take the She Negotiates signature course, and kick a little butt. 

Remember, as Gloria Steinem said, "the truth shall set you free, but first, it will piss you off."

Cross-posted at She Negotiates.

Virtual Property, Virtual Litigation and Real Resolution

I continue to bark at the moon.

Here's a piece I missed in April on real litigation filed over virtual property in Second Life.

Architect David Denton spends much of his time on a lush tropical island, where he experiments with cutting-edge building designs and creates spaces for artists to showcase their work.

Never mind that the island only exists in the virtual-reality world of Second Life, a popular online venue where people interact via digital avatars. Denton, 62, said he purchased the island for about $700 — real money, not virtual cash — from its former owner, and considers it his property.

Here's the thought this article triggers.  If 90% of all litigation involving people (I'll skip corporate litigation and litigation brought to vindicate rights such as that declaring Prop 8 unconstitutional) will end with a retired Judge telling the people that litigation is too expensive and a jury trial too uncertain for them to bear, why don't we just litigate virtually (with Linden dollars!) giving the parties the experience of litigation that will eventually drive them to settlement?

I'm sure some smart programmer can come up with an algorithm for most personal disputes, including both factual templates and the application of simple legal principles.  A "ticker" could keep track of the dollars your virtual attorney is billing on your law suit's screen everyday.  Continuances, discovery motions, pre-trial proceedings and depositions could all be simulated.

Then the parties return from the virtual life of Second Life Litigation and sit down in the old fashioned way to negotiate a resolution to their dispute or, if necessary, hire a village elder trained in conflict resolution, sometimes called a mediator, to help them do so.

If Your Client Wants ACTION (and whose doesn't) Try CPR's Model Economical Litigation Agreement

 

CPR's Model Economical Litigation Agreement (ELA)
Reducing Civil Litigation Costs with a Litigation Prenup


What is an ELA? An ELA is a hybrid of civil litigation and arbitration, where parties agree to use finite, defined and proportional discovery procedures in lieu of conventional discovery. CPR's new model agreement includes a mandatory pre-litigation dispute resolution section, as well as fee-shifting in discovery disputes decided by an ELA arbitrator.

Why should I use an ELA? Companies that use the ELA can significantly reduce the cost of litigation.  Also, by shifting disputes out of arbitration -- where there are no appellate rights to litigation -- you allow the common law to keep pace with changing technology.

How do I use the ELA? Companies can incorporate the model agreement by reference into contracts with partners, suppliers and other B2B customers at the start of a business relationship. 

The Goddess of Discovery Arrives in the Blogosphere

A criminal defense lawyer I know used to ask me "just exactly what is it that you 'litigators' do everyday anyway?'"

What we do, my friend, is discovery.  

Discovery. 

Saying that discovery is part of litigation practice is like talking about the wet part of the ocean.

How do you know when you're finally finished with legal practice?  When do the heavens open up and angels descend with the news that you've finally done enough and may now go and do that which you truly love? 

It's usually a discovery moment.

For one of my former law partners, it came on the heels of a five page meet and confer letter.  Single spaced.  When my friend's secretary came into her office with the written response, the expression on her face ranged between shock and amusement. 

"You're not really going to send this, are you?"

"Yes, I am.  Let me sign it."

"No no no no no no no.  I can't let you do this."

"Yes you can.  Let me sign it."

"Pleeeezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz."

"Sign."

Here's the response that struck fear into the heart of an overworked legal secretary: 

Whatever.

And yes.  She sent it.

For those of you who have not yet reached the promised land of Discovery Whatever, I've got very very very good news for you.

The Discovery Referee Speaks!  And she is a Goddess.  Goddess Kathy Gallo to be exact.

Yesterday's post reminds us what we ought to know intuitively during our first deposition - the Court Reporter is the Goddess of the Deposition (my own stories of first encounters with the Sphinx of the Transcript are here)

Continue Reading

Let the Kagan Games Begin: Whitepapers from SCOTUS Blog

(pictured:  the bread and circuses part)

Thanks to the SCOTUS Blog for the following resources on the upcoming Kagan hearings.  Follow SCOTUS Blog all week for commentary. 

Why should negotiators be interested in the composition of the Supreme Court?  Because the freedom to negotiate requires a strong rule of law culture.  And because everything we negotiate assumes the enforcement of certain agreements and non-enforcement of others, of particular interest to negotiators and ADR practitioners - arbitration agreements

SCOTUS whitepapers below:

Diversity Hiring

Abortion

Diversity on the Court

Gays in the Military

Corporate Rights (Citizen's United)

Conservatives

Executive Power

Kagan's Qualifications to Serve

 

 

 

 

Are You a Negotiator or a Bureaucrat? Clients Care

I'm lifting the entirety of Ken Adams' post The Connection Between Contract Drafting and Negotiation, along with the insightful comments to it.

The contract man!  Put his blog in your newsreader and pick up his Manual of Style for Contract Drafting today.  Today's post and comments follow.

I thought it worthwhile to scoop from the comments to my recent post on deal risk an exchange I had with Vickie Pynchon of the Settle It Now Negotiation Blog regarding the connection between drafting a contract and negotiating it.

Here’s the relevant part of Vickie’s comment:

I’ve been devising a negotiation class for transactional lawyers with a transactional attorney/negotiation professor in Northern California. I was surprised to hear him say that most transactional lawyers don’t possess negotiation skills—I always thought of them as the negotiation go-to guys. My new business partner says “no, they’re ‘write the deal up avoid risk’ guys.” That put transactional practice in an entirely different light. Do you think, Ken, that transactional attorneys would be better contract drafters if they were more involved in the negotiations leading to the deals they memorialize (or criticize)?

Continue Reading

Non-news of the week with an exclamation point: GC's should negotiate their legal fees

Wow!  Does any general counsel in the land truly not know this?  Here's the law.com headline - with emphasis, mind you, as if gold had been discovered in them thar hills.

EUREKA!!

'Enormous' Bargaining Chip: Survey Shows Law Firms Charging Clients Different Rates — for the Same Work!

Law firms' corporate clients are not created equal, if billing rates are any indication.

Firms are charging different hourly rates to different clients for doing similar work, according to an analysis of more than $4 billion in law firm billings that will be released in September.

Differences in billing rates are just some of the preliminary findings in the "Real Rate Report" by CT TyMetrix and The Corporate Executive Board. The report examines billing from more than 4,000 law firms, 50,000 individual billers, and 18.9 million invoice items from 2007 to 2009.

The data was collected from CT TyMetrix's clients. Law firms and corporate legal departments have been using the company's web-based financial and e-commerce software to handle ebilling and matter management for more than 10 years. About $30 billion in legal invoices have flowed through the company's systems, said Julie Peck, vice president of corporate strategy and market development at CT TyMetrix.

And the results of the report, once released, will be aimed at helping general counsel make better decisions about how and where to spend their money. The findings will be broken down by several factors, including geography, law firm size, staffing, and the types of matters handled.

"It will give general counsel an enormous amount of bargaining power," Peck said.

Read more of this is this is news to you here!

Plaintiff and Defense Malpractice Counsel are Playing a Different Game than Their Clients

Insight from the academics at Concurring Opinions' post on PERCEPTIONS IN LITIGATION AND MEDIATION: LAWYERS, DEFENDANTS, PLAINTIFFS AND GENDERED PARTIES (Cambridge University Press, New York, 2009. Post by  Tamara Relis. Image from Legal Blog Watch.

[P]laintiffs’ articulations of their litigation objectives rarely correlated with legal actors’ perceptions.

In fact, a regular and conspicuous occurrence was the failure to mention financial compensation as an objective at all unless probed (occurring in 65% of interviews).

Instead, what plaintiffs recurrently repeatedly was a lexicon of non-fiscal, extra-legal objectives for litigation. The issue of ‘principle’ was prominent for plaintiffs as revealed in the various objectives they passionately spoke about. ‘It’s not about the money’ was a recurrent theme throughout. Many of the comments concerned dignity and respect after the injury, inability to be heard, refusal to listen, dismissal and victim blaming.

Moreover, plaintiffs’ extra-legal objectives did not appear to be affected by the passage of time, as there were no marked disparities in the way plaintiffs spoke of why they sued and what they wanted from the civil justice system as between plaintiffs who had commenced litigation three to four months earlier (interviewed subsequent to court-mandatory mediations) and claimants who had been litigating for several years (interviewed after voluntary mediations of cases already on trial lists).

Here are the results from the question:  what are your aims in mediation?

The disparity in mediation aims of plaintiffs and plaintiff lawyers revealed important differences in what each planned for mediation in terms of how to resolve the same case.  Other than wanting settlement, the mediation objectives of plaintiffs and plaintiffs’ lawyers were diverse in all categories. For instance, though some plaintiff lawyers noted their clients wanted defendants to admit fault (37%), regardless of feasibility not a single one sought this at mediation. In comparison, virtually all plaintiffs (94%) sought fault admissions at mediation. Similarly, plaintiff lawyers never mentioned wanting to hear defendants’ explanations of the disputed incidents. Again this was something that most plaintiffs desired (71%). Finally, as compared with the bulk of claimants (88%) who sought apologies at mediation, only a minority (32%) of plaintiff lawyers did (though almost half remarked that apologies were important for their clients).

For more charts, data and analysis, see the incredibly useful post over at Concurring Opinions here.

 

Kagan and the Magic Number Three

More important than her religious background (Jewish) her Ivy League Credentials (Harvard) her progressive, liberal or conservative Democrat political leanings, is the prospect that Kagan's addition to the Supreme Court will result in the magic number of three women on the United States Supreme Court. 

Why is three the magic number?

Recent studies have shown that it takes three women corporate board members to avoid the deliterious effects of group think on corporate decision making - my own supposition on the question "why three" being that one or two women easily risk falling into male group-think.  This isn't male bashing, by the way. I assume three men on an otherwise all woman's board would have a similar performance enhancing effect.  

Continue Reading

Mothers Day Issue of Blawg Review #263 is Up and Running at the She Negotiates Blog

We’re celebrating Mothers Day by posting Blawg Review #263 at the She Negotiates Blog for one obvious and some not so obvious reasons.  The obvious reason is the word “She.”  The not-so-obvious reasons are:  (1) Mother’s Day was a peace and reconciliation movement before it was a holiday; and, (2) peace exists only when we have the political will to seek and the negotiation tools achieve the resolution of conflict.

In addition to the main post, we've also posted Blawg Review #263 on our She Networks, She Succeeds, She Transforms and She Resolves pages (up at the top of the blog).

Negotiating Civility: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

I was at a meeting of settlement officers for the U.S. District Court (Central District of California) last week when someone complained of a proposed rule change that attorneys would "game the system."  I said (snarkily) "is there any other way?" 

An early mentor told me:  anyone can win on the merits - it takes a great lawyer to win on procedure. 

That was the least of it.  Here are some other words of wisdom handed directly down to me from lawyers past:

you don't get paid to settle; you get paid to win

if the other side wants it, you don't; if you can't see how it will hurt you now, you haven't thought enough about it yet

we don't give extensions of time, period, ever; we make them regret the day they sued our clients (or defended theirs) 

come back with your sword or on it

make her cry (pre-deposition instruction about opposing counsel; I did; came back and said "don't ever ask me to do that again")

bury them in paper

bury it [the smoking gun document] in paper

object, object, object - the other side has to meet and confer anyway

I solicit more of this litigation oral tradition from my readers. 

Of course we "game" the system. Isn't that what our clients pay us to do?  To walk up to the line of wrong-doing; stop just short of it; and, make them regret the day . . . . Has it changed?  Here's what the State Bar of California would like litigators and their clients to do:  be civil.

RESOLUTION OF [_____________________________]
APPROVING AND ADOPTING CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY
GUIDELINES OF CIVILITY AND PROFESSIONALISM
RECITALS


A. As officers of the court with responsibilities to the administration of justice, attorneys have an obligation to be professional with clients, other parties and counsel, the courts and the public. This obligation includes civility, professional integrity, personal dignity, candor, diligence, respect, courtesy, and cooperation, all of which are essential to the fair administration of justice and conflict resolution.


B. Civility and professionalism have been affected by a number of factors, as a result of which there is a need for attorneys to recommit themselves to the principles of civility and professionalism.


C. On July 20, 2007, the Board of Governors of the State Bar of California adopted California Attorney Guidelines of Civility and Professionalism.


D. The Board of Directors of [________________] are of the unanimous opinion that the Guidelines will be of significant assistance in encouraging members of [________________] to continue to enhance their reputation and commitment to civility and professionalism.


RESOLUTION


The Board of Directors of [________________] hereby approves and endorses the California Attorney Guidelines of Civility and Professionalism and recommends that all members of [________________] commit to and agree to be guided by such
Guidelines.


Dated: _______________
[________________________]
By: _____________________
California

The full California State Bar "Civility Toolbox" here.

Resources on Women and Negotiation in Honor of Women's History Month

I'm sure you've noticed that we're celebrating negotiating women here this month in honor of International Women's Day and National Women's History Month.  Other than tomorrow night's free negotiating women teleseminar with super coach Lisa Gates, I'm celebrating by posting in one place all of my articles on negotiating women.

The Power of Beauty

Nature gives you the face you have at 20; it is up to you to merit the face you have at 50. -- Coco Chanel A local judge who has four beautiful young law students working for him this summer...

Tips from Forbes & a Word with Women: Negotiate Your First Salary

If you're entering the job market, you'll want to check out Forbes' Magazine's Tips for Negotiating Your First Salary. If you do not negotiate your first salary, you stand to lose half a million dollars over...

Ask for It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want

I didn't realize until I got onto the plane out of Seattle that Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever -- our morning plenary session speakers (Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide) -- have written a new book -- Ask...

Negotiating Your Mid-Life Career Crisis with Career Coach Lisa Gates

Practicing law, particularly litigation, is often frustrating, sometimes humiliating, and frequently simply dispiriting. On the other hand, the practice of law can be thrilling, intellectually stimulating, challenging, absorbing, and a darn good way to make a good living. When you...

Is Hillary Negotiating Her Withdrawal? So Says Cokie

From Women on the Web's Conversation Today Cokie Roberts: 'Hillary Is Negotiating Her Withdrawal' with Lesley Stahl Q&A with ABC News correspondent Cokie Roberts. Excerpt below: LESLEY: Let’s talk about Hillary. I’m wondering, how do you explain..

Must Read for All Women Negotiating Law Firm Life

Below is my review in The Complete Lawyer of Lauren Stiller Rikleen's must-read book Ending the Gauntlet: Removing Barriers to Women's Success in the Law. Concluding paragraph: At bottom, this book calls for management practices that will benefit all attorneys...

Clinton Speaks on 88th Anniversary of Women's Suffrage

(Right, women protesting, 1912. My own grandmother was 12 years old at the time this photo was taken. By the time she was old enough to vote in 1921, she could vote) Why women's voting rights and Hillary Clinton's DNC...

Negotiating Women at ForbesWoman

If you're a certain age, you'll remember women's magazines as mostly "Can This Marriage Be Saved" (The Ladies Home Journal to which PWNSC members Cathy Scott's and Cordelia Mendoza's mother was always submitting articles) or 101 Things to do with...

Negotiating Against the Grain of Gender

Yesterday, we talked about the different negotiation styles of men and women. Today, we're going to explore how men can benefit from learning women-speak and women can benefit from learning man-talk. All of the data relied upon and excerpted below...

Negotiation 101: Gender War or Gender Peace and Prosperity?

Although I am indisputably a "woman lawyer," I have never thought of myself in those terms. I'm a lawyer. And I'm a woman. I'm also a writer, a step-mother, a wife, a daughter, a river rafter, and an aficionado of...

Negotiating Women on New Day Talk Radio Easter Sunday Noon

(and, yes, I am not only old enough to remember the "Second Wave" Women's Movement, I took a quite serious role in it, first as an unpaid volunteer and later through the federal government's "Program for Local Service" at...

Negotiating Women: 5th and Final Part

Thanks again to Vicki Flaugher of SmartWomanGuides.com for inviting me to have this conversation with her about ways in which women can and do maximize their bargaining power. And yes we do talk about negotiating the purchase of an automobile...

Negotiating Women Part III

This segment of my interview with Vicki Flaughter is primarily about why women don't negotiate - to their substantial economic detriment - (see Women Don't Ask Here) and what they can do about it....

Negotiating Women Part II

In part two of Vicki Flaugher's interview with me, we discuss ways in which women can comfortably respond to aggressive zero-sum distributive bargainers and negotiate better business deals using their natural strengths. I'd like to once again thank Vicki Flaugher...

Negotiating Women: Never Negotiate Out of Fear, But Never Fear to Negotiate --

Video below is part I of an interview on negotiation challenges, strategies and tactics for women with Vicki Flaugher, founder of SmartWoman Guides. The full audio of the video is here along with Ms. Flaugher's kind comments about our conversation....

Negotiating Women: Free Teleseminar at Craving Balance

How to Negotiate Anything: Free Intro Thursday, Mar 18, '10 8pm EST Some researchers say that women's failure to negotiate working conditions, salary or other compensation--along with their hesitancy to seek what they're worth when they do negotiate--is one of...

Women Bloggers Proclaim National Women's History Month

Whereas American women of every race, class, and ethnic background have made historic contributions to the growth and strength of our Nation in countless recorded and unrecorded ways; Whereas American women have played and continue to play a critical...

Update on Gender Diversity in the Judiciary and in ADR

When I posted Negotiating Gender: Why So Few Women Neutrals? I had not yet found a source for the statistical representation of women neutrals on the American Arbitration Association Panel. I've now located an article on the AAA website from...

Negotiating Gender: Why So Few Women Neutrals?

Although most of the major providers of alternative dispute resolution services tout their commitment to diversity in the ranks of their neutrals, the coloration of nearly all ADR panels continues to be white; the nationalities European; and the gender male....

Women, Negotiation and the Persistent Wage Gap

Thanks to Ed. at Blawg Review for passing along this (somewhat rambling but well worth watching) lecture at Stanford University by Deborah Kolb, the Deloitte Ellen Gabriel Professor for Women and Leadership at the Simmons College School of Management....

 

Negotiating Gender: The Old White Men Speak

And they do so in favor of diversity.  See commercial arbitrator and mediator F. Peter Phillips' November 2006 National Law Journal article:  ADR Continental Drift:  It remains a while, male game.  I promised prescriptions for change and here are a few sent to me by Peter Phillips this morning.  Peter was, as I am now, a member of the CPR Diversity Committee.

Once again, based upon my personal experience and that of tens of thousands of other women in commercial legal practice I continue to believe that until we are fairly represented on commercial ADR panels, both arbitration and mediation, we cannot expect significant change.  This may happen as a matter of the natural "aging" process of the field.  The ADR field looks now exactly like the legal field looked to me when I entered it in 1980.  Not surprising given the fact that ADR is historically a "retirement" field.  That is already changing, to beneficial effect.

For the adventuresome, Peter's pro-active recommendations below. I highly recommend, by the way, that you follow Peter's Business Conflict Blog.  It's one of the best out there.

(screen shot of google search for our local legal rag's "top 50 neutrals)

What if the country’s leading law firms—from which so many of our leading mediators and arbitrators emerge—had an incentive to encourage more diverse members of the firm to enter this field?

■ What if a benchmark survey were conducted to determine how often law firms suggest mediation to their clients; how often mediation is in fact tried; and how often diverse mediators are proposed to clients by outside lawyers and ADR provider organizations?

■ What if the property casualty insurance industry, as the largest consumer of legal services and of ADR services, conveyed its expectation that the firms that insurers pay for, when they propose mediators and arbitrators, will be expected to propose diverse individuals?

■ What if influential national ADR organizations combined forces to better reflect their corporate and legal constituents, and meet their customers’ expectations, by sharing information on excellent women and minorities who are not now on their lists, but should be?

■ What if initiatives were undertaken to encourage particularly promising women, younger people and minorities from firms to attend ADR colloquia, seminars and other events in order to network, learn and advance their visibility and recognition among the ADR community, as well as to contribute diverse views and perspectives?

■ What if a mentor program were designed and funded, pursuant to which younger female and minority attorneys could “shadow” established mediators and arbitrators (whether or not they are women or minorities) and establish skills and reputations thereby?

■ What if corporations and law firms intentionally engaged younger mediators who are women and minorities in smaller matters, so that those professionals would gain experience as neutrals and be better positioned for the larger cases?

■ What if scholarships were established to enable young people to be trained as mediators and arbitrators, with the expectation that a person thus trained would be skilled not only as a neutral, but more generally as a negotiator and client representative in settlement?

■ What if a very “early pipeline” were begun, and ADR institutions worked with Street Law Inc. (www.streetlaw.com), a national program that trains high school students in legal issues, or a similar organization to provide materials and information for children to become interested in ADR as a profession?

It is perplexing that this one aspect of the legal profession—a field that is otherwise so robust, so progressive and so creative—lags behind so miserably in satisfying client expectations for diverse practitioners. But there is no indication that it must be so. And with diligence, creativity and practical action, it will not long be so.

Here are more diversity resources from CPR.

Motion to Compel Lunch: Granted

 

Thanks to Roger Wood at the Association Law and Other Musings Blog for passing along the Order for Lunch issued by the Maricopa County Superior Court (.pdf) excerpted below.  Roger generously shared this truly glorious Order (and supporting opinion that you can read in the .pdf) over at Construction Law Musings today in response to my Guest Post there ("How to Get Sued"). 

Thanks Roger!  This didn't just make my day; it made my year!

 

 Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel Acceptance of Lunch Invitation

The Court has rarely seen a motion with more merit. The motion will be granted.

The Court has searched in vain in the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure and cases, as well as the leading treatises on federal and Arizona procedure, to find specific support for Plaintiff’s motion. Finding none, the Court concludes that motions of this type are so clearly within the inherent powers of the Court and have been so routinely granted that they are non-controversial and require no precedential support.

The writers support the concept. Conversation has been called “the socializing instrument par excellence” (Jose Ortega y Gasset, Invertebrate Spain) and “one of the greatest pleasures in life” (Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence). John Dryden referred to“Sweet discourse, the banquet of the mind” (The Flower and the Leaf).

Plaintiff’s counsel extended a lunch invitation to Defendant’s counsel “to have a discussion regarding discovery and other matters.” Plaintiff’s counsel offered to “pay for lunch.”  Defendant’s counsel failed to respond until the motion was filed.

Defendant’s counsel distrusts Plaintiff’s counsel’s motives and fears that Plaintiff’s counsel’s purpose is to persuade Defendant’s counsel of the lack of merit in the defense case.

The Court has no doubt of Defendant’s counsel’s ability to withstand Plaintiff’s counsel’s blandishments and to respond sally for sally and barb for barb. Defendant’s counsel now makes what may be an illusory acceptance of Plaintiff’s counsel’s invitation by saying, “We would love to have lunch at Ruth’s Chris with/on . . .” Plaintiff’s counsel. 1
___________
1 Everyone knows that Ruth’s Chris, while open for dinner, is not open for lunch. This   is a matter of which the Court may take judicial notice.

Read on by clicking on the .pdf above.

And how could I resist adding the "will you go to lunch!" scene from David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross.

Do Attorneys' "Get in the Way" of Mediator Assisted Negotiations?

The not so secret opinion among mediators is that attorneys make settlement more difficult.  Just as lawyers are heard to say that "litigation would be great if it just weren't for the clients" (a "problem" only class action plaintiffs' lawyers have actually resolved), mediators  tend to say "mediation would great if it weren't for the lawyers."

Esteeming the rule of law in America as I do (especially in the recent era of its greatest peril) I have never seen lawyers as a problem in facilitating settlement of the lawsuits they have been eating, drinking, sleeping and, dating for years longer than I've spent reading their briefs and engaging in some pre-mediation telephone discussions.  

I can't say lawyers are a problem because:  (1) they're my job; and, (2) they're "my people" in the "tribal" sense.  A few bad apples aside, lawyers are among the hardest working, most ethical, creative, multi-talented professionals I know.  And they are pretty much solely responsible for fighting the battle, on every common weekday, to preserve the rule of law as a bulwark against tyranny on the right and anarchy on the left.

It was therefore no surprise to see a recent Harvard Negotiation Journal article (thanks to Don Philbin of the Disputing Blog and his indispensable ADR Toolbox) that one group of academics has asked whether attorneys have a Negative Impact . . . on Mediation Outcomes.

Let's start with this particularly widespread canard from the article:

Attorneys may delay the settlement of a dispute through mediation for financial reasons. For example, the payment of professional fees on the basis of hours worked could motivate the attorney to delay the settlement of the dispute to increase the number of hours billed to the client  (citations omitted).  Such non financial reasons as a desire to build or preserve a reputation for “hardball negotiating” in highly publicized cases could also motivate an attorney to delay settlement of the dispute [which the authors don't mention often results in a far better outcome for the client].   In addition, attorneys’ (or their clients’) commitment to or belief in their case based on questions of justice or other principles [which are worth, in my opinion, greater attention that purely monetary outcomes] could also delay settlement until “defending the principle becomes too costly” (citation omitted). Finally, attorneys may wish to justify both their role and their fees with unnecessary interactions./1

Are we mendacious, self-serving, parasites of the "justice system," feathering our own comfortable nests as we attempt to preserve the "outdated" notion that the justice system is capable of delivering justice? I don't believe so, but let's not get all anecdotal about these questions when we have cold, hard statistics within reach.  What were the results of this study on the way in which attorneys might "get in the way of" a successful mediation?

Here's the bottom line assessment (please read the article yourself to draw your own conclusions).

The empirical data we collected in this study indicate that the presence of an attorney in a mediation does not significantly affect the settlement rate, the time needed to reach an agreement, the perceived fairness of the process, the parties’ level of satisfaction with the agreement, or the parties’ level of trust that the agreement will be honored. These results indicate that attorneys have much less impact than is claimed by those mediators who do not welcome their involvement in the mediation process.

Nevertheless, the results also demonstrate that the presence of an attorney does affect mediation outcomes in at least two ways: by reducing the parties’ level of satisfaction with the mediator’s performance and by reducing the level of reconciliation between parties.

So the Myth Busters of this study conclude that attorneys:

  1. don't "significantly affect the settlement rate" /2
  2. don't significantly affect "the perceived fairness of the process";
  3. don't significantly affect "the parties' level of satisfaction with the agreement; and,
  4. don't significantly affect the "parties' level of trust that the agreement will be honored."

This is the subjective viewpoint of the litigants, mind you, in a dynamic where the mediator often openly attributes the success of the mediation to the clients' attorney - an observation which is more deeply true than most mediators would care to admit with all their white horse hi-ho silver, magic bullet off-to the-rescue enthusiasm.

What did litigants report to the authors of this article?  They indicated that attorneys adversely affected mediation outcomes in two ways:  (1)  they reduced the parties' "level of satisfaction with the mediator's performance"; and, (2) they "reduced the level of reconciliation between the parties."

Of all of the purported effects of attorneys' presence at mediation - without whom, it must be noted, the parties would not likely be induced to sit down and mediate at all -- the only significant perceived difference is the failure of the mediation process to reconcile the parties - something in which the legal system has little to no interest.

Please read the article for proposed solutions to the reconciliation issue.  As to the remainder of the study's findings, I have this to say:

  1. whenever two or more people are gathered together, the dynamics of the group more profoundly affect the outcome than do the contributions of any individual member of the group.  Our "reality," especially as it appears in a group setting, is "co-created."  See the New York Times must-read article on the Psychology of Terrorism and Retail Marketing at Google Books (the latter noting that because people live in a social world which is co-created in social interaction with others . . . . [they] can be thought of as both products and producers of the social world."  Id. at 218.)
  2. try as you may, you will never be able to untangle the threads that create the intricate tapestry of a settlement; every member contributes something invaluable without which the precise result could not possibly have been achieved. 
  3. who is therefore responsible for the good and who responsible for the purportedly bad results of mediation?  That's easy:  EVERYONE IS.

That being the case, we are all responsible for our outcomes - whether our contribution is "negative," i.e., resisting settlement, for instance, or "positive," i.e., problem solving the reasons given by Mr. Negative that the case simply can't settle on terms acceptable to all.  Remember your University philosophy class? Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis.  We need people willing to state the negative to problem solve it positively.  The relationships cause the outcome, not one member of a group unless that member is a tyrant with loyal troops at his command. 

If you'll allow me a literary reference that justifies my own collegiate career and says far more eloquently than I ever could why we're all accountable, I first give you one of my favorite authors, Paul Auster (who you may remember as the screenwriter of the movie Smoke).

The world can never be assumed to exist.  It comes into being only in the act of moving towards it.  Ese est percipii.  Nothing can be taken for granted:  we do not find  ourselves in the midst of an already established world, we do not, as if by preordained birthright, automatically take possession of our surroundings.  Each moment,each thing, must be earned, wrested away from the confusion of inert matter, by a steadiness of gaze, a purity of perception so intense that the effort, in itself, takes on the value of a religious act.  The slate has  been wiped clean. It is up to [us] to write [our] own book. Paul Auster, The Decisive Moment from The Art of Hunger.

The second excerpt I will leave for your thoughtful consideration is by the greatest scholar of comparative religions to ever inhabit the planet - Joseph Campbell (skip the intro with the new age music).

Schopenhauer, in his splendid essay called "On an Apparent Intention in the Fate of the Individual," points out that when you reach an advanced age and look back over your lifetime, it can seem to have had a consistent order and plan, as though composed by some novelist. Events that when they occurred had seemed accidental and of little moment turn out to have been indispensable factors in the composition of a consistent plot. So who composed that plot? Schopenhauer suggests that just as your dreams are composed by an aspect of yourself of which your consciousness is unaware, so, too, your whole life is composed by the will within you. And just as people whom you will have met apparently by mere chance became leading agents in the structuring of your life, so, too, will you have served unknowingly as an agent, giving meaning to the lives of others, The whole thing gears together like one big symphony, with everything unconsciously structuring everything else. And Schopenhauer concludes that it is as though our lives were the features of the one great dream of a single dreamer in which all the dream characters dream, too; so that everything links to everything else, moved by the one will to life which is the universal will in nature.

It’s a magnificent idea – an idea that appears in India in the mythic image of the Net of Indra, which is a net of gems, where at every crossing of one thread over another there is a gem reflecting all the other reflective gems. Everything arises in mutual relation to everything else, so you can’t blame anybody for anything. It is even as though there were a single intention behind it all, which always makes some kind of sense, though none of us knows what the sense might be, or has lived the life that he quite intended.

Joseph Campbell - The Power of Myth, with Bill Moyers, as quoted in Derek Parrott's Blog.

Lawyers, mediators, clients, experts, consultants, legal assistants, and, yes, even your spouse with whom you consulted before today's mediation, every one of them is part of the "net of gems, where at every crossing of one thread over another there is a gem reflecting all the other reflective gems [so that] [e]verything arises in mutual relation to everything else, so you can't blame anybody for anything" and, by the  way, we can't credit credit nor bear all the responsibility for anything.  We are all capable.  We are all accountable.  And we all contribute something to the whole.

So we can stop pretending to be better than we are now.  We can all put down the burden and shame of our own entirely human fallibility; the myth that we ever do anything without the contribution of others; and, the pretense that we don't behave as badly, or as well, as other people do.  We're part of the team.  We're in it together.  Isn't that good news for the New Year?

And to give you a treat from having gotten this far, a scene that is all about seeing, from Paul Auster's Smoke.

____________________

1/ I'd be interested, of course, in what the authors consider to be "unnecessary interactions."

2/ This is a particularly interesting finding since mediators have also been found not to improve the settlement rate but only greater party satisfaction in several studies.

 

Don't Leave Money on the Table or Pay Too Much for that Release this Year


 

Don Philbin, the author of this must-read article (click on the image for the .pdf) on the reasons you walk away from negotiations fearing you've either left money on the table or paid too much for what you receive in exchange, is an attorney-mediator, negotiation consultant and trainer, and arbitrator. 

Don has resolved disputes and crafted deals for more than 20 years as a commercial litigator, general counsel and president of communications and technology-related companies.  Don has mediated hundreds of matters in a wide variety of substantive areas and serves as an arbitrator on several panels. He is an adjunct professor at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine Law School, Chair of the ABA Dispute Resolution Section’s Negotiation Committee, and a member of the ADR Section Council of the State Bar of Texas.

Don is listed in The Best Lawyers in America (Dispute Resolution), The Best Lawyers in San Antonio, and the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers.

Don's ADR Toolbox where this article can also be found is an indispensable resource for all attorneys negotiating the settlement of a lawsuit or a business deal (wait a minute!  the negotiation of a settlement is a business deal!)

And, it's not inconsequential that Don is one of the nicest guys I know.  If you're going to spend a day or a week or a month with a mediator or an arbitrator, you deserve not only the brightest, most wise and best prepared arbitrator or mediator, you also deserve to have a little fun in the process because . . . you know . . . the money simply isn't worth the unhappiness that comes when dealing with . . . . the other sort too often.

Happy new year (dispute) resolutions!

What's Gratitude Got to Do with It?

(may I offer you a second helping of Jimmy Choo shoes with your turkey?)

Before sharing Brian Solis' succinct and brilliant post the Benevolent Acts of Reciprocity and Recognition and Highlights from the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness (excerpt below) I want to once again make a few remarks about what we all seek to achieve with rights and remedies (particularly in the post-scarcity society in which we too often forget we live):

  1. we want rights because we are genetically programmed and culturally conditioned to be fair (remember the Capuchin monkeys who, trained to work for "money" staged a sit-down strike when others doing the same work were compensated at five times the rate as their under compensated fellows);
  2. rights are meant to guarantee us equal treatment in the distribution of public benefits and resources; and, equal access to public and private accommodations;
  3. remedies are meant to restore private and public resources to those who have been deprived of them because some one; group; organization or governmental entity has broken one or more rules by which we have chosen to govern ourselves; and,
  4. money is a means to an end, not an end in itself and each of us desires money for the same reasons - control of our own destiny (power; self expression); access to the benefits of the social contract (1. Freedom of speech and expression 2. Freedom of religion 3. Freedom from want 4. Freedom from fear); security against an uncertain future (access to medical services and a mimimal standard of living if we become unable to care for ourselves); meaningful occupation; the opportunity to be of unique service to our fellows; love; and, joy (monetary sub-goals such as a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes are also simply a [misguided] means to achieve these ends).

I have been taken to task for being "touchy-feely" or "new age" or of insufficient value to my "market" because I say these things repeatedly in public.  My "market," I'm told, would rather be right than happy; would rather someone lose so that they can win; and, believe the only thing anyone wants is money.

I don't believe it and I am committed to holding this space as a place-marker for my "people" who are suffering.  Which people are those?  Litigators. 

The challenge of this and every year:  How do we even begin to introduce the concept that we can more easily, efficiently and effectively satisfy the true interests of our fellows-in-the-social-condition than we can satisfy one individual's demand for preeminence over another? 

On our least divisive, most-inclusive and thoroughly secular holiday of Thanksgiving, we can begin to alleviate the suffering caused by zero-sum games with gratitude -- the benefits of which are being studied by a team of researchers at my legal alma mater, U.C. Davis.

Gratitude is the “forgotten factor” in happiness research. We are engaged in a long-term research project designed to create and disseminate a large body of novel scientific data on the nature of gratitude, its causes, and its potential consequences for human health and well-being. Scientists are latecomers to the concept of gratitude. Religions and philosophies have long embraced gratitude as an indispensable manifestation of virtue, and an integral component of health, wholeness, and well-being. Through conducting highly focused, cutting-edge studies on the nature of gratitude, its causes, and its consequences, we hope to shed important scientific light on this important concept. This document is intended to provide a brief, introductory overview of the major findings to date of the research project. For further information, please contact Robert Emmons. This project is supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

We are engaged in two main lines of inquiry at the present time: (1) developing methods to cultivate gratitude in daily life and assess gratitude’s effect on well-being, and (2) developing a measure to reliably assess individual differences in dispositional gratefulness.

Gratitude Interventions and Psychological and Physical Well-Being

* In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).

* A related benefit was observed in the realm of personal goal attainment: Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.

* A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others). There was no difference in levels of unpleasant emotions reported in the three groups.

* Participants in the daily gratitude condition were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another, relative to the hassles or social comparison condition.

* In a sample of adults with neuromuscular disease, a 21-day gratitude intervention resulted in greater amounts of high energy positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, more optimistic ratings of one’s life, and better sleep duration and sleep quality, relative to a control group.

* Children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and their families (Froh, Sefick, & Emmons, 2008).

There's more at the link!

Happy Thanksgiving.

Mediators and Industry Knowledge, Game Theory and Understanding Conflict

Check out the range of opinions among litigators' clients on this still-hot topic in mediation circles over at the Business Conflict Blog (quickly becoming one of the most indispensable commercial mediation blogs on the web):  Should Mediators Be Expert in the Field of the Dispute?  Excerpt below.

Patrick Deane of Nestlé is senior counsel to the largest food company in the world, and the disputes he runs into involve distributors, retailers, suppliers and consumers in every part of the globe.  His ideal mediator combines logic and intuition; a concern for detail; and the knack of an epatheic listener.  He noted that commercial disputes — even financial ones — are seldom dry, but instead involve personalities, risk of loss of face, and other human attributes just as much as more personal claims do.  The question of subject-matter expertise was of little importance to Deane, compared to these essential qualities in a mediator who must be expert in a process that, at heart, is aimed at cost effectiveness.  “A lack of industry expertise has never caused a failure of the mediation process.

I must admit that when Tim Hughes (@vaconstruction) -- he of the Virginia Real Estate, Land Use and Construction Law blog and an avid ADR watcher -- tipped me off to this post, I read the question as asking whether mediators should be experts in the "field" of conflict - rather than in the industry in which the disputants are involved.

Here's my opinion (as if you didn't already know).  As Colin Powell says, the most important knowledge to have in international negotiations is the other guy's decision cycle.  I imagine the great predictor, the political scientist and Hoover Institute Fellow  Bruce Bueno de Mesquitas would say something along the same lines (see TED lecture below).  See also the NYT piece, Can Game Theory Predict When Iran Will Get the Bomb?

What is the "other guy's" decision cycle?  It is comprised of every interest he must satisfy and every person he is accountable to for the foreseeable (and probable unintended) consequences of that decision.  Personal injury attorneys turned mediators are well acquainted with the decision cycles of both Plaintiff and Defense counsel as well as with the interests, needs, and desires of injured Plaintiffs, on the one hand, and insurance adjusters and their supervisors on the other.  Employment attorneys turned mediators are also deeply knowledgeable about the decision cycles of counsel on both sides of the table (one usually specializing in employees and the other in employers) as well as with the interests, needs and desires of terminated, demoted, or harassed employees on the one hand and of employers - both large and small - who often feel as if the Plaintiff is little better than a highway robber.  Judges turned mediators are better acquainted than anyone else of the decision cycles of juries -- a jury verdict being the alternative to a negotiated resolution.

(Chart from Cultivating Piece)

You knew I'd come to my own "specialty" knowledge.  Some of it is industry specific -- insurance and  financial institutions, for instance, and the garment, manufacturing, health care, commercial real estate, construction, and technology industries.  Though my experience in these fields adds some value to my commercial mediation practice, what I'm most skilled at is knowing the decision cycles of commercial litigators and their business clients.  I understand, for instance, the clients' reporting relationships; the metrics against which their performance and that of their corporate superiors are measured; the impact of SEC reporting requirements in "bet the company" litigation; and, the effect settlements in nine or ten figures might have on upcoming plans for mergers or acquisitions. 

I can read a financial statement. 

At a minimum, I can ask the questions necessary to obtain the knowledge required to ascertain the interests that must be satisfied by both parties to transform the litigation into an opportunity to make a business deal.  And I know how to make the commercial clients happy with their attorneys' final resolution of the business problem burdened with the justice issue that brought the case into court in the first instance.

I am also schooled in the "field" of conflict resolution.  I understand at depth the cognitive biases --  universal tendencies in the way we think -- that inhibit rational decision making.  I know how conflict escalates and, more importantly, how it can be deescalated.  I understand the role emotion plays in decision making (particularly the emotion most common among business litigation clients - anger);  the gentle (and not so gentle) art of persuasion and, perhaps most importantly, the optimal negotiation strategies and tactics for the business problem at hand.

And, I know in the knuckles of my spine what keeps commercial litigators awake at night, worrying about the next strategic, tactical, legal or extra-legal move to make; how to explain to the client that the case has suddenly gone south; and, how to deliver that bad news to the client in a way he or she can hear it and successfully report it to the GC, the CEO, the Board of Directors or e ven the shareholders. 

I know this sounds like a lot of boastful self-promotion (it is).  Please don't take my word for it.  Anyone charged with finding, retaining and hiring a mediator to assist the parties in resolving a piece of hard-fought, sophisticated, complex commercial litigation would do well to check with his or her peers on any mediator's boastful self-appraisals.

This is what I recall of mediator-hunting, however.  I'd send out a list to my colleagues.  I'd invariably get back opinions that were all over the board.  He/she is great with clients but usually ends up splitting the baby in half.  He/she talks too much and listens too little.  He/she marginalized the client and made me look bad.  He/she charges $15,000 per day and is one of the go-to mediators for this type of case but I was unimpressed, as was the client.  This guy/gal can settle anything.  Brilliant.  Magical.  

So what's a beleaguered litigator to do?  Ask people you respect both inside and outside your law firm.  Ask how the mediator handles the "process dimensions" of the mediation.  Does he/she simply carry numbers and rationales back and forth between separate caucus rooms.  Can she give bad news to both sides.  Can he go beyond positional, zero-sum bargaining and into interest-based negotiated resolutions?  Is the client happy with the result and with the process?  After you've done this basic research, call the mediator yourself and ask him/her about the way in which she/he might handle the mediation of the particular matter you need to have resolved.   You should not only have the best information possible in making your choice, you should get a fair amount of terrific free advice and external brain-storming along the way.

I really just meant to cite the Business Conflict Blog and get back to revising The ABC's of Conflict Resolution - my second draft due on October 30.

So what's my answer to the question whether the mediator should have industry knowledge?  That answer lies, as most legal problems do, in the gray zone.  Industry knowledge helps.  But every commercial litigator knows that we can learn any industry if we have a basic understanding of how commercial enterprises work.  That's what I know -- commercial litigation -- and it is the reason I don't mediate personal injury or employment disputes with anyone below the rank of senior executive.  I don't know the right questions to ask and I don't know -- at depth -- the parties' or counsel's decision cycles. 

I can learn, but if you called me for a personal injury or employment mediator, I wouldn't recommend myself - I'd recommend someone like Janet Fields or Nikki Tolt at Judicate West (personal injury) or Deborah Rothman, Jay McCauley or Lisa Klerman at their own mediation shops (employment). 

For commercial mediation, I'd recommend the usual suspects (including, of course, myself) and Jeff Kichaven, Eric Green, Jay and Deborah, Ralph Williams (at ADR Services, Inc.), George Calkins and Jerry Kurland at JAMS (complex construction litigation); Les Weinstein (IP, particularly as an arbitrator); Mike Young (Judicate West and Alston + Bird); and, John Leo Wagner (Judicate West). 

I know I've left a lot of fine mediators out of this list but these are the ones who immediately spring to mind because I either have personal experience as a client or co-mediator or I have it on the authority of my husband, Stephen N. Goldberg, formerly at Heller and now at Dickstein Shapiro (author of the Catastrophic Insurance Coverage blog).

Enough!  Off to the real brains at hand -- Bruce Bueno de Mesquita at TED.

Blawg Review #234

Sociologist Elise Boulding has said that we live in a “200 year present,” a “social space which reaches into the past and into the future” -- a space in which “we can move around directly in our own lives and indirectly by touching the lives of the young and old around us.” Miall, Ramsbotham and Woodhouse, Contemporary Conflict Resolution.

What does the 200-year present have to do with conflict resolution week?  It reminds us that new forms never really completely replace the old ones.  We continue to employ every technique we've ever used to suppress, avoid, deny, resolve, transform, or transcend conflict, including force (violent and non-violent such as injunctions subject of a Trial Warrior Blog post this week); thievery (the Trade Secrets Blog); shaming (which Scott Greenfield does to bloggers "looking for fights and dumb as dirt" and which Volokh suggests we do to health insurers); bullying (solutions to which appear at the Citizen Media Law Project); torture (still with us at the Crim Prof Blog); cheating (Make Yourself Better with Their Secrets at Concretely Ambiguous) ingratiation (at the Law School Expert); persuasive argumentation; appeal to third party authority; bargaining; communication; and, problem solving (The Tao of Advice at the Business of Creativity). 

Whichever dispute resolution mechanism you use, it should be much improved if you take up  juggling (as reported this week at Idealawg).

Transformative conflict resolution of the type covered by New York City police officer, Jeff Thompson at Enjoy Mediation, requires accountability (by lawyers, for instance, to the principle of justice at Law21); recognition (at JD Bliss); apology, amends, reconciliation (at Opinio Juris); power with (negotiation and cooperation at the Ohio Family Law Blog) instead of power over (at the Election Law Blog); and, interests rather than rights (at the Gay Couples Law Blog).

No brand of law-giver or enforcer has ever entirely left the scene.  Cops, negotiators, mediators (on the international scene at the Business Conflict Blog); conciliators, arbitrators, trial attorneys (marking tattoos as exhibits over at LawComix), corporate lawyers, legislators  (fomenting a Franken Amendment at the ADR Prof Blawg); judges (whether elected or appointed at Legally Unbound), and, juries (who might be biased at SCOTUS Blog). 

And of course the gadflies (wolf protection lawsuits anyone? at  Point of Law). 

Win, lose, settle, enjoin (at Charon QC) or simply give up (6 Ways We Gave Up Our Privacy at CSO Security and Risk).  We regulate crime and prescribe punishment (Polanski at Sentencing Law and Policy and The End of an Era at Defending People). 

We wage war (at Prawfs Blog) and seek peace (at the Delaware Employment Law Blog) as conflict inevitably erupts over Obama's (embarrassing) peace prize (at Balkinization).

And, lest we forget our primary purpose, we bend our efforts toward justice (which, according to BLT is not necessarily available to card-carrying members of the ACLU).

My own personal 200-year present spans the life of my maternal grandparents who were nine years old in 1909, and that of my step-children’s children, who (assuming they procreate on a reasonable schedule) should be ninety-five'ish in 2109

My grandfather, born in 1900, witnessed the birth of electricity, saw the first automobile roll off an assembly line [2] and stood awestruck in a cornfield as one of mankind’s first airplanes took flight. [3]  Although we've progressed from bi-planes to jets and rockets (some of which may someday be green) we still fly balloons of the type first launched in 1783 -- both Goodyear Blimps and the backyard variety, covered this week by Legal Blog Watch as Law and More

asked here whether the shiny, flying, silver Jiffy Pop-looking craft tethered in the backyard of Richard Heene was an "attractive nuisance" under the law.

Grandpa's first war was, well, the First and his second was the Second,[4]  as if there'd never been any wars before the Great One. By the time I was born, mid-century, we'd fought the war to end all wars twice and knew we'd never survive a third

My imagined grandchildren, [6] born sometime between today and 2014, will not be strangers to any of my grandfather’s technologies. Despite the advent of compact fluorescent light bulbs, the early lives of my step-children's children will likely pass under the glow of the same incandescent lights that brightened granddad’s one-room school house. They will be transported to school in cars with internal combustion engines, learn the same alphabet from the same cardboard and paper books (as well as from the "e" variety) [7] and play many of the same games [8]  he did – hop scotch, jump rope and ring-around the rosy. 

Change will etch itself into the lives of my grandchildren as surely as it did my own, my parents' and my grandparents'.  Hybrids will give way to fully electric (and perhaps hemp-powered) [9] vehicles (effective or defective) and though electricity will continue to be  generated by hydroelectric dams, wind farms and nuclear power plants, some new and unimaginable source of power will surely push back the nights of my grand children's children. [10]

Law, politics, society and culture also exist in the 200-year present of conflict resolution.  [11] In my personal 200-year span, the law seems to have changed the most profoundly. Was it the law first and culture later?  Or do they weave our future together?

The first U.S. woman lawyer, Myra Bradwell, was admitted to practice a mere ten years before my grandmother was born. Mrs. Bradwell’s legal career was the subject of one of the sorriest U.S. Supreme Court decisions ever handed down, in which the Court opined,

The civil law as well as nature itself, has always recognized a wide difference in the respective spheres and destinies of man and woman. Man is, or should be, woman’s protector and defender.  The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life. The constitution of the family organization, which is founded in the divine ordinance, as well as in the nature of things, indicates the domestic sphere as that which properly belongs to the domain and functions of womanhood. The harmony, not to say the identity, of interests and views which belong, or should belong, to the family institution is repugnant to the idea for a woman adopting a distinct and independent career from that of her husband … for these reasons I think that the laws of Illinois now complained of are not obnoxious to the charge of any abridging any of the privileges and immunities of cities of the United States.

[12]

Another nineteen years would pass after Bradwell began her practice before she (and my nineteen year old grandmother) were guaranteed the right to vote. [13] And another 30 years would pass after my women's movement -- the Second Wave -- before we'd have our own  business magazine -   ForbesWoman (my part in it here).  And let us not forget that despite the 20th Century's great civil rights achievements, when America catches a cold, black America gets pneumonia.  See e.g. Problems All Around for Blacks in Big Law at Being a Black Lawyer.

My grandparents', parents' and step-children's 20th Century was dominated by genocide [14] on a scale and a technological precision unimaginable to our earlier forebears.  Mid-century brought with it the threat of nuclear annihilation but also liberated millions of people enslaved by colonialism.  We cured polio in my own lifetime with both "dead" and "live" vaccines (neither of them counterfeit) - a singular moment in scientific history during which no one took ownership of the cure and no one tried to stop others from seeking another, a problem Patently O addressed this week in Reverse Payments.

Whether god or satan, heaven or hell, war or peace "won" the twentieth century, the world's greatest peace-making body was created during it -- the United Nations.  And here in the U.S., the “living room war,” Viet Nam, coupled with the largest generation of adolescents ever to grace American society, ended the forcible induction of young men into the military[15]

With the recent discovery of our earliest ancestor, Ardi, our biological and social lives exist in a 4.4 million year now. Our physical bodies “evolve” in the womb along the same lines as did our species and, once born, we carry with us our earliest organs. [16] Most critical of these to conflict escalation and avoidance is our “fight-flight” mechanism – the amygdala.[17] And the most pertinent biological agents to promote the collaborative resolution of conflict are our “mirror neurons” which

 provide a powerful biological foundation for the evolution of culture . . . absorb[ing] it directly, with each generation teaching the next by social sharing, imitation and observation.

 [18]

As “exquisitely social creatures,” our “survival depends on understanding the actions, intentions and emotions of others.” Id. That our misunderstandings and cognitive biases -- mentioned by Volokh on Paternalism and Michael Carbone on reactive devaluation at Mediation Strategies this week -- threaten our survival as a species is undeniable (cf. Lawyers Must Survive or Face Extinction at the Lawyerist)

How we’ve manage to survive despite our tendency to misread one another’s actions, intentions and emotions, is often the subject of those who advise us how to choose and move juries -- here -- Anne Reed at Deliberations (explaining why "they" don't see things like "we" do here); and, the Jury Room (explaining why pain hurts more intensely when we believe it's been intentionally inflicted here). 

The Most Effective Conflict Resolution Technology is the Oldest

One of our true original gangsters, Al Capone, is reported to have said that “you can get much further with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone” and one of our greatest Presidents, Theodore Roosevelt said “speak softly and carry a big stick.”

Capone and Roosevelt didn't know it, but they were talking about the most effective (and most ancient) form of conflict resolution – tit for tat. In 1980, political Scientist Robert Axelrod asked game theory experts to submit computer programs designed to prevail in a game that provided the highest reward to cooperating pairs -- the famous Prisoner's Dilemma. (See also Max Kennerly's excellent post on Game Theory and Medical Malpractice Settlements at the Philadelphia Litigation and Trial Blog).

The winner of Axelrod's competition was a program named tit for tat.  Tit for tat was programmed to cooperate [19]  with its first encounter with any other programmed player.  It  rewarded cooperation with cooperation (just as networking will reward the savvy lawyer over at Chuck Newton's Ride the Third Wave) and punished non-cooperation with retaliation. Because Tit for Tat retaliated in the face of non-cooperation (just as a former employee did according to Hell Hath No Fury at Chicago Law Blogger) it was never repeatedly victimized. And because Tit for Tat “forgave” non-cooperators upon their return to cooperative game playing (as some believe Mr. Polanski should be forgiven over at the Marquette U. Law School Faculty Blog) it never got locked into mutually costly chains of mutual betrayal. [20]

As Robert Wright, author of The Moral Animal explained, had Tit for Tat been tossed into the game with 50 steadfast non-cooperators, there would have been a 49-way tie for first place. But none of the players' programs failed to cooperate in at least some circumstances, leaving Tit for Tat the clear victor.  According to Wright, humans, like the programs in Axelrod's competition, are evolutionarily “designed” to cooperate under at least some circumstances. The engine and benefit of cooperation is present in our neurochemistry.  When scientists observed the brain activity of volunteers playing the Prisoner’s Dilemma game, for instance, they found that the participants' “reward circuits” were activated and their impulsive "me first" circuits inhibited when they cooperated. Cooperation, retaliation, forgiveness and a return to cooperation. Tit for Tat. 

Laws and Lawyers

First and most importantly, I suppose, are the social media signs that you're "tweeting" like a lawyer over at the Social Media Law Student Blog.  Why first or important?  Know thyself.  Everything else follows that.

We don't "dis" lawyers here at the Negotiation Blog.  We simply remind ourselves that our primary purpose is the promotion of justice, with a stable societal order closely behind.  Most people don't understand, for instance, that Shakespeare's famous the first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers was not an insult.  In King Henry IV, Act IV, Scene II, Shakespeare's sentiment was not his own, but that of a revolutionary who wished to destroy the social order.

The historic "present" of laws and lawyers is in the thousands, not simply the hundreds, of years. Hammurabi (make of his choice for the memorialization of his laws what you will) was the sixth king of Babylon, remembered for creating -- in his own name (and likeness?) - the first written and systematic legal code. 

These laws provided for a mix of physical punishment - 60 lashes with an ox hide whip - ‘measure for measure’ awards (still with us in the form of lethal injection as covered by The StandDown Texas Project) – eye for eye, bone fracture for bone fracture – and monetary compensation – 20 shekels for tooth injuries – (preserved by workplace injury awards such as those discussed at the Workers Compensation Blog) depended not only upon the type of injury, but the social classes involved in the loss, i.e., ‘measure for measure’ sanctions were specified for losses among the upper classes while monetary awards were required for losses caused to and by commoners (reminding us that disrespect still too often turns on social status or "outsider" classification as discussed at Balkinization this week).  [23] 

For the wrongful killing of another, for instance, the victim’s kin were paid according to the social status of the deceased party. Thus the ‘man price’ for killing a peasant was 200 shillings and that for a nobleman 1200 shillings. Payments were not, however, tailored to the loss, but fixed according to types of affront, a distinction we continue to make when we punish intentional torts more severely than negligent ones.  [24]>

Criminal law and civil, it all comes down to a process that is "due" (a topic covered in a blistering post about tea-partiers and other "protectors" of the Constitution at the Criminal Jurisdiction Law Blog) and a set of guidelines against which we can exercise some small degree of control over our own commercial and personal futures (like those subject of Delays Not "Party Time, Excellent" for Subcontractor at the Construction Contract Review).

Lawyers, litigators and trial lawyers are too often demonized by the ADR community as if you could get someone to sit down to negotiate without first pointing the gun of litigation at their heads; I salute you (and myself, for that matter!) for bringing us all to the bargaining table.  See Steve Mehta's recent post at Mediation Matters, Factors When Peace Makes Sense for a note that touches upon the symbiotic relationship between litigation and mediation, litigators and mediators.

I shouldn't cite single legal blogs twice, but I cannot resist this quote of Scott Greenfield's on another pundit's view of the future lawyers have in store for them, i.e., 

shucking oysters for a living if we don't accept a future of lawyers being piece workers in factories, sending our work off to Bangalore in pdf files and complementing people on their choice of forms at Legal Zoom.

Legal Rebels:  the Sky is Falling at Simple JusticeCharon QC also weighs in on the ABA Legal Rebels project here.

Arbitration

Which came first? Public civil trials or private arbitrations? You’ll be surprised, I’ll wager, to hear that arbitration was one of the earliest forms of dispute resolution, practiced by the juris consults of the Roman Empire. Roman arbitration predates the adversarial system of common law by more than a thousand years. [25]

Ah, the glory of Rome! The juris consulti were (like too many mediators) amateurs who dabbled in dispute resolution, raising the question whether they (and we) should be certified or regulated as Diane Levin asks at The Mediation Channel this week.  The Roman hobbyists gave legal opinions (responsa) to all comers (a practice known as publice respondere). They also served the needs of Roman judges and governors would routinely consult with advisory panels of jurisconsults before rendering decisions. Thus, the Romans – god bless them! - were the first to have a class of people who spent their days thinking about legal problems (an activity some readers will recall Ralph Nader calling "mental gymnastics in an iron cage").

18th Century Dispute Resolution Technology:  The (Inevitably Polarizing) Adversarial System

It was Buckminster Fuller who famously opined that the "significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them."  If you keep this aphorism in mind for the remainder of this post, you'll likely have some extraordinarily innovative comments to make in the comment section below.

As the Law Guru wiki reminds us, we can trace the adversarial system to the "medieval mode of trial by combat, in which some litigants were allowed a champion to represent them."  We owe our present day adversarialism, however, to the common law's use of the jury - the power of argumentation replacing the power of the sword.

The Act abolishing the infamous Star Chamber in 1641 also granted every "freeman" the right to trial by "lawful judgment of his peers" or by the "law of the land" before the Crown could "take[] or imprison[]" him or "disseis[e] [him] of his freehold or liberties, or free customs."  Nor could he any longer be "outlawed or exciled or otherwise destroyed."  Nor could the King "pass upon him or condemn him." 

English colonies like our own adopted the jury trial system and we, of course, enshrined that system in the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Amendments.  Whether this 17th century dispute resolution technology can be fine-tuned to keep abreast of 21st century dispute creation technology (particularly in the quickly moving area of intellectual property) remains one of the pressing questions of legal and ADR policy and practice, particularly in a week in which a Superior Court verbally punished the lawyers before it for filing The Most Oppressive Motion Ever Presented (see the Laconic Law Blog).  The motion? 

Defendants['] . . . motion for summary judgment/summary adjudication, seeking adjudication of 44 issues, most of which were not proper subjects of adjudication.  Defendants’ separate statement was 196 pages long, setting forth hundreds of facts, many of them not material—as defendants’ own papers conceded.  And the moving papers concluded with a request for judicial notice of 174 pages.  All told, defendants’ moving papers were 1056 pages.

Id. (and ouch!)  On a less Dickensian note (think Bleak House) take a look at the IP Maximizer's post on IP litigation not being smart source of revenue for inventors

Mediator, author and activist, Ken Cloke, suggests that interest-based resolutions to conflict must replace power and rights based resolutions if we expect to create a future in which justice prevails.  As Ken wrote in Conflict Revolution:

Approaching evil and injustice from an interest-based perspective means listening to the deeper truths that gave rise to them, extending compassion even to those who were responsible for evils or injustices, and seeking not merely to replace one evil or injustice with another, but to reduce their attractiveness by designing outcomes, processes, and relationships that encourage adversaries to work collaboratively to satisfy their interests.

Evil and injustice can therefore be considered byproducts of reliance on power or rights, and failures or refusals to learn and evolve.

All political systems generate chronic conflicts that reveal their internal weaknesses, external pressures, and demands for evolutionary change. Power- and rights-based systems are adversarial and unstable, and therefore avoid, deny, resist, and defend themselves against change. As a result, they suppress conflicts or treat them as purely interpersonal, leaving insiders less informed and able to adapt, and outsiders feeling they were treated unjustly and contemplating evil in response.

As pressures to change increase, these systems must either adapt, or turn reactionary and take a punitive, retaliatory attitude toward those seeking to promote change, delaying their own evolution. Only interest-based systems are fully able to seek out their weaknesses, proactively evolve, transform conflicts into sources of learning, and celebrate those who brought them to their attention.

These are the words I leave with the readers of Blawg Review #234 because they are the ones that informed my personal and professional transformation from a legal career based on rights and remedies to one based upon interests and consensus. 

Whatever my own personal 200-year present was, is and will be, it is pointed in the direction of peace with justice, with an enormous and probably unwarranted optimism best expressed by the man after whom my law school was namedMartin Luther King, Jr.  - the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.

Blawg Review has information about next week's host, and instructions how to get your blawg posts reviewed in upcoming issues. Next week's host, Counsel to Counsel, will devote its round-up of the week's best legal posts to the Great Recession.



[1]             See the WSJ Law Blog’s post on the evolving law on gay marriage this week – Procreat[ion] Not Required.

[2]             Alas, there will always be lemons over at the Texas Lemon Law Blog (save those repair invoices!)

[3]             See Ruth Bader Ginsberg Hospitalized at the Volokh Conspiracy, reporting on Ginsberg’s fall from the seat of an airplane before take-off.

[4]             See the Law History Blog on Brewer’s Why America Fights.

[6]             Grandchildren who will not, I hope, have to deal with my Alzheimers, the perils of which are described at the Slutsky Elder Law and Estate Planning Blog.

[7]             Though, of course, e-books will be read side-by-side with hard copy as paper and cardboard eventually goes the way of Colonial era hornbooks. See Downloadable e-Books Change the Face of Brick and Mortar Libraries at the Law Librarian Blog.

[8]              Those games will, of course, exist side by side the video variety, many of which are recommended as Tools for Special Needs Students and Educators at the Adjunct Law Prof Blog this week.

[9]               See Hemp and Audacity at the U.S. Ag and Food Law Policy Blog.

[12]             Alas there’s still a gender gap as described this week at Ms. JD.

[13]             Voting rights are still a matter of concern today, of course. See Judge Says Virginia Violated Rights of Overseas Voters at the Blog of Legal Times.

[14]             See Rachel Anderson’s Law Blog on the scope of immunity for foreign officials that Anderson believes may have important implications for Plaintiffs seeking recompense for genocide.

[15]             One generation wants out and the other wants in. See Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Teach at Sexual Orientation and the Law Blog.

[16]             Earlier scientific theory posited that each human embryo (see Embryo Mix-Up at the Proud Parenting Blog) passes through a progression of abbreviated stages that resemble the main evolutionary stages of its ancestors, i.e., that the fertilized egg starts as a single cell (just like our first living evolutionary ancestor); as the egg repeatedly divides it develops into an embryo with a segmented arrangement (the “worm” stage); these segments develop into vertebrae, muscles and something that sort of looks like gills (the “fish” stage); limb buds develop with paddle-like hands and feet, and there appears to be a “tail” (the “amphibian” stage); and, by the eighth week of development, most organs are nearly complete, the limbs develop fingers and toes, and the “tail” disappears (the human stage). It turns out that this one-to-one correlation was too simplistic, but it remains safe to say that our biological development still passes through several stages that “recapitulate” the evolution of our species.

[17]          The amygdala is a region of the brain that permits the formation and storage of memories associated with emotional events. It permits us to “read” the emotional responses of our fellows and is thought to facilitated our ability to form relationships and live and work in groups. It is also the source of our “fight or flight” response to danger.

[18] In Cells that Read Minds, New York Times Science writer Sandra Blakeslee explained:

Studies show that some mirror neurons fire when a person reaches for a glass or watches someone else reach for a glass; others fire when the person puts the glass down and still others fire when the person reaches for a toothbrush and so on. They respond when someone kicks a ball, sees a ball being kicked, hears a ball being kicked and says or hears the word "kick."

 “When you see me perform an action - such as picking up a baseball - you automatically simulate the action in your own brain,” said Dr. Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies mirror neurons. ”Circuits in your brain, which we do not yet entirely understand, inhibit you from moving while you simulate,” he said. ”But you understand my action because you have in your brain a template for that action based on your own movements. “

[20]             Check out the post on the Betrayal of Corporate Clients at the Investment Fraud Lawyer Blog.

[21]             Wrongful death compensation over at the Product Liability Law Blog.

[22]             Looking toward the future, the Neuroethics and the Law Blog predicts that in the “experiential future, we will have better technologies to measure physical pain, pain relief, and emotional distress. These technologies should not only change tort law and related compensation schemes but should also change our assessments of criminal blameworthiness and punishment severity” here.

[23]             This week Beck and Herrmann at the Drug and Device Law Blog note that “shame works wonders” in their post on the Free Speech Challenges to the FDA.

[24]             Intentionally left blank.

[25]             ADR professionals are often heard critics of the adversarial system, as can be seen over at the Australian Dispute Resolvers Blog where author Chris Whitelaw (really??) quotes the Journal of Law and Medicine as follows:

The adversarial system of medical negligence fails to satisfy the main aims of tort law, those being equitable compensation of plaintiffs, correction of mistakes and deterrence of negligence. Instead doctors experience litigation as a punishment and, in order to avoid exposure to the system, have resorted not to corrective or educational measures but to defensive medicine, a practice which the evidence indicates both decreases patient autonomy and increases iatrogenic injury.

 (Iatrogenic, by the way, is a fancy term for “we have know idea whatsoever what the source of this ailment is). Chris is looking for comments so run on over there if you’ve been thinking about medical malpractice litigation during the marathon American health care debates.

 

Negotiating Jury Verdicts: Apologies Work with Twelve People Good and True

A big thank you to local mediator Steve Mehta for

Apology Infuences Jury Verdicts, New Study Finds excerpted below and click here for full post.

By Steven G. MehtaSteve Mehta

A big question in trial for lawyers to consider is whether to apologize for their client’s “alleged” conduct.  Many lawyers are reluctant to do so under the theory that it could lead to a greater chance of liability being imposed on them.  Recent research sheds light on this issue.

According to researchers at George Mason University and Oklahoma State University apologizing to a jury may lead more favorable results. The results of the study will be available in a the journal Contemporary Accounting Research.

Assistant accounting professors Rick Warne of Mason and Robert Cornell of OSU found that apologizing can result in lower frequencies of negligence verdicts in cases when compared to a control group receiving no apology or remedial message. The researchers hypothesized that apologies allow the accused wrongdoer to express sorrow or regret about a situation without admitting guilt. Alternatively, a first-person justification allows the accused to indicate the appropriateness of decisions given the information available when decisions were made.

“We found that apologies reduce the jurors’ need to assign blame to the [wrongdoer] for any negative outcomes to the client,” says Warne. “It also appears that an apology “influences the jurors impression that the auditor’s actions were reasonable and in accordance with professional standards.”

Continue reading here.

 

The Annual ADR Issue of the Advocate is Out and Online

The Advocate - the Journal of Consumers Attorneys Organizations of Southern California publishes an annual ADR issue every year and this year's issue is a goldmine of mediation strategy and tactics.

From preparation to closing, some of L.A.'s most prominent mediators reveal the secrets of getting the best deal available for your clients. 

Read former CAALA Trial Lawyer of the year Sandy Gage's article on Getting the Best Results in Mediation and AIM founder, mediator and trainer Lee Jay Berman's Twelve Ways to Make Your Mediator Work Harder for You.

JAMS mediator Alex Polsky reveals the secrets to Negotiating Like the Pros, while ADR's Ralph Williams counsels readers on the many ways to avoid the Top Ten Mediation Disasters.

Mediator Phyllis Pollack who blogs and writes for the Federal Bar Association's Resolver also has a dynamite article here - Preparing for Mediation, Something to Ponder.

Another top mediate.com blogger and mediator Steve Mehta reveals Why Some Cases Don't Settle and Others Do while Judicate West Executive Vice President of Business Development Rosemarie Chiusano writes about Top Neutral Qualities from one of the best sources on mediator excellence -- the ADR service provider.

My ADR Services, Inc. colleagues Jan Schau, Michael Diliberto, Joan Kessler (the brains behind the entire issue!) and Leonard Levy round out the issue with Telling Lies, Telling Secrets (Schau); Opening Offers:  Who's on First (Diliberto); The Defense Reveals Mistakes that Could Cost Your Client Money; and Kessler's incisive executive summary of them all.

Finally, former defense attorney and Judicate West mediator Jack Daniels, honored for his ethics and fairness by COAC outlines the 10 necessary steps to mediation success.

Oh, yes, I'm here too with one of my mediation narratives, We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live.

The online Advocate can be read like a magazine, complete with turning pages.  It's a pretty cool online journal format in addition to being a great contribution to the growing literature on best mediation practices. 

Dive in!  The water is warm and the natives are friendly.

Sure We Can Compromise, But Can We Negotiate Justice?

The following is the conclusion of an excellent post on the recent Pfizer-Justice Department settlement noting that it met "the People's" justice interests better than a judgment could have.  The full article, Settlement and Justice for All by Robert C. Bordone & Matthew J. Smith** can be found here at the Harvard Negotiation Law Review.

 More than honoring principles a court might champion, the negotiated settlement with Pfizer allows the Justice Department to secure commitments from Pfizer that would have been unlikely in a court verdict. In addition to the enormous cash payment, the settlement agreement allows for closer monitoring of Pfizer by Justice Department officials in the years ahead, ensuring corporate accountability and providing an extra measure of protection for consumers. As part of the deal, Pfizer entered into a Corporate Integrity Agreement with the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services and will be required to maintain a corporate compliance program for the next five years. While a judge might choose to retain judicial oversight in a particular case, federal courts typically lack the expertise or resources to provide the kind of enforcement needed to ensure a systemic and long-term remedy in a technical or highly specialized case such as this.

The Pfizer settlement represents the best kind of transparent, efficient, and wise government law enforcement. It holds Pfizer wholly accountable for its actions, sends a strong and clear message to the public that corporate malfeasance will not be tolerated, provides for ongoing enforcement, and it does it all at a fraction of the cost of trial. While many cases should proceed to trial for reasons of precedent and public policy, negotiated settlement – when approached with wisdom and aplomb – can be a most efficient and effective means of law enforcement.

For my own posts and mediation, negotiation and justice, see Delivering Justice in Community Mediation, Negotiating Justice:  Anchoring, Bias, Dad and Sotomayor, and Do Interest-Based Negotiation and Mediation Trade Justice for Harmony?

Thanks to Don Philbin for being one of the best navigators of quality in the ADRosphere!  "Friend" him on Facebook here.

________________

**/ Robert C. Bordone is the Thaddeus R. Beal Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and Director of the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program. Matthew J. Smith is a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School and a Clinical Fellow at the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program

 

 

 

Yet Another Path to Attorney Malpractice in Mediation Proceedings: Coerce Your Own Client

Because the vast majority of my litigation and mediation clients were and are corporate entities or highly successful entrepreneurs, executives or managers, I was and am rarely in a position to coerce a client into doing something it didn't want to do. 

As a mediator, however, I hear stories.  

Some of the stories I hear are told by disgruntled individuals who feel as if they were coerced by their own counsel into settling their litigation during a mediationOthers have reported that they felt ganged up on by their attorney and the mediator.  Some have complained that they were unduly pressured to stay in the mediation process long after they were too tired or hungry to think clearly. 

These stories are troubling to any mediator who values the good reputation of the mediation process itself.  They should also disturb attorney mediation advocates.

Is it below the standard of care for an attorney to subtly (or not so subtly) pressure his or her client to settle litigation?  Under certain circumstances, I think it is.  Here's the bad news.  If a litigant is unhappy with the outcome of mediation, he or she is far more likely to bring a complaint (or lawsuit) against his or her own attorney.

In a 2006 article in the Ohio  Journal on Dispute Resolution TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT. LUMP IT OR GRIEVE IT: DESIGNING MEDIATOR COMPLAINT SYSTEMS THAT PROTECT MEDIATORS, UNHAPPY PARTIES, ATTORNEYS, COURTS, THE PROCESS, AND THE FIELD  Paula M. Young, Assistant Professor at the Appalachian School of Law cites Mel Rubin on "settle and sue" cases which Rubin suggests are on the rise among clients unhappy with the outcome of a mediation.  Rubin "also suggests that if a client is unhappy with the outcome of mediation, he or she is more likely to sue his or her attorney for malpractice. Id.

What might actionable attorney mediation malpractice look like?  Young cites the example of one woman who told the following story:

I refused to sign several times. My attorney then began yelling at me to “shut-up and sign the damn thing” I wasn't allowed to leave until it was signed . . . . The words, “NO I can't sign this,” fell on deaf ears. I was so unfamiliar with the process of it all and what it meant and what the outcome entailed.

Young has a systemic solution for problems like these:  procedural "justice" during the mediation itself and grievance procedures for dissatisfied litigants.  She writes:

To the extent the procedural justice research indicates that parties who perceive they have received procedural justice in mediation also perceive that the negotiated outcome in mediation is fair, we would expect that these parties are not likely to later sue their attorneys for malpractice. Even when the client has little trust in his or her attorney, a mediation process that enhances procedural justice allows the party to assess directly whether he or she feels exploited or mistreated in the process.

Even if the mediation process itself lacks procedural justice and the client accordingly remains dissatisfied and suspicious, a well-designed grievance system, emphasizing procedural justice from the client's perspective, may give the client the reassurances he or she needs. A client who suspects collusion between his or her lawyer and the neutral could seek the informed opinion of the regulatory body, without ever having to file a legal malpractice law suit.

Remember that we tend to stumble and fail when we're Hungry, Angry, Lonely (marginalized) or Tired (HALT) and so do our clients.  When I notice litigants flagging or attorneys losing their tempers, I suggest a walk around the block, a nutrition break (not eating more cookies) and, in extreme cases (someone becomes ill during the course of the session) reconvening at a later date.  Remember how powerful and all-knowing you appear to be to your clients and what a strange and frightening land the "justice system" is for those who are encountering it for the first time.  

There's no better defense to professional negligence actions that the quality of your relationship with your clients.  Keep channels of communication open.  Demand that your adversary and the mediator treat your client with respect.  At the first sign that a mediator is exercising undue influence on your client, say something, just as you would if opposing counsel were harassing your witness at a deposition.  Follow these dictates and you'll rarely if ever be worrying about calling your insurance carrier.
 


Another Malpractice Trap for the Unwary Mediation Advocate: Draft Your Own Confidentiality Agreement

As every mediation advocate must know by now, the California Supreme Court has locked down mediation confidences from attack at every turn.  There can be no implied waiver of Evidence Code section 1119's protections and you cannot be estopped to assert it (Simmons v. Ghaderi) (.pdf of the opinion here). 

Your client may have been coerced into signing off on the agreement; may not have understood what she was signing; or her assent could have been induced by your opponent's material misrepresentations of fact.  Your client's insurance carrier may be guilty of actionable bad faith during the course of the mediation.  Too bad.  The mediation proceeding is given greater protection than given to penitents in a confessional.

But you can inadvertently expressly waive the protections of mediation confidentiality if you've carelessly crafted your own confidentiality agreement.

California's Second District Court of Appeal held in Thottam (.pdf of opinion here) that a party's confidentiality agreement did just that -- waived the protection -- permitting one party to introduce an otherwise inadmissible draft agreement into evidence for the purpose of enforcing an otherwise unenforceable mediated settlement agreement.

As the Court in Thottam held, Section 1123(c)'s requirement that all parties to a mediated settlement agreement "expressly agree in writing . . . to its disclosure," may be satisfied by terms contained in a writing other than the alleged settlement agreement itself, including a writing executed before a settlement agreement has purportedly been entered into.  Because the "draft agreement" at issue in Thottam did not contain 1123's "magic" enforcement language and because the term sheet drawn up during the mediation was not sufficiently certain to enforce in any event, one party to the subject probate proceeding objected to its introduction into evidence and to the admission of testimony concerning otherwise confidential statements made during the mediation.

Had there been no confidentiality agreement, the issue would have been controlled by Evidence Code sections 1115 et seq.; the "agreement" would have been excluded from evidence as non-compliant with section 1123; and, no evidence of statements made during the mediation would have been admitted into evidence. 

Here's the danger of drafting your own confidentiality agreements in an attempt to expand the scope of mediation confidentiality.  

According to the appellate court opinion, because the parties expanded the scope of confidentiality beyond that provided by the statute, the exception to the protection ("except as may be necessary to enforce any agreements from the Meeting") was broader than the enforcement exception contained in section 1123.  As one blogger cogently put it at the time, "the big print giveth and the small print taketh away."

I think it's safe to say that this result was pretty much completely unpredictable and that it was within the standard of care for counsel to expand the protections contained in section 1119  (for an example of the problems created by its relatively narrow confines, see mediator Debra Healy's comments and my response about the scope of mediation confidentiality in an earlier post in this series).

Post-Thottam, however, counsel must be extremely careful in drafting confidentiality agreements lest they inadvertently take away the protections the legislature created and the Supreme Court has so assiduously enforced.

In short, don't get fancy.  Just stick with the language of section 1119

Yet Another Way to Commit Malpractice: Draft an Unenforceable Arbitration Clause

Before I begin to get hate mail from attorneys about this series, let me say that it is meant to sound the alarm, raise red flags, and make attorneys overly cautious so that our clients wouldn't even ever think of suing us for malpractice.  

I don't mean to suggest here that drafting an arbitration clause a Court refuses to enforce or to apply to a given claim constitutes malpractice.  The way the Courts are dealing with arbitration clauses these days, it's probably not outside the standard of care to fail to satisfy their passing fancies on scope and unconscionability.  

I do, however, WANT TO DISCOURAGE ALL LAWYERS FROM USING BOILER PLATE ARBITRATION CLAUSES which is why I'm alerting you to yesterday's opinion by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal refusing to apply Halliburton's employment arbitration provision to a sexual assault claim. 

Here's the clause. 

 You understand that the Dispute Resolution Program requires, as its last step, that any and all claims that you might have against Employer related to your employment . . . must be submitted to binding arbitration instead of to the court system.

Pretty broad, but not, according to Jones v. Halliburton, broad enough to include a sexual assault claim that occurred in worker housing.  With one Justice dissenting, the Court was careful to limit is opinion strictly to the facts of the case before it.  Here's the holding: 

The one consensus emerging from [our] analysis is that it is fact-specific, and concerns an issue about which courts disagree. When deciding whether a claim falls within the scope of an arbitration agreement, courts “focus on factual allegations in the complaint rather than the legal causes of action asserted”. Waste Mgmt., Inc. v. Residuos Industriales Multiquim, S.A. de C.V., 372 F.3d 339, 344 (5th Cir. 2004) .Here, the allegations are as follows: (1) Jones was sexually assaulted by several Halliburton/KBR employees in her bedroom, after-hours, (2) while she was offduty, (3) following a social gathering outside of her barracks, (4) which was some distance from where she worked, (5) at which social gathering several co-workers had been drinking (which, notably, at the time was only allowed in “non-work” spaces).

                                         *                     *                   *

Under these circumstances, the outer limits of the “related to” language of the arbitration provision have been tested, and breached. Halliburton/KBR essentially asks this court to read the arbitration provision so broadly as to encompass any claim related to Jones’ employer, or any incident that happened during her employment, but that is not the language of the contract. We do not hold that, as a matter of law, sexual-assault allegations can never “relate to” someone’s employment. For this action, however, Jones’ allegations do not “touch matters” related to her employment, let alone have a “significant relationship” to her employment contract.

N.B.  Review the case law; forecast the types of claims that might be made against your client.  Tell the client there's no way you can provide it with any absolute assurances that the arbitration clause will be enforceable in every given situation.  Say that in writing.  Do your best.  Maintain a great working relationship with your clients and you'll be fine.  Just fine.

Hat tip to Pop Tort for the head's up on this case!

More Ways to Commit Legal Malpractice as a Mediation Advocate

If you didn't already understand how to protect your mediated settlement agreement from challenge, you do now.

But wait a minute!  Is that what you want?  

What if your client entered into the agreement only because its opponent made a material misstatement of fact?  What if one of your co-defendants challenges your settlement agreement as not having been made in good faith, thus exposing your client to potential liability for indemnity or contribution?  Can you win the "good faith settlement" motion without the testimony of the participants in the mediation?  

In a comment on yesterday's post, Los Angeles mediator Joe Markowitz noted that:

Parties are entitled to walk out of a mediation with a whole range of outcomes, from a completed settlement agreement, to a term sheet, to an oral understanding, to a promise to think over the other side's last offer, to a promise to see the other side in court! As long as both sides understand what they are getting at the conclusion of the mediation session, there should be no basis for a malpractice claim for any of these outcomes. If the parties choose to use a term sheet with no language in it indicating that they have settled their case, they just need to understand that any party can renege on the deal after the mediation. In some cases, that may be what the parties want, to give them some time to think the whole thing over

Joe's comments put the emphasis in mediation advocacy back where it belongs -- on the fully informed assent of the parties and on the strategic plans of litigation counsel.  

So here's yet another way to commit legal malpractice as a mediation advocate:  don't fully understand the implications of mediation confidentiality on the final resolution of your client's dispute.  I'll just bullet point ways to protect yourself and your client below and ask others to chime in with their recommendations:

  • if your client is relying upon the veracity of its opponent's representation in entering into the deal, write that representation into the agreement or deal points, i.e., "Party A and Party B both understand that Party A is entering into this agreement based upon the following representation/s: ....................................  "  Then you can include any other language that makes sense in the context of the agreement.  You can provide that Party B's production of documents confirming its representations to Party A is a condition precedent to Party A's obligations under the settlement agreement.  If your client simply needs protection down the line in the event FACT X proves to be untrue, you can include a liquidated damage clause in the agreement or provide for an expedited means of resolving any dispute resulting from the falsity of FACT X ; or, you could provide that the falsity of FACT X will render the settlement agreement null and void; 
  • you could avoid the problems created by the strict enforcement of mediation confidentiality  by agreeing with your opponent (in writing!) that the neutral-facilitated settlement negotiation is not a mediation to be governed by Evidence Code section 1115 et seq. but a settlement conference governed by Evidence Code section 1152 et seq.  This option would be a useful one to a defendant who is settling the action separately from co-defendants who might bring a motion challenging the good faith of your settlement.  
  • Less drastically, you could simply include in your settlement agreement a provision by which the parties agree that the mediation confidentiality protections as codified in section 1119 will not apply in the event a co-defendant challenges the good faith of the settlement.  Remember that the mediator is considered incompetent to testify so that your waiver of mediation confidentiality in the event testimony is needed to oppose a challenge to the good faith of your settlement may not permit the mediator to testify at the hearing (or to offer a declaration in opposition to the motion) as well he or she -- a neutral party -- shouldn't.

You're a litigator.  There are probably hundreds of ways to skin this particular cat.  The keys are knowing and understanding the law of mediation confidentiality and thinking through all of the implications it might have on your clients' rights or interests down the line.  That's what we litigators do and we shouldn't abandon those strategic considerations just because we believe we're settling this case for good and it will never come back to haunt us or our clients again.

Remember, you are in control of the process.  If you don't like mediation confidentiality, tailor a confidentiality agreement to suit your circumstances.  You will, of course, have to "sell" your proposal to your opponent.  The  best time to do that might well be at the end of the mediation rather than at its commencement.  By that time, your opponent is pretty darn committed to the resolution of the lawsuit.  His client is already planning on ways he can more profitably spend his time and money other than on further litigation, attorneys' fees, and court costs.  The plaintiff is, I guarantee you, already spending the settlement monies or planning the celebration back at the office and wondering whether this might lead to the promotion he or she has been waiting for.

Yet another way to commit legal malpractice (and how to avoid it) tomorrow!

 

Call Your Carrier? Because of Negligent ADR Advocacy? YOU BETCHA!

That's not a summons and complaint for malpractice, is it?  Because of something you didn't know about ADR advocacy? 

C'mon!  ADR is all about avoiding litigation, not creating it, right?  The good news is that there hasn't yet been an ADR malpractice suit of note.  The bad news is, I see ADR negligence at least once a month and am holding my breath against the day lawsuits began a'poppin. 

To help you avoid ADR malpractice, here is just one of ten pitfalls to be covered in this series that can make you a malpractice magnet for disgruntled clients. 

  1. write up a "term" sheet reflecting your mediated settlement agreement without including the "magic language" of Evidence Code section 1123
    1. absent this language, a party with buyer's remorse can resist the enforcement of a "term sheet" if he feels he was was coerced into signing it; entered into it based upon a misrepresentation of material fact made during the mediation; or, that it simply does not accurately reflect the terms the parties' orally agreed upon during the mediation
    2. use the magic language of Evidence Code section 1123 and your "term sheet" should be enforced and your client's bargaining partner precluded from introducing into evidence (pursuant to section 1119) any statement made by anyone during the course of the mediation, including allegedly coercive, misleading, or, fraudulent statements of fact allegedly inducing his consent.
    3. as Orange County mediator William J. Caplan points out in his lively 2005 article, The Quick Brown Lawyer Jumped Over the Mediation Traps, the "magic words" are “admissible,” “enforceable,” “binding,” and “subject to disclosure.”
    4. the cure (from Caplan again) is the following "belt and suspenders" clause:

The parties intend this Agreement to be admissible, binding and enforceable, and subject to disclosure within the meaning of those terms in California Evidence Code § 1123 (a), (b) and (c), and this Agreement is expressly not privileged from disclosure under California Evidence Code § 1119. In addition, if the formal Settlement and Mutual Release Agreement contemplated hereinabove is [e.g., not executed within ten (10) days of the date of this Agreement] this Agreement may be enforced by motion under California Civil Code § 664.6 and the court shall retain jurisdiction over this Agreement until performance in full of the settlement terms herein.

Below is an Orange County Superior Court form that satisfies the requirements of section 664.6 (providing an expedited enforcement mechanism for the settlement agreement) but which fails to recite all of the magic words including admissible, enforceable, and subject to disclosureSo please don't trust any form other than your own!!  Even forms issued by the Courts. The fact that you are entitled to an expedited hearing under 664.6 to enforce your mediated settlement agreement does not mean that you will be permitted to enforce the agreement against your opponent's will.


SB-66 Stipulation For Settlement (CCP 664.6) - California

Of course the best way to avoid claims arising from buyer's remorse is to create a durable settlement that all parties will want to enforce.  That means avoiding agreements that your client enters into when he or she is hungry, angry, lonely (i.e., sidelined) or tired (HALT).  It also includes agreements that feel coerced by an overly aggressive mediator preying on the weaker of the two (or three or four) parties.  And yes, Virginia, there is always a more vulnerable party; all mediators recognize who that is; and, too many mediators make a beeline for that party's soft under-belly.

Another way to avoid challenges to the mediated settlement agreement include:

  • bringing a fillable template settlement agreement (and these days, also a Stipulation for the Entry of Judgment in the event of default on a payment plan) that is a complete, final and binding agreement that contains the "magic language" of section 1123 that all parties execute before they leave the mediation session (no matter how tired everyone is and how much everybody wants to just go home and deal with the inevitable nit-picking over the relatively inconsequential terms of the agreement tomorrow). 
  • not letting your fear that the "details" might blow up the "deal" you've spent so many hours negotiating.  You know how these deals go off the rails the following morning when your opponent begins to nit pick terms, often as a face-saving mechanism.  Let the mediator help you close the deal right there and now, assisting the parties in resolving the minor terms that can blow up in your face if left until tomorrow.

And speaking of tomorrow, I'll have Tip No. 2 for avoiding malpractice litigation arising from mediated settlement agreements.  Stay tuned!

For more posts on confidentiality in both California state and 9th Circuit district courts, click here.

Diplomatic Engagement to Settle Your Commercial Litigation

Today's New York Times Op-Ed piece on "diplomatic engagement" (Terms of Engagement) as a strategy for "chang[ing] [Iran's] perception of its own interests and realistic options and, hence, to modify its policies and its behavior," offers good strategic negotiation lessons for mediators and mediation advocates alike.  As Crocker explains:

[E]ach case of engagement has common elements. Engagement is a process, not a destination. It involves exerting pressure, by raising questions and hypothetical possibilities, and by probing the other country’s assumptions and thinking. Above all, it involves testing how far the other country might be willing to go. Properly understood, the diplomacy of engagement means raising questions that the other country may wish to avoid or be politically unable to answer. It places the ball in the other country’s court.

Litigation is an extremely good way to "exert[] pressure," on your negotiation partner by burdening it with the costs of  waging the adversarial contest.  The litigation itself not only "rais[es] questions and hypothetical possibilities" but through the process of discovery, it also "probes [the opponent's] assumptions and thinking" and "test[s] how far [your opponent] might be willing to go" to achieve victory.

Parties disappointed with mediation and mediators are usually dissatisfied with the mediator's inability to engage in the final step of "engagement diplomacy" -- "raising questions that the [opponent] may use to avoid or be [positionally] unable to answer."  A good mediator is unafraid to raise those difficult questions with each side of a dispute.  But raising those difficult questions is not enough.  A good mediator must also be able to deliver bad news to the parties in such a way that the parties are able to hear it. 

If the goal of the negotiators -- the attorneys -- is to "change the[ir] [opponent's] perception of its own interests and realistic options and, hence, to modify its policies and its behavior," the negotiators and their clients must be prepared to:

  • reveal to the mediator
    • hidden constraints preventing them from modifying their demand or offer; and,
    • hidden interests that must be served in order to justify any such modification
  • candidly acknowledge (in separate caucus)
    • the weaknesses of their position; and,
    • any constraints on their client's willingness and ability to put their convictions to the test of a jury verdict or judgment by the court
  • help the mediator help their clients understand that most litigation is based upon differing subjective experiences of the same "objective" series of events so that no one must admit that the other side is "right" and their own side is "wrong"

An example of the lengths to which people will go to be "right" is unfortunately provided to us today by the obituary of the first anti-abortion advocate to be shot and killed for his beliefs.  The slain activist spent years protesting outside the car dealership owned by Tony Young, who explained how the protests finally ended (from Slain Abortion Opponent Loved the Controversy)

Mr. Young said that after about three years of protesting outside his dealership, Mr. Pouillon came in and offered a truce. “ ‘Tony,’ ” Mr. Young said the exchange began, “if you would just agree that I’m right on my beliefs, I’ll stop.’

“I just told him, ‘Sure, Jim, you’re right,’ ” Mr. Young said, chuckling. After that, he said, Mr. Pouillon moved on.

Although few cases could so easily turn on the dime of a semi-sincere acknowledgement that the other side is "right," most attorneys would be surprised by how much value can be generated by acknowledging that the other side's version of the facts or the law is not crazy, evil, bizarre, intellectually dishonest or asserted in bad faith.  See The Biggest Lie in the Business:  It's Only About Money.  As I noted there:

The social scientists who study these things say that the way in which we respond to adversity "often reflects the fact that [our] prestige or status has been threatened more than the fact that [our] purchasing power has been diminished." Miller, Disrespect and the Experience of Injustice, Annual Review of Psychology (2002). In other words, the corporate C.E.O., like any other kid on the block, will retaliate when he feels he has been disrespected.

Conversely, research shows that business people are reluctant to recommend legal action if they believe that they and their company have been treated respectfully. 

By the same token that business people are reluctant to recommend legal action if they believe their company has been treated respectfully, they are often far more willing to settle litigation if they believe their positions have been heard and acknowledged as having been made in good faith.  For those headed toward settlement discussions or mediation, Crocker has good advice:

[B]y far the greatest risk of [diplomatic] engagement is that it may succeed.  If we succeed in changing the position of the other [side's] decision-makers, we then must decide whether we will take yes for an answer and reciprocate their moves with steps of our own.  If talk is fruitful, a negotiation will begin about taking reciprocal steps down a jointly defined road.  Engagement diplomacy forces us to make choices.

If litigators and their clients are aligned in the interest of settling litigation, they must prepare themselves to take "yes for an answer" by having in place a strategy of engagement that will permit them to reciprocate the other side's moves with steps of their own.  A good mediator should be capable of bringing all parties to the on-ramp of the road that counsel and their commercial clients are well-placed to and highly skilled at jointly defining.    

Mediators' Proposals: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

At the close of the year, our good friend John DeGroote at Settlement Perspectives asked whether mediators' proposals had lost their utility.  Now that parties "know the mediator's proposal is coming," he wrote,

savvy negotiators angle for an advantageous impasse rather than a settlement. Compromise is no longer the goal of the mediation exercise; instead it becomes a play to the “neutral,” whose power to craft the mediation proposal will make her the real decisionmaker:

  • In cases where the mediator’s proposal will be based on who will pay what, the parties — or worse yet, one party — will spend valuable time and effort constructing an impasse when, in the absence of a mediator’s proposal as a fallback, he might have actually achieved a compromise settlement; or

  • In cases where the mediator’s proposal will be based on the value of the case, no one has an incentive to be candid with the mediator — so positions become more important than interests; or

  • In cases where the parties aren’t sure what will drive the mediator’s proposal, they dig into their positions and hope for impasse — with the most likely result being a mediator’s proposal predicated on those positions.

Just yesterday, a prominent local IP litigator, trial lawyer and deal-maker Robert J. Rose of Sheldon Mak Rose & Anderson graced the IP ADR Blog with a guest post on the utility of mediators' proposals here.  As Rose notes:

A reluctant plaintiff will make a large jump if the money is really “on the table.”  Defendants will come up with money they otherwise deny having, if it means that the case is really over.  It also eliminates reactive devaluation.

For those who skipped social psychology in college, reactive devaluation is what every lawyer is taught in the first year of practice, if not earlier.  "If the other side wants it," said my first mentor, "you don't, even if it seems like a good idea to you."  With that admonition ringing in the ears of every litigator, the need for mediators is obvious.  Given the dangers cited by DeGroote, however, the mediator's proposal may now be simply another way to "game" the mediator. 

I have two short stories to illustrate the reason I re-direct the parties to bracketing when they ask me to make a mediator's proposal. But first, let me explain that I am one of those mediators who used my "proposal" option to put a number on the table I thought both parties would accept even though it would be a stretch for both of them.  I usually tested these assumptions in separate caucuses by asking each side "if they came down to $X would you come up to $Y."  When the numbers didn't overlap, I'd gauge how much pain there might be for both parties to bridge the gap, along with other entirely subjective opinions such as:

  • how invested each side was in walking away with a settlement that day
  • how firm each side was in their assertion that they would not go below or above a certain number
  • whether either attorney needed help in bringing a little more reality to their clients before the parties would be ready to accept a proposal by the mediator; and,
  • how much "street cred" I'd developed with the parties personally so that they'd accept my estimate of the settlement price-point even if they wouldn't accept their own attorney's advice /*

The first time I felt manipulated into making a mediator's proposal that wasn't the best both parties could do occurred at the close of a particularly fractious commercial mediation. In the presumed Zone of Potential Agreement , my proposal was high on the side of the Plaintiff because I felt that the defendant had more "give" than did Plaintiff's counsel. 

I made my proposal and both sides accepted.  When I walked into the defense caucus to tell counsel that he had a deal, however, I was met with a burst of laughter, the clapping of hands and the following statement:  "I was prepared to take less; that's a great deal.  Thanks so much."

Everyone Lies to the Mediator

That was the hardest lesson I'd had to date in the truism that EVERYONE lies to the mediator.  You do not get to lie to the mediator twice, however, so I caution anyone who's feeling that she put one over on the mediator either to keep it to herself or never to hire that mediator again.

Still, I took a lesson from the attorney's merriment.  I realized immediately that he was not the only, nor the first, attorney to manipulate me.   He was simply the only one to let me know it.  I don't like being manipulated.  But that's what litigators are trained to do.  We call it "persuasion."  Still, I didn't like the look of my mediator's finger prints on that settlement, one that now appeared unduly influenced by my credulity.  

So that's reason no. 1 -- an extremely strong reason no. 1 - why I don't' like to make mediator's proposals and why counsel might ask themselves whether they want to continue asking for them.

"If We'd Wanted a Third Party to Decide, We Would Have Arbitrated This Case"

The quote above is from an attorney who represented one of the parties in the largest and most sophisticated commercial case I've mediated to date. We were at the end of day two and the parties -- who had traveled great distances to meet in a neutral city -- were nowhere near a landing point.  I was a sufficiently experienced mediator to land the case, but new enough to feel as if I'd run out of options when I suggested making a mediator's proposal.  

"I didn't hire you to have a third party make my decision for me," said counsel.  "If you want to get the parties closer together, why don't you suggest a bracket?" (for a explanation of bracketing, see my colleague Ralph Williams' article Introducing Deal Points - the Basics.)

I'd used brackets as a means of testing the parties' true distance before that day ("if he went to $X would you come down to $Y?") but I'd never made a mediator's proposal that was a bracket, i.e., "I suggest that the defendant put $X on the table if plaintiff will reduce its demand to $Y."

Although we didn't settle the case that day with a bracket (it took four full months of follow-up telephone negotiations to do that) I took counsel's point to heart.  The parties don't hire me to make a decision for them.  They're much happier when they get to make the decision themselves.  Even though the parties do decide whether to accept the mediator's proposal, it hasn't come to them as the result of their own hard work.  That being the case, the agreement reached is far less durable (subject to failure based upon nit-picking deal points after the agreement has been reached in principle) and far less satisfying than one achieved without the mediator's thumb on the scale.

I decided to stop making mediators' proposals more than two years ago.  In all that time, however, I've never refused to make one.  Rather, I've suggested alternative ways of achieving resolution, at least one of more of which settled the case in every case where the parties asked for a mediator's proposal.  

I'd like to hear thoughts on these points -- manipulation and party satisfaction -- from my litigator readers as well as my mediator readers.

More mediator thoughts on mediator proposals here:  The Mediator's Proposal at Mediation Meditations.

________________

*  I say this with the following caveat:  I would never attempt to influence clients to do something other than what their attorneys advise.  From time to time, however, the attorney needs to make the mediator the "bad cop" in the negotiation so that the client will not feel as if the attorney is no longer fighting for his interests.  I only play "bad cop" with the attorney's advice and consent.  My job is to get the settlement concluded making the attorneys look good, not bad.

Deal or No Deal: Improving the Odds of Successful Mediation

Need CLE Credits? Mark your calendars!

The American Bar Association Section of Litigation will hold a live teleconference and webcast on July 14, 2009 titled “Deal or No Deal: Improving the Odds of Successful Mediation.” Reinsurance and Insurance expert Katherine Billingham from KB ReSolutions, Inc. and Randall Kiser from DecisionSet will present at the event. Randall’s article Lets Not Make a Deal: An Empirical Study of Decision Making in Unsuccessful Settlement Negotiations was featured recently in the New York Times.

Donald R. Philbin, Jr., friend of this blog and adjunct professor at Pepperdine’s Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution will also speak at the event. Here are two excellent  papers written by Don:  The One Minute Manager Prepares for Mediation: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Negotiation Preparation published in the Harvard Negotiation Law Review and  Deal or No Deal? or Perhaps a Better Deal? The Impact of Improved Information published by CPR.

Find out more about the event here.

The Insulting Opening Offer

Does it ever serve a purpose?

One extremely good answer to the question whether an insulting first offer ever has a purpose can be found at Steve Mehta's Mediation Matters Blog Taking Escalates More than Giving.

In this example from Entourage, Terrence's insult is reciprocated by Ari in conflict escalation (as Steve predicts) and Ari's eventual victory as demonstrated by my longer post about this episode, Negotiation from a Position of Weakness, Hollywood-Style.

Sotomayor and Women's Organizations

Women in the United States Judiciary

2009 State Court Judges in the US:

  • 4,325 women of 16,950 total
  • 26% women

2008 Federal Court Judges

  • 47 of 164 active judges on the thirteen federal courts of appeal are male (29%).
  • 25% of United States district (or trial) court judges were women in 2008.

Women in Corporate America

  • In November 2002, women represent 15.7% of the corporate officers in America’s 500 largest companies. These percentages are up from 12.5% in 2000 and 8.7% in 1995.
  • In April 2002, there were six female CEOs in the Fortune 500 and a total of eleven in the Fortune 1000.
  • The number of women corporate officers:  2,140 out of 13,673.
  • The number of women corporate officers:  2,140 out of 13,673. T
  • Almost 95% or 2,141 of the top earning corporate officers are men, compared to only 188 or 5.2% of women top earners in the Fortune 500.

Earnings on the Dollar Compared to Men

  • Asian/other women: 67 cents
  • White women: 59 cents
  • African American women: 57 cents
  • Hispanic women: 48 cents

Family

  • Women managers are more likely to be single parents than male managers.
  • Women managers who are unmarried and have children under 18: 22 percent African-American, 15 percent Hispanic, 8 percent White, and 5 percent Asian/other women.

Women Lawyers

 JOIN THE PROFESSIONAL WOMEN'S NETWORK OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA TODAY!  We're "on the ground" locally and online nationally.  Building business one relationship at a time.

Update on the $4.1 Billion Arbitration Award Confirmed as Judgment by Los Angeles Superior Court

Here's a copy of the Judgment Confirming Final Arbitration Award.

Comment later.  In the meantime, Money Money Money from Cabaret.

 

Mediation without the Hammer of Litigation?

Worth reading from last week's Mediator blah blah blog (the Lord Chief Justice arms himself with a hammer); just in case you missed it or didn't download the .pdf as I just did this morning.  Thanks Geoff!

Let us take a blank sheet of paper and imagine that we are trying to create a system which would provide a satisfactory means of resolving civil disputes, bearing in mind, without being over dramatic, that in the end, it becomes almost inevitable that some civil disputes will end up in criminal activity. I do not think I am exaggerating.

A few years ago I was taught a lesson by a very intelligent young woman in one of our County Courts. We were talking of the cost – the exorbitant cost as it was then - of taking proceedings for very small sums of money. She explained to me that the cost of just starting the proceedings would represent her children’s shoes – she thought this a disproportionate cost. She knew areas of the City where her husband could go and find someone who would throw a few bricks through a window for £50 – no doubt she was right. And, perhaps, that would be more effective, she suggested than a judgment and getting back the compensation. A little self-help could end up with a brick being used against an individual and a few bricks being thrown back in return.

In short, a civilised community has to provide a system which means that those in dispute can refer to an independent tribunal for a decision. It is a further requirement that the system should actually exist and be capable of being used. If court fees are disproportionate or if legal fees are disproportionate the system is not open to those who cannot afford its processes.

My experience in practice at the bar was that some of my clients wanted their disputes sorted out. They had tried to sort them out before they got to the stage of seeing a solicitor and going to counsel. Others of my clients, or should I say, it was always my opponent’s clients who were unreasonable, didn’t want to sort the dispute out at all. There were all sorts of reasons. One is that very human characteristic sometimes but not always an attribute, the indomitable bloody mindedness of the bull dog.

So that on your sheet of paper the system which we are creating has to cater for both those who wish to settle and those who do not. If both sides want to sort out their dispute, and they have tried and failed, being sensible people, their next step would not be to come to lawyers, but to go and ask someone they trust to try and sort out their dispute, to see where there are points of disagreement and points of agreement. Let’s give it a name. Why not call it “mediation”? A successful mediation is a wonderful outcome. But with the best will in the world, it may not always happen. So you have to have a formal system.

You also have to have a formal system when one side or other to the dispute simply has no intention of sorting it out save in court and at the end of a protracted and expensive court proceeding. That is more troublesome. That may be the party with pots of money trying to squeeze the party with modest means away from the court process. That may mean that the party with real merit in his or her case is deprived of the proceeds of litigation for many years to the advantage of the intransigent party. It may be that the intransigent party is entirely justified and believes that there is no form of mediation which would be acceptable either to it or indeed in the end to the other side.

Now time and time again, in practice as a barrister and now as a judge, I have been perfectly well aware that if only the parties had come together at an early stage, long before they saw their counsel, long before they got to the door of the court, they could have resolved their dispute at a fraction of the cost and without the emotional expenditure and commitment of time and energy required by the litigation. One of the ways I used to try to persuade clients to settle was to remind them of a Chinese curse – “may you be involved in a litigation in which you are in the right.”

One vivid memory is a boundary dispute, or rather a dispute over a garden. My opponent and I turned up at the County Court armed with an abundance of authorities because we had to address limitation periods, laches, injunctive relief, indeed just about every facet of civil justice. In the end we negotiated a settlement in which he and I, not the judge, went to the land and armed not with books but with hammers and stakes literally pegged out the property into equal halves. The case was settled. In truth my opponent and I had acted as mediators. How much better for everyone if the mediation had happened much earlier.

Can we just take a long term view? Every few years, or about every ten years, there is a great hullabaloo about the cost of civil litigation. Arbitration, after all, is a system of avoiding the court process. Do you remember when employment tribunals began? These were to be informal meetings at which the opposing parties would put their cases to a tribunal, almost a form of palm tree justice.

Consider now how much more complicated and expensive the processes have become.
I do urge the Council to recognise this danger. The mediation process, could, unless danger is recognised and addressed, particularly if it is part of the court process, may eventually, and quite unintentionally, and by unforeseen accretion become increasingly formalised and procedural. It really must not eventually become just one more part of the expensive process that all of us are trying to avoid.

Negotiating with Difficult People for Lawyers

Negotiation Training Now!!

Negotiating the Recession with a Legal Mutual Aid Society

If you're worried about your law job becoming -- as they say in Britain - "redundant" or if you've already been laid off due to the recession, join Lawyer Connection which was born today as the result of a twitter conversation I had with Gwynne Monahan (who you can follow @econwriter).

Here's an exploration of what a mutual aid group is from the viewpoint of a social worker -- which speaks to me because I lived through my first husband's MSW in Social Work studies before he lived through my Law School experience (an eventual relationship-killer). 


Visit Lawyer Connection

From Andrew Cicchetti's Mutual Aid Based Group Work blog:

Mutual aid as group work technology can be understood as an exchange of help wherein the group member is both the provider as well as the recipient of help in service of achieving common group and individual goals (Borkman, 1999; Gitterman, 2006; Lieberman, 1983; Northen & Kurland, 2001; Schwartz, 1961; Shulman, 2006, Steinberg, 2004; Toseland & Siporin, 1986). The rationale for cultivating mutual aid in the group encounter is premised on mutual aid's resonance with humanistic values (Glassman, 2002) and the following propositions: 1) members have strengths, opinions, perspectives, information, and experiences that can be drawn upon to help others in the group; 2) helping others helps the helper, a concept known as the helper-therapy principle (Reissman, 1965) which has been empirically validated (Roberts et al, 1999); and 3) some types of help, such as confrontation, are better received when emanating from a peer rather than the worker (Shulman, 2006). Mutual aid transactions that occur amongst and between members stimulate cognitive and behavioral processes and yield therapeutic, supportive and empowering benefits for the members (Breton, 1990;Northen & Kurland, 2001; Shulman, 1986, 2006).

Obviously, we're not pursuing the therapeutic benefits of a mutual aid society as social worker Cicchetti is.  Having been a member of such a group (a community-based women's credit union in the early 1970's for instance) I can say that the experience is not only economically, but also personally, enriching.

Let's not wait for the economy to improve.  Let's start improving it TODAY.  We are the change we want to see in the world. 

JOIN US!!

How Summer Associates Fail from David Mills' Brilliant "Courtoons"

Hat tip to

Virginia Construction Lawyer Christopher Hill

for introducing us to the extremely multi-talented

federal appellate attorney David Mills

.

Dealing with "Jerks" - Tit for Tat in an Email World

I'm re-posting below an article published in both the Los Angeles and the San Francisco Daily Journals (the local legal rags) about the dangers inherent in email communication.  I do so because I had several complaints about the use of abusive email by in-house counsel last week at my negotiation training as well as in my twitter network from attorneys exasperated with combative emailers who refuse to take telephone calls (see post about conflict avoidance here)

My advice?  Use the tried and true tit-for-tat strategy:  retaliate for uncooperative conduct and be quick to forgive as soon as your bargaining partners bring themselves back into line.  The advice I gave on twitter (@vpynchon) this morning was simple and pointed:  tell opposing counsel that you will program your email system to automatically delete all of their emails until they pick up the telephone and give you the courtesy of a return call.

Below, my Daily Journal article on the Dangers of Using Email During Litigation.

 

This story occurs in the spring of 2001, in a hotel room in Toronto, at 3 a.m., the morning of a deposition I've been preparing to take of an aging petrochemical engineer.

2001 is a  year I'd dreamed of since elementary school.  But the technological changes predicted in the science fiction of my childhood and adolescence are nothing like the "hi-tech" I'm living with now.  

There are no one-man jets cruising the skies; no robots running my errands or cooking my dinner; no tele-transportation; and, on the political scene (it's not yet 9/11) no Big Brother

My personal 2001 "future" is mostly about my instantaneous access to information and "real time" communication via the "killer app" -- email -- telegraphic, spontaneous, unnuanced, and about to get me in a great deal of trouble.  (See Vanity Fair's must-read oral history of the internet here.)  

There's an associate back in Los Angeles, you see, the quality of whose work and the strength of whose dedication to the case at hand is in alarming decline.  More troubling, his work is deteriorating at the same time I'm taking old fashioned passenger jets from province to province to take the testimony of as many witnesses still living who know how 500+ toxic waste sites got that way in the first place.    

Did I say it's 3 a.m.?  The associate I'm thinking about failed to get me the outline I need for tomorrow's deposition on time -- or at all.  The "hard copies" that were supposed to be waiting for me when I arrived at the hotel have gone missing.  I'm tired.  I'm hungry.  I'm lonely.  And I'm angry. 

Worst of all, I'm composing an email to my  associate about my considerable disappointment in his recent performance.  There is a moment, a split second, in which my finger hovers over the "send" button while a rational voice in my head says "no."  Then I push "send."

Email Makes Settlement More Difficult  

More and more often when I'm meeting counsel on the morning of a mediation, they're also meeting one another for the first time.  In fact, they often have not even previously spoken to one another unless they've met in Court ("good morning, counsel") or in depositions (eyes averted; objections made).  Increasingly, by far the vast percentage of their communications have taken place via email.  

And that's a problem. 

Conflict Escalation

There's no question that litigation escalates whatever conflict existed when our client first walks in our door.  We don't, after all, make requests.  We issue demands.  We don't seek concessions.  We insist upon them.  We don't make inquiries.  We require responses.  And we're not such great listeners.  Rather, we impatiently tap our feet in Court, waiting for counsel to finish his argument (which we've heard dozens of times before) so we can press our case.

Are these bad things?  Not necessarily.  So long as we understand what we're doing and the likely results our conduct will have, escalation is not necessarily worse than maintaining a steady state or even deescalating conflict.  

The problem for most of us is that we don't know what we're doing and we don't understand the breadth and depth of the likely repercussions.  

In Conflict Escalation: Dispute Exacerbating Elements of E-Mail Communication, author Raymond A. Friedman of the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University quotes conflict specialists Rubin, Pruitt and Kim on the difficulties caused by escalation tactics and strategy.  According to Rubin, et al., escalation is 

"an increase in the intensity of a conflict as a whole.”  Escalation is important . . . because when conflict escalates it “is intensified in ways that are sometimes exceedingly difficult to undo.”  One reason why escalated conflicts are so hard to undo is that when more aggressive tactics are used by one side they are often mirrored by the other side, producing a vicious cycle.

Email, Friedman argues, unnecessarily, and often drastically, escalates conflict in ways none of us fully appreciate.  Unlike conversation -- in person or by telephone -- we are not

physically present with others, can’t see their faces or hear their voices, and can’t give or get immediate responses. The lack of contextual clues . . . impose high “understanding costs” on participants in e-mail interactions, making it harder to successfully ground the interaction. . . . /*  [T]the inability to carefully time actions and reactions . . . makes communication less precise.  

E-mail Not Only Lacks Social Clues, it is "Profoundly A-Social." 

Sitting in my Toronto hotel room at 3 a.m., reviewing online documents for tomorrow's deposition and now "penning" an email to my errant associate, I am, argues Friedman, not simply making communication more difficult, I have become "profoundly asocial" as my associate will also likely be when he reviews my email the following day.  "E-mails," writes Friedman,

are typically received and written while the writer is in isolation, staring at a computer screen – perhaps for hours at a time, so that awareness of the humanness of the counterpart may be diminished.

As evidence, Friedman cites research in which subjects played the "prisoner's dilemma" game against a computer.  Not only did the gamers act asocially in this context, "many continued to act asocially even when told that they were now playing with people (through the computer)."

E-mail, Friedman concludes, "often occurs in a context devoid of awareness of human sensibilities."

The Precise Difficulties Caused by E-Mail Communications?

Use of aggressive tactics. If e-mail communication encourages the use of more aggressive tactics during a dispute, or makes a counterpart’s tactics appear more aggressive, then escalation will be triggered.

Changes in view of other. Escalation is more likely if e-mail causes negative changes in psychological processes (e.g., perceptions and attitudes) towards the other, such as (1) seeing the other as unfair, (2) lessening empathy toward them, (3) increasing deindividuation and anonymity, or (4) or seeing the other as immoral.

Weakened interpersonal bonds. If e-mail weakens social bonds with the other, then escalation is more likely (e.g., due to reduced inhibitions for aggression).

Problems are difficult to resolve. If the communication limitations of e-mail (e.g., asynchrony deficits) make problems more difficult to solve, conflict may be escalated as frustrated disputants move from mild to more aggressive strategies to achieve their goals.

As a result, says Friedman, there are "higher rates of escalation when disputes are managed via e-mail than via face-to-face communication or other relatively rich media . . . such as telephone conversations." /**

Back in Los Angeles the Following Day

You knew this story was not going to have a happy ending.  What a cranky, tired, stressed partner types into her computer at 3 a.m. and what a fully awake associate reads with his morning coffee the following day are, as Friedman stresses, two quite different things.  And though I've rarely had a face-to-face disagreement with a colleague that cannot be mended by further communication, apologies, explanations and the like, this particular communication caused a rift that I was unable to heal.

This experience from several years ago, coupled with my recent mediation experiences, makes me want to advise, exhort, plead, beseech, entreat and pray that you commence every litigation with a telephone call rather than a "demand" letter or email.  And that you continue to communicate with opposing counsel by telephone or, even more radically, in person over a meal, throughout the litigation to make sure channels of communication are as open and clear as possible.

The difficulties saved will not only benefit your personal life (reduce stress, increase fellow-feeling and the like) but will benefit your client as well -- in case efficiencies and better settlements all around.     

 

______________________

*/  "Grounding" is the process 

by which two parties in an interaction achieve a shared sense of understanding about a communication and a shared sense of participation in the conversation. Grounding is important because “speech is evanescent...so Alan must try to speak only when he thinks Barbara is attending to, hearing, and trying to understand what he is saying, and she must guide him by giving evidence that she is doing just this."

** /  There's much more to be learned from this article, but these highlights should tell you whether further reading is in your interest or worth your time. 

California Courts May Not Require Parties to "Negotiate in Good Faith"

Although a California Court may properly sanction a non-party insurance carrier who possesses the authority to settle litigation for its failure to participate in a mandatory settlement conference, there is no statutory (nor inherent) authority given the Court to sanction the carrier or a party for its purported failure to negotiate in "good faith."  As the Court in Vidrio v. Hernandez (2d DCA) explained today:

In sum, even were we to agree with the trial court's assessment of the conduct of counsel and the [insurance] adjuster, the failure to increase a settlement offer or to otherwise participate meaningfully in settlement negotiations violates no rule of court and is not a proper basis for an award of sanctions.11 (See, e.g., Triplett v. Farmers Ins. Exchange (1994) 24 Cal.App.4th 1415, 1424 [“[w]e eschew any notion that a court may effectively force an unwilling party to settle by raising the specter of a post hoc determination that failure to do so will be evidence of failure to participate in good faith”]; Sigala v. Anaheim City School Dist., supra, 15 Cal.App.4th at p. 669 [“„[a] court may not compel a litigant to settle a case, but it may direct him to engage personally in settlement negotiations, provided the conditions for such negotiations are otherwise reasonable‟”].) [Defendant] filed an appropriate settlement conference statement; her lawyer and Mercury [the insurance carrier] attended the conference and participated in it. While the trial court‟s frustration at the parties‟ lack of movement is understandable, no more was required.
 

In particular, the Court of Appeal, held that the Court was not at liberty to "judge" whether the defendant and its carrier "should have" offered more than had previously been offered at a mediation either because the case was "worth" more or because the offer was so low in light of the attorneys fees and costs that would likely be incurred at trial.

I believe most mediators would approve of this ruling, even though it applies only to settlement conferences and not to mediations, the latter of which is protected from the Court's inquiry by Evidence Code section 1119.  Whether or not a mediator, a settlement judge, a party or a trial judge believes a defendant "should" offer more or a plaintiff "should" accept less by way of settlement, should not form the basis of an award of sanctions.  Not only would such a rule decrease citizens' trust and respect for the Courts, whose job it presumably is to provide a forum in which litigated disputes may be tried, such a rule would impermissibly chill the parties' Constitutional right to a jury trial.  

 

Settling Lawsuits: Money is the Instrument but Justice is the Issue

As every lawyer knows and most students of high school geometry must learn in mastering "proofs," the answer often comes first, the rationale later.  I used to say, "I'm a litigator, I can rationalize anything."  As a mediator, my rationalizations have turned from the way in which facts can be shoe-horned into causes of action or affirmative defenses to the way in which harm arising from a dispute (including, most assuredly, the moral harm of injustice) can be monetized.

Now David Brooks in the New York Times (which appears to have disabled the "copy" function/1) tells us that philosophy has been sacrificed on the alter of emotion in his column The End of Philosophy

As Brooks explains, reasoning comes after moral judgment and "is often guided by the emotions that preceded it."  The good news is that those emotions are not merely competitive.  Brooks again:

Like bees, humans have long lived or died based on their ability to divide labor, help each other, and stand together in the face of common threats.  Many of our moral emotions and intuitions reflect that history.  We don't just care about our individual rights, or even the rights of other individuals.   We also care about loyalty, respect, traditions, religions.  We are all the descendents of successful cooperators.

My mediation experience teaches me that the "soft" arts of influence, empathy, community-building, and prejudice reduction, are as important (and often more important) to the successful (i.e., satisfying) resolution of a lawsuit than our prized ability to parse the evidence,  rationalize away the bad and privilege the good to sell our "proof" to judge or jury.

Most importantly, I find that when attorneys' clients leave a mediation with the belief that a certain rough justice has been obtained, they are more satisfied with the outcome, and with their attorneys' representation of their interests, than they might have been had they left with 10% more change jingling in their pockets.

The experts who study mediation tell us that "neutrals" don't make the difference between settling or not settling.  The cases will settle with or without us.  The difference mediators make is not settlement, but  client satisfaction.  Satisfied clients are  an absolute necessity for a successful legal practice at any time.  In these hard times, legal practices may fail in the absence of resolutions addressing the justice issues your client sought out a lawyer to resolve in the first place.

Money is the instrument.  But justice is the issue.

 

 

 

 

_____________

1/  More about this at IP ADR later today.

 

Negotiating Emotion (and Client Development) with Arnie Herz at Legal Sanity

(image by the great Charles Fincher at LawComix)

Thanks first to LexBlog for giving yesterday's post here a shout-out but more importantly, thanks to LexBlog for giving Arnie Herz' post at Legal Sanity Why lawyers should get emotional with clients coverage in the same daily compilation of LexBlog client posts, a tremendous resource I highly recommend you include on your news reader.

You'll see from my lengthy comment there that Arnie is singing my song about the law and emotion and in particular, the fact that we cannot make decisions without emotion something every trial lawyer, negotiator, mediator and sales person knows down to the knuckles of their spine.  Excerpt from Legal Sanity below.

Here are two facts:

  • There’s a client service deficit in the law.

  • Lawyers tend to regard emotions – their own and other people’s – as irrelevant to their work.

At first glance, these two facts seem unrelated. But they’re actually closely (even intimately) connected. 

Some time back, I posted on the interplay of emotions and client service in this new era of customer control. I linked to a ClickZ article citing a (then) new book by Dan Hill called Emotionomics: Winning Hearts and Minds. Launching from the premise that humans are primarily emotional decision-makers, the book discusses how emotions factor into our business opportunities in the marketplace and workplace. 

Picking up on this point from a slightly different angle, in a recent post, designer and marketing mentor Peleg Top says, Go ahead, get emotional. Top notes that, in marketing (and, I’d add, in providing) our services, “an effective way to generate action is to tell a compelling story, one that hits your customer’s emotions.” Suggesting that most service providers miss this mark, he observes . . .

For the remainder of Arnie's great post, click here.  And here's another great link on the same topic from Cutting Edge Law - the illicit relationship of lawyers and emotion.

More on the effective use of emotion in the negotiation of settlements soon.

 

The Godfather of Collaborative Law Talks about Litigation and its Discontents

Discouraged by the adversarial process?  Looking for lawyers who will handle your commercial dispute without going to "war" with all the expense and collateral damage that involves?

This excellent talk by Webb has been viewed 202 times, while "Drunk Lawyer" below has been viewed by nearly 300,000 people.  It's not surprising that drunken trial lawyers are far more entertaining than some old guy talking about attorneys bringing potluck to negotiate the resolution of a lawsuit. 

The question is this:  Do you want to pay for the entertainment of conflict or resolve it and move on with your plans to create a profitable future for your company and its employees.

"Drunk Lawyer" is, after all, free on YouTube!

Thanks to Cutting Edge Law for gathering together the Stu Webb and other videos on the revolution in legal practice that's being fomented right around the corner -- just about the time the BigLaw model fails along with dinosaurs like General Motors.

You didn't hear it here first.  But you will hear it here often.

This is the fourth video of this painful encounter on YouTube but it's the one in which the attorney is asked to "blow" a breathalyzer for the Court.

 

 

Getting Your Opponent to the Bargaining Table without Appearing Weak

Transparency Will Eliminate Unnecessary Wariness Between Parties (.pdf)

from the April 1, 2009 Daily Journal

 
 

FORUM COLUMN

By Victoria Pynchon

As a mediator, the question I hear most frequently from lawyers is "How do I convince my opponent to sit down and negotiate without losing my competitive advantage?"

Believe it or not, the answer is transparency.

If you can remember way back to last July, when firms like Microsoft and Yahoo were still engaging in business as usual, you might recall that a merger fell apart because Yahoo was acting "weird." At least that's what Microsoft's chief executive, Steve Ballmer, told the Wall Street Journal.

"We had an offer out that was a 100 percent premium on the operating business of the company and there wasn't a serious price negotiation ... until three months later. It was a little ... weird."

Lawyers know that three months rushes by in the blink of an eye. The board of directors meets. It seeks an analysis from the mergers and acquisitions people, who consult with outside counsel's antitrust department, which renders a decision but whose members first have to chat with the tax guys. Then there are the IP people with whom to discuss license agreements and, of course, the managers in the human resources department, who may or may not have advice about executive parachutes - platinum, golden or brass.

And yet the Yahoo-Microsoft merger fell apart because Microsoft felt that Yahoo's delay was "weird."

Let's go back to what every trial lawyer knows. In the absence of information, people make stuff up. Weird stuff.

And the stories we tell ourselves about our uncommunicative commercial partners do not include one where the other guy is laboring day and night to fulfill our fondest desires. No. In the absence of information, we weave elaborate conspiracy theories in which our opponents are scheming to fleece us of our rights, obstruct our prospective economic advantage and turn our world upside down.

Your dentist can tell you what your opponent wants to be told. A fully illustrated pre-game outline of the upcoming procedure that goes something like this "First I'll put a little numbing cream on your gum. That way the shot of Novocain won't hurt too much. Then I'll drill," she'd say, holding the fearful appliance up and switching it on. "It may sound louder in your mouth than it does here in my hand, but I'll only have it on for about five minutes, after which ... etc., etc."

So how do you get your opponent to the bargaining table without sounding weak?

You say "Listen, Ted, I know both our clients believe their cases are as good as gold but after an initial round of discovery, it's my practice to call a timeout to discuss settlement."

Pause.

"How does that sound to you?"

Ted says it sounds all right. Which it does. Because Ted's got three incredibly acrimonious cases in his practice right now. Last year, one of his adversaries served an ex parte application with three bankers boxes of exhibits the day before Christmas. At 4:59 p.m.  And she scheduled the hearing for hearing on the day after Christmas. Sure, the judge would deny it, but Ted couldn't assume anything. He worked 15 hours on Christmas Day.

So it sounds good to Ted.

More important to your own litigation plan, your opponent has just agreed to come to the bargaining table, even though the actual meeting won't be held for several months. When the appointed hour arrives, you will not have to ask for a settlement conference at a time when it might show weakness on your part. It's part of the plan.

For the remainder of the article, click here.

Pursuing a Divide and Conquer Negotiation Strategy? Don't Miss New California Case Law on Good Faith Settlement Findings

Challenges to good faith settlements that cut off the rights of non-settling defendants to seek indemnification and contribution from settling defendants are nearly always doomed to failure.  Trial courts are understandably eager to clear their dockets and there's no docket-clean-up pitcher like the first defendant to settle.  Deny the motion and bring a settled defendant and his trial-ready resources back in to the litigation when the first defendant-domino has just successfully toppled over?   Not likely, my friend. Not in the trial court at any rate.

These motions are so difficult to oppose that I've seen a target defendant threaten a marginal player (my client) with sanctions just for challenging the target's very low six-figure settlement in an eight-figure antitrust action.

It looks like low value settlements got just a little bit harder to defend yesterday when the Second District Court of Appeal reversed a trial court's good faith settlement finding in  Long Beach Memorial Medical Center v. Superior Court (Conners).

Best quotation:  "The hospital contends that the physicians‟ $200,000 settlement -- representing 2 percent of plaintiffs‟ $10 million damages estimate -- was so far out of the “ballpark” it was not even in the parking lot."  With a first runner-up to "If section 877.6 is to serve the ends of justice, it must prevent a party from purchasing protection from its indemnification obligation at bargain-basement prices."

The Court of Appeal relied upon the following "facts" in finding that the trial court abused its considerable discretion in granting a good faith motion to defendant physicians in light of defendant hospital's opposition.

  • payment of $200,000 in settlement for a $10 million claim, which the appellate court found to be "wholly disproportionate."  As the Court opined "[e]ven a slight probability of liability on [the settling doctor's] part would warrant a contribution more significant than 2 percent."
  •  the "evidence" supporting the court's finding that the settling physician's probable fault was "not de minimis,"  which appears to have been based upon Plaintiff's attorney's fault analysis (not generally known for its unbiased nature) and the physicians' counsel's candid (?) suggestion that his clients' contribution to a global settlement might be in the range of $1.5 million;
  • the availability of $2 million in coverage, which "militated against a good faith determination" because the settlement constituted only 10% of available policy limits [carrier alert here!];
  • the non-settling Hospital's contention that the physicians and their attorneys engaged in "bad faith tactics" during two mediation sessions -- a factor the appellate court acknowledged it was barred by mediation confidentiality from considering -- but which it neatly avoided by concentrating on post-mediation negotiations; /*
  • the timing of the physicians' settlement offer, which suggested to the appellate court that their "reason for entering into the settlement with plaintiffs was to cut off the hospital's . . .  right to indemnity from the physicians" (I thought that was a legitimate reason to settle litigation but see the Court's citation to Mattco Forge, stating that when a defendant  “enters into a disproportionately low settlement with the plaintiff solely to obtain immunity from the cross-complaint, the inference that the settlement was not made in good faith is difficult to avoid.” Mattco, supra (emphasis added); and,
  • a consideration I've never seen defeat a good faith motion before - that a settlment "dictated by the tactical advantage of removing a deep-pocket defendant . . . is not made in 'good faith' consideration of the relevant liability of all parties. . . ." (leading to the question whether we're now required to consider the interests of clients other than our own in entering into a settlement agreement on a contested claim)

If this case isn't depublished (an unfortunate California practice) or taken up for review, it will bear re-reading and deeper thinking about the stategy and tactics of breaking away from the mob to cut a separate deal beneficial to one's own client without "consider[ing] . . the relevant liability of all parties . . . "

Comments welcome!!

 

________________

*/  This is a good place to note the importance of either indicating in the parties' post-mediation written negotiations that the mediation is continuing (hence the communications remain absolutely protected) or that the mediation has concluded (hence bringing those post-mediation settlement negotiations outside the scope of the strictly enforced mediation confidentiality restrictions).

A trial lawyer, a mediator and a jury consultant walk into a bar . . . .

 . . . and they're all talking about the same thing!  How do you put the "clothes," the drama, the pathos, the dimensionalty and texture back into the sterile legal cause of action we litigators have been working on for months, years, even decades.

There are no professions whose success depends quite so much on the coherence and authenticity of story, narrative.  The gun that appears in the first act.  The man who must be lying dead on the stage as the curtain closes.  The way everything leads to one unexpected and yet repeatedly foreshadowed conclusion.

To this mutual quest for telling the persuasive truth of the parties' lived experience comes a new jury blog:  Things that make you go hmmmmm from the Jury Impact people here in Southern California.  Back in the day, I worked with CEO Chris St. Hilaire on a quarter billion dollar antitrust and unfair competition case.  I've worked with others such as the rightly famous Don Vinson of Litigation Sciences, the first person to introduce me to jury work as Madison Avenue advertising.  The Jury Impact people are that good.

Add their new blog to your news reader.

Talking of Madison Avenue, here's Mad Men's best ad pitch -  Nostalgia:  the pain from an old wound and the product that takes us to a place where we ache to go again.

Before You're Ready to Negotiate the Best Settlement Possible, You Need to Prepare the Best Case Possible

Learn, refine, perfect your deposition skills at Solo Practice University's The Art of the Deposition here!

   

Asking Open-Ended Questions with the President and his Secretary of State.

 For the remainder of this series, as well as short lectures and demonstrations that will make you one of the best examiners, cross-examiners, defenders and users of depositions at trial and in pre-trial motions, sign up for The Art of the Deposition at Solo Practice University today!

Negotiating Disclosure: How to Get Beyond "Yes" and "No" in Your Deposition Practice

Sweating out your first deposition?  Wish you were doing a better job on your tenth?  Fed up with well-coached witnesses?  Want to learn everything the witness knows without an agony of effort?

 

Take my course at Solo Practice University.

These guys are still practicing.  

Mediators! What Your Clients May REALLY Be Thinking

I'm attaching a Policyholders Guide to Mediation not because it's particularly useful in regard to the strategy and tactics necessary to be a successful mediation advocate, but to share with my fellow mediators just how low an opinion many litigators have of us.

Notice on page 2 (Mediation Downsides) the following:

  • mediator may inappropriately discourage/scare the policyholder to force a settlement
  • mediator may "tell insurance company things you ask them to keep secret" (!!!)
  • mediator may have a financial stake in keeping the insurance company happy

Thanks to policyholder counsel extraordinaire Stephen Goldberg of Dickstein Shapiro for passing this along to me.

 

Unemployed Lawyers, Solo Practice University, the Last Time the Baby Boom Was Poor, and the Gig Economy


We need an open source solution to lawyer unemployment.  If I had time for a post this morning, I'd write a great creative plea for an open source solution to lawyer unemployment.  It's all right here in my head this morning.  But I don't have time so here are my random thoughts with a plea to send me ideas and links, either by way of the comments section or via email.

Here goes:

the gig economy.

Solo Practice University.

the last time the baby boom was poor, it was also:

  • entrepreneurial:  candles, belts, "head" shops, collectives, free schools, credit unions based on affiliation (i.e., the Women's Federal Credit Union at a time when we still couldn't get credit cards in our own names); crash pads; food co-ops; the Diggers; "alternative" social service agencies funded by grants and existing federal program assistance (i.e., Vista volunteers; federal revenue sharing funds); "free" press . . . . more from my baby boomer readers please
  • inventive - this category probably entirely overlaps with the first one
  • largely unemployed or under-employed while pursuing greater interests
  • expert at navigating federal benefits for medical services and dietary needs (food stamps)
  • unashamed to:
    • ask friends for help
    • use local, state and federal benefits for the poor, knowing that we would eventually pay these back in taxes over a lifetime
    • shop at Army-Navy stores
  • generous with our resources; "yes you can"
    • "crash at my pad"
    • borrow a little "bread"
    • have dinner at my place
    • join my collective ("network")
    • work at the co-op
    • send your kids to our free school
    • get a loan from our credit union
  • industrious
    • all this generosity meant that people who could do did
    • those who were good at getting grants got them
    • those with medical skills shared them
    • those with organizational skills organized
    • those with contacts shared them
  • socially conscious
    • we didn't envy those with more than us or look down on those with less than us
    • we tapped the rich (please can you contribute) and provided services to the poor
    • if we didn't like the way the government was doing something, we didn't just protest (a thousand documentaries on the sixties to the contrary) we got up in the morning and formed an alternative to the governmental or existing societal organizations that we believed were not serving the needs of ourselves and our communities 
    • we believed we were part of a tribe and we were loyal to it and to one another
  • very very young
    • we made a lot of mistakes (think:  Jane Fonda:  Hanoi)
    • we were ridiculously overly optimistic about our own ability to change the world
    • we were overly pessimistic about the good of the society we were born into
    • we were arrogant
    • we were brave
    • we were not risk averse
    • were were opininated
    • we were fractious

OK.  So now we're here.  What are WE going to DO about it???????

Thoughts

  1. no lawyer should be "unemployed" PERIOD
  2. the "gig" economy:  several streams of income
  3. F--k the "experts"
  4. the law isn't keeping up with the problems lawyers are experts at solving
  5. the adversarial system - 18th century dispute resolution technology - is not fast or flexible enough to efficiently and effectively solve 21st century conflicts ("conflict": a struggle over scarce resources and/or a struggle to impose control over the standards, values, rules, etc. of the society)
  6. when the times get weird, the weird turn pro
  7. find a way to help markets in need creative solutions to "legal" problems so they don't have to SUE THEIR MARKET (NEWSPAPERS) /1
  8. think like an entrepreneur not like an employee
    1. did I mention Solo Practice University?  it's not just for solo practitioners; it's for the new wave of lawyers whose task is to re-structure the system so that it works for all of us
    2. you did it when you were, oh, 16, 20, 25, 30 . . . do it now
  9. Network!!!

More later.  I have a gig.

_______________

1/  "Who reads newspapers, mom?"

     "Bloggers, honey."

Negotiating Law Firm Layoffs: the Series and Its Links

I do have ONE more post on the "negotiated" resolution of law firm layoffs, using "negotiation" in its broadest sense as in this definition at the online American Heritage Dictionary online.

INTRANSITIVE VERB: To confer with another or others in order to come to terms or reach an agreement: “It is difficult to negotiate where neither will trust” (Samuel Johnson).
TRANSITIVE VERB: 1. To arrange or settle by discussion and mutual agreement: negotiate a contract. 2a. To transfer title to or ownership of (a promissory note, for example) to another party by delivery or by delivery and endorsement in return for value received. b. To sell or discount (assets or securities, for example). 3a. To succeed in going over or coping with: negotiate a sharp curve. b. To succeed in accomplishing or managing: negotiate a difficult musical passage.
ETYMOLOGY:

Latin negtir, negtit-, to transact business, from negtium, business : neg-, not; see ne in Appendix I + tium, leisure.

 

 

First, a directory to the series on this blog:

Negotiating Unemployment:  Hope for Laid Off Lawyers

Negotiating Law Firm Layoffs:  the Two Professions

Negotiating Law Firm Layoffs:  You Can't Save Your Face and Your Ass at the Same Time

Negotiating Law Firm Layoffs:  Property, Power and Prestige

Negotiating Law Firm Layoffs:  My Part in It

Negotiating Law Firm Layoffs:  Crash and Recovery

Negotiating Law Firm Layoffs:  Good Fortune and Bad

Negotiating Law Firm Layoffs:  the Narrative of Mediation

Negotiating Law Firm Layoffs:  Wisdom from the Trenches

This series has been picked up by the following notable online publications:

Legal Blog Watch by Bob Ambrogi (thanks again Bob) Layoff Lessons from One Who's Been There

Laid Off?  Might Be Time to Fly Solo at the AmLaw Daily

Helpful Links

(coming soon)

 

 

 

Negotiating Law Firm Layoffs: Wisdom from the Trenches

Because I litigated the meaning of contracts for more than twenty years, Ken Adams' contract drafting blog is a guilty pleasure. 

Ken's not a confessional blogger like I am.  He's an expert; a teacher; and, a scholar.  But the recession seems to have put more than one seasoned attorney in a mind to share the winding career path that can -- if we're lucky -- lead to a passionate engagement with our occupation. 

Here's an excerpt of Ken's excellent post Law, the Working Life and Innovation.  I highly recommend the entire post to any lawyer wondering what to do with his/her law degree other than what he/she is doing now.

At law firms throughout the land, lawyers are pondering what’s in store for them. Here’s what I suggest:

If you’re a zealous law-firm type, then you’ll likely survive the current bloodletting, or at least find a welcome somehere. And if, like me, you’re clearly unsuited to law-firm life, you have no choice but to reinvent yourself.

A more tricky choice faces those at law firms who have no great appetite for the work but can tolerate it and have performed well enough not to be culled, at least thus far. If that applies to you, you may be inclined to stick with the devil you know.

I had no choice but to make the leap. I set about making myself an expert in a topic that I found fascinating, then I devised new solutions to meet an evident need. Engaging in that sort of innovation has given me a new lease on life. If you’re passionate about what you do, you’ll not only derive vastly greater satisfaction from your work. You’ll also be more energetic, more creative, and better equipped to win others over to your cause, whatever it might be. As a result, you’ll be more likely to weather any economic storm.

So whether your job is currently safe or whether you’re one of the casualties, you might want to consider your own potential for innovation, within the law-firm world or elsewhere. The legal profession is a vast, varied, and ever-changing ecosystem. It should offer plenty of underexploited niches for those with enough energy and imagination.

I’m not suggesting that innovation comes easily. It’s beyond the reach of most, and even those with the appetite can expect to travel a rocky road and be stalked by failure. But it can provide great rewards. And given that the U.S. is falling behind on too many fronts, innovation isn’t simply a matter of individual opportunity, but also of civic duty.

Continue reading here.

Thanks Ken!  You'll never know how many lives your post will change.

Negotiating Law Firm Layoffs: the Narrative of Mediation

For more than a week, I have been narrating a story of loss from the 1992 recession and my own recovery from that loss (or, more precisely, those losses).  Had my narrative been a legal one, I would have been required to analyze my rights (if any) against the blameworthy and the remedies available to me according to the character of the blameworthy act and the nature of my loss.

As Professor Robert Rubinson has written in Client Counseling, Mediation and Client Narratives of Dispute Resolution, every legal narrative

starts, with [a] Steady State [the "Status Quo"] and the Trouble that upsets [it]: The world is in order. People are acting towards each other as they should, or at least no one is straying too far from the norm. And then . . . something happens. One party claims that another party did something to generate disorder, to make the world out of joint. In other words, Trouble disrupts the Steady State.

My story - at least the surface of it - was one of a (1) successful legal career (2) disrupted by the (3) Recession.  A bad legal narrative because you can't sue the economy (at least not yet). 

Rights and Remedies

If I'd wanted to assert a legal right and claim a legal remedy, I would have been required to survey the scene to locate someone whose activities were:  (1) wrongful; and, (2) a substantial factor causing my termination.  You might recall that I was told that my layoff had nothing to do with my performance and was solely caused by economic conditions firm-, industry-, state- and nation-wide.  This was kind of the firm to say to me but it  couldn't have been strictly true.  Although I wasn't among the first group of layoffs, I was in the second.  Third and fourth rounds would follow.  Some people, however, would not be laid off at all. 

So though the recession was the immediate cause of my layoff, there had to be others, many of them "rightful" but some of them possibly wrongful. In fact, more than a few of my colleagues suggested (for reasons I will not recount here) that I had a "pretty good cause of action" against the firm.  

The litigation story always assumes one party was wronged and the other was a wrongdoer.  It also assumes that one party's factual account of events is accurate ("right") and the other party's is inaccurate ("wrong").  As Professor Rubinson explains, litigation is a search for the "real source of Trouble."  Furthermore, 

[t]he assumption that one party is right and one party is wrong is not open to question; litigation is based on a shared norm among all participants (litigants, judge, jury) that only one of the litigants is right about "what happened." Since there is only one true source of Trouble, parties expend Efforts to demonstrate to the finder of fact that their story is the "right" one.

The parties are successful and the adversarial system is justified when

the judge (or jury) decides that the origins of Trouble are as [one] party claims [and judge or jury] Restores the Steady State by granting relief to the party whose version of Trouble is the right one.

I may well have had a colorable or tenable or "fair" or "good" or even "excellent" legal story that would have justified using the adversarial system in an effort to regain what I had lost -- money and benefits. But I haven't told a legal story this past week, I've told a mediation story.

The Working Parts of the Mediation Narrative

Though "mediation as settlement conference," has long been part of the legal "story" in which the search for "right" and "wrong" remains paramount, as a true alternative to the adversarial process, mediation,

rejects the idea that "what happened" is a unitary or stable "truth" to be found "out there."

Instead, a primary - if not the primary - thrust of mediation is that conflict resolution entails some recognition on the part of disputants that "what happened" is informed by perspective [requiring the disputants to] "begin to acknowledge another view of the situation," or [help the disputants understand that] two [good faith but] contending perceptions coexist" . . .

According to Rubinson,

the Story of Litigation [assumes] that conflict [itself is] a breach of the norms of conduct. . . [I]n mediation, conflict is a norm of conduct, a necessary byproduct of humans having distinct experiences and personalities and needs. Conflict is thus not necessarily a disruption of the moral order, and, indeed, can sometimes be productive . . . 

The mediation narrative, says Rubinson, is set in the present, rather than the past, a present in which the parties engage in a cooperative effort to resolve the conflict in a way that meets the current needs and desires of the parties instead of "restoring" them to a state they enjoyed in the past.  This story, says Rubinson, "does not generate a binary moral universe that divides the good from the bad, but, rather a universe that values collaborative striving to achieve common ground and resolution."

Mediation accomplishes this goal by

embracing the notion that perceptions of the world (including perceptions of the actions of others) are unstable, thus enabling parties to appreciate alternative perspectives as a way to promote resolution of conflict. .  .

In the story of mediation, the "Trouble" and its "Cause" are not capable of being "discovered" and not worth the effort to "prove."  Though the Mediation Story rejects portrayals of one "side" as the "victim" and the other as "oppressor," it commences with both parties characterizing the other as the cause of their distress.  Instead of determining which party is to "blame" however, the mediation story requires the parties acknowledge one another's contradictory experiences as authentic; asks each of them to take responsibility for whatever part their own conduct might have contributed to the "Trouble" and resolves with an agreement in which the parties' present and future desires and needs are sufficiently satisfied for each to believe the resolution reached is the best they can, in good faith, do. 

These are the broad strokes.  The specific ways in which the mediation story can be accomplished (and its benefits and limitations) tomorrow.  The roles of interest-based and competitive negotiation in the mediation story later this week.

Negotiating Law Firm Layoffs: Good Fortune and Bad

Here's a Sunday morning homily to get this tale through fifteen years of sobriety and the career; love, marriage; and family that came with it.  It's also meant to give a little hope to the recently laid off.

There was an old farmer who lived in a shtetl in Poland.  This was before the First World War.  One day, the farmer's only horse broke through the fence and ran away. Without the horse, the farmer couldn't plow his fields.  The loss was an unfathomable catastrophe.  The farmer's neighbors came and did what they could but no one had an "extra" horse. "Such bad luck!" they exclaimed. 

"We'll see," said the farmer sagely.  "We'll see."  And the neighbors went away beginning to doubt the man's sanity.

The very next day the horse came back followed by two new wild horses that the farmer "broke."  He was able to triple his output and became one of the leading men in town.  His neighbors were amazed. 

"What good luck you have," they said, with a mixture of genuine happiness for their neighbor's good fortune and envy that it seemed to come to him so easily. 

"We'll see," the farmer responded, "but thank you very much for your good wishes."

The following year, one of the wild horses bucked while the farmer's son was riding it, breaking his leg so badly that he would never walk without a cane.

The neighbors brought food and flowers and bemoaned their neighbor's ill fortune.  A disabled son was a worse fate than a lost horse.  Once again, the farmer's fortunes diminished and the neighbors greeted him with expressions of the greatest sympathy.  "What terrible luck," they'd say and the farmer would once again respond,

"We'll see." 

A few months later, a military brigade marched through the village on the way to war, drafting all the young men for the army.  The farmer's son greeted them walking with a cane and they spat at his father.

"This young man is worthless!" they exclaimed.  "Not even good to be a foot soldier" and went their way.

"Such good luck!" said the neighbors.

"We'll see."  

A Career in the Law

Here's the problem with a small firm handling big cases.   Sometimes you win them.  And that's what happened with the case I worked on from '94 to '96.  A few months after our victory and happy celebrations, my employer walked into my office and said "I can only make payroll for two more weeks."

Fortunately, I still had friends handling the environmental insurance coverage cases I'd worked on before my misfortune landed me in Westwood.  A "catastrophe" akin to the farmer's loss of his horse.  So I returned to a BigLaw practice in a mid-size law firm where I spent the remainder of my legal career; where I met my husband; and, where I hired a brilliant young attorney who also happened to be mediating cases in the Los Angeles Superior Court.  The '92 recession also gave me literature and poetry back in the form of a writers' group of - yup - fifteen years; my literary journal; and, probably, this blog and my other writing.  Finally, it delivered me to me my genuine bliss:  a career in mediation.

Before I leave the topic of good fortune and bad, let me add only this:  I practiced law for fourteen years in various states of insobriety and have worked as a lawyer and then a mediator and arbitrator for fifteen years sober.  Whatever "the fates" had in store for me, my ability to maximize good fortune and ride out the bad, was both easier and better, when I was awake

The calamity of the 1992 recession was the greatest gift life had ever presented to me. 

Tomorrow, what I promised yesterday:  what any of this has to do with negotiation and mediation.


Negotiating Law Firm Layoffs: Crash and Recovery

The Life

It is 1994 and this is the view out the window of the house I am renting in Echo Park

At some point during this year, I moved from the basement of this house (tricked out as a college dorm room studio) to the small one-bedroom upstairs because my friend and roommate fell in love; married and left me in her Echo Park bungalow for an extremely reasonable rent.   I'd lost my condo to foreclosure and my credit cards to bankruptcy. 

I can see my 30-day "chip" in this photo, hanging from the black lamp in the corner.  The longest thirty days of my life. 

Listen, we all have something to recover from - if we're very lucky.  This was my recovery house.

I was working in Westwood, going to my writing classes and spending a lot of time in rooms like this.

There were no blogs in 1994 so I was writing a lot of letters, like this one:

I was at a loss late this afternoon, after all the company was gone and my obligations fulfilled. That restless, listless, nowhere feeling that usually precedes panic or despair.

Fortunately, the dusk and the sweet scent of the night blooming jasmine drew me outside, where, without a thought, I fell to my knees and started weeding the garden. Stooping and kneeling and breathing and weeding and moving and stooping and kneeling and breathing, repeating to myself, like a mantra, "this is enough, this is enough, this is enough. I don't need to achieve or become or produce anything more than this. This tending, this caretaking, of what is directly before me, is enough."

Pulling each tall, spindly, red-rooted weed with its wicked serrated leaves, out of the rock path leading to the compost heap, away from the rosebushes, clear of the artichoke plot, off the dirt-packed steps curving down by the bare wisteria vines, my finger-tips touching the cool damp soil around the stem of each one, pulling it slowly until I feel the tug of the earth give way and the dirt fall from the weed's feathery white roots, clearing first this patch of garden and then that one, the green piles of limp weeds growing as I move about the yard, knowing I can't do it all today, thinking I'll just clear one more area before the sun goes down, until a clean, blue strip of the horizon turns pink and magenta, vermillion and then blue-black, the lights of the city come up in the valley below me and the garden turns dark and rustling in the warm breeze.

At some time during this work, my head stopped yammering about how I should be doing something else, something more productive -- starting a new story or planning some activity that will start my new life. I just let that cranky, complaining voice yammer on while I continued to move and breathe and stoop and kneel and weed and pray, "I am doing your work, God. I am tending your garden," until a new voice said, "just as the dusk and the jasmine drew me effortlessly out into the yard to pull these weeds, I will move toward the next story and the next plan and the next activity, when it is time, when it is right, when it is effortless."

Move, stoop, kneel, breathe, pull, pray . . .

I wrote the first short story I'd written in more than twenty years during this time (Dangerous Places) and it would later be published in an online journal named Kudzu, which appears to have gone out of business just this year.  I was also writing poetry, some of which would later be published in Poet Lore, The Ledge, Kalliope, and Transformation, A Journal of Literature, Ideas & the Arts.  I also published one literary non-fiction piece in the Southern New Hampshire University Journal.  Eventually, I'd become part of Law Professor James Elkins lawyer-poet project, Strangers to Us All:  Contemporary Lawyer Poets.

In 2004, I celebrated ten years of sobriety and founded the r.kv.r.y. quarterly literary journal which I continue to edit to this day (and of which I am very proud)

The Law

I was recruited in '94 to come back to BigLaw and for the first time ever had the courage and conviction to refuse.  I had time - precious time - and enough money to suit my newly reduced needs.  My life and my heart were full.  I was, frankly, afraid to return.  I had too much to lose.

Eventually, however, I did return, working on larger and more sophisticated cases than I ever had before.  Still, something continued to be missing.

Next:  Mediation and why any of this matters to negotiation.

 

Negotiating Law Firm Layoffs: My Part in It

(right, Joshua Tree, California, 1992; I'm pretty sure the statute of limitations on this misdemeanor has expired)

To go in the dark with a

light is to know the light

to know the dark, go dark.

Go without sight, and find

that the dark, too, blooms

and sings and is travelled

by dark feet and dark wings.

American Poet, Wendell Berry

Here's the thing about the recession of 1992.  It was my life that collided with it, not someone else's.  There were many lawyers in my practice group of my "vintage" who also had no book of business.  A substantial majority of them found AmLaw200 life-rafts.  They were hired by other AmLaw200 or 100 firms.  Or they formed small, specialized practice groups, took a chunk of the firm's business with them and hung out their own boutique shingles.

I was not among them.  As you'll recall, I landed in a three-man commercial litigation practice in Westwood.  The shock of this transition jarred me awake enough to begin taking writing classes at UCLA.  I didn't have as much money as I used to.  But I did have time.  And as Thoreau famously wrote - The cost of a thing is the amount of [your] life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.  I was learning the cost of the first twelve years of my life as a lawyer.

The MCLE Substance Abuse Self-Study Course (with credit for California lawyers)

I was lucky.  I had what people call a "high bottom."  I'd just lost my place in the AmLaw200, not my license to practice law.  Others are not so lucky.  As of July, 2005, "42 percent of the State Bar Court’s active caseload involves attorneys with chemical dependency or mental health issues." (California Bar Journal, July 2005, A Heavy Caseload of Addiction.)

In 2003, an estimated 19.5 million Americans (8.2 percent) age 12 or older had used illicit drugs during the month prior to the survey interview.  Marijuana was the most commonly used illicit drug (14.6 million past month users, 75.2 percent of illicit drug users).

No lawyer in practice for any period of time will be surprised to read in a recent post in the blog Women and Substance Abuse that drug and alcohol abuse is twice as likely among attorneys compared to the general population.

Frank Galvin: I changed my life today, what did you do?
Laura Fischer: I changed my room at the hotel.
Frank Galvin: Why did you do that?
Laura Fischer: TV didn't work.

February 8, 1994, a Work Day Like Any Other

I've been with this small firm for more than a year and I'm liking it.  My employer handles cases far more sophisticated than I'd expected and opposing counsel are often from the AmLaw100.  I like that because the quality of lawyering is high and I get to be the underdog.  Because of my 1800-hour requirement, I've been able to take three different fiction writing seminars at UCLA and have assembled a new group of friends who are as passionate about literature as I am.  I'm feeling returned, restored to myself.  And I'm enjoying practice because it doesn't totally dominate my life.

I have a hearing this morning in our most important case - a motion for judgment in a lawsuit brought by an HMO against the hospital at which it once practiced.  I've prepared the papers and the oral argument, which is taking place in our conference room before a AAA panel of arbitrators, including the expert who provided the legal punditry on the OJ Simpson case for the E! channel (it will always be Hollywood here).  Smart guy.  Best hearing officer I've ever had the pleasure to appear before.

I'm ready for the hearing but I'm feeling a little . . . dizzy.  And I'm shaking a lot -- too much to punch the right numbers on the telephone in the office to call my doctor to see what in the heck might be physically wrong with me.  I did stop drinking and smoking three days earlier but I am not an alcoholic so I can't imagine my present state has anything to do with that.  Why am I not an alcoholic?

  • I  never drink in the morning, unless, of course, it's brunch, in which case my drinks come with fruit and festive decorations.  Drinks at brunch are one of the four major food groups for goodness sakes.
  • I only drink Chardonnay.  Good Chardonnay.  I'm particular about this and about the cost of the wine I buy at the Sun Bee Food and Liquor Mart just down the street on the Sunset Strip. I make a point of never paying less than $10 a bottle.
  • I'm employed! and I'm functioning at a pretty high level.  I'm a good attorney and I never ever  drink or smoke anything other than tobacco on the job.
  • I drink only after five (weekends excluded, of course, for festive brunch concoctions)
  • calling myself an "alcoholic" would be overly dramatic, hysterical even; really, I'd just become a little bit dependent on a drink at the end of the working day (didn't everyone drink at the end of the day?) and I'd decided to lay off for awhile to see if it made any difference in my life
  • I'd quit drinking three days before primarily to help me give up a two-pack a day cigarette habit.  I couldn't drink without smoking.  Cigarettes were the problem, not alcohol.
  • I'd seen alcoholics before.  My best friend's father was an alcoholic.  He sat in a darkened room watching television and drinking all day.  He'd tried that antabuse medication - the medicine that makes you violently ill if you drink.  But he always drank anyway.  He was an alcoholic.

Nope.  No alcoholic here.  And I managed to get through that hearing with flying colors.  Then I went to see my internal medicine guy.

Tomorrow:  recovery.

(remember to get your 1-hour substance abuse credits above!)

And for the "worried well" here's a comparison of BigLaw severance packages from Above the Law.  Thanks to @brucecarton in my twitter network for the head's up.  Read his Securities Docket here and follow him on twitter.

 

Negotiating Law Firm Layoffs: Property, Power and Prestige

I'd always told myself  I was not interested in or affected by the trappings and perquisites of high-end law firm life.  But those benefits - first class travel; upscale hotels in world-class cities; and, the deference of maître d's, personal trainers and the like  - tends to skew one's view of one's place in the world.

So though I'd just been an associate, I had tasted the rewards of property and prestige.  And I represented people with a load of worldly power.  By the time I was laid off in 1992,  I'd managed to acquire the illusion of what more spiritually minded people tell me are the three primary obstacles to ordinary happiness:  property, power and prestige.

And man, do I need a drink at the end of the day because here come two horsemen of the apocalypse.  

Foreclosure and Bankruptcy.

Then there was my personal life.  Just as the career was cratering, my  post-divorce, mid-life European motorcycle-riding, Morrissey-listening, unemployed artist boyfriend, packed up his canvasses, paint brushes and acrylics and moved back to Holland.

That Lit Major Thing that You Do What You Do to Me

I have said on far more than one occasion that law school is the default career-path for the liberal arts major.  We were philosophy, political science, literature, sociology, and drama majors. If we'd had the guts (or talent we wished we had) we'd be singing, dancing, acting or writing for a living.  But we weren't.  We were lawyers.  Which meant, among other things, that we had precious little time for anything other than the law.

But here's the thing about calamity.  It tends to wake you up.  

I was talking on the telephone to a friend, bemoaning my newly single state, when it occurred to me for the first time in my life that I'd married and partnered with artists because I wasn't doing my own art.  And though my financial circumstances were greatly reduced, so were my job obligations.  I was billing 1800 hours a year instead of 2100-2300.  I had time, motive and opportunity to commit the crime of art again.  I was working in Westwood, just a few blocks from UCLA.  I called their Extension office.  I enrolled in a fiction writing class.

Tomorrow:  sobriety.  

Negotiating Law Firm Lay Offs: You Can't Save Your Face and Your Ass at the Same Time

When last we left the damsel in distress, she'd been laid off by an AmLaw200 firm and employed by a three-man outfit in Westwood.  They promised to clean up her office, but right now it was a storage room with a desk.  Used computer equipment, wire and cords were strewn about the floor; boxes of redwelds from cases long since settled or tried were precariously stacked one upon the other; while new and used demonstrative exhibits leaned against all four of the black scuffed beige walls. 

Just the facts.

  • I'm making exactly one-half the income I previously made
  • my new firm provides me with health insurance, but no other benefits
  • I don't have access to Westlaw or Lexis, but am provided with a set of  3 and a half inch disks that contain California cases and Witkin
  • I don't really have a secretary - there are two but they are "taken" - if I ask nice, once in awhile one or the other of them will do me an administrative favor, like format a pleading.  

(cartoon by the brilliant Charles Fincher of LawComix.com)

Although I continue to practice general commercial litigation, everything about my practice seems slightly off. Like in that Ray Bradbury story (A Sound of Thunder) where wealthy game hunters go back in time to bag themselves a dinosaur only to return to a subtly skewed "present."  One pulls the wings of a prehistoric butterfly from the sole of his shoe.  The butterfly effect.

I make telephone calls to opposing counsel and am treated with less respect than I had previously been accorded.  I make court appearances.  The Judges are no longer slightly deferential.  They do not ask after any of my locally famous partners.  My new clients are rougher around the edges.  More "street smart," less polite.  There are no paralegals; no "IT" guy; no word processing department; no embossed business cards. 

Then there's my boss.  My boss hums when he eats.  If he walks into a room, the furnishings fall into greater degree of disorder as if to accomodate themselves to his style, which is aggressively messy.  

I drive home one late summer evening and tote up my bills.  The housing market has crashed and my condo is underwater.  I owe the homeowners' association five grand - then a considerable sum.  I cannot pay the HOA and my house payment as well.  I have other bills.  I'd just returned from rafting rivers through Costa Rican rainforests when I was laid off.  I'd been too busy to keep track of my expenses.  

It seems that I have, finally and quite irrevocably, failed.

Tomorrow:  a New Life

Negotiating Law Firm Lay Offs: the Two Professions

When last we left Pauline on the train tracks, it was 1992 and she was being laid off by a law firm that paid her AmLaw100 salary and benefits.  Oh right.  That's me.

Network, network, network

I hadn't consciously built a professional network in 1992, but was fortunate that it had more or less been created for me.  I'd been handling environmental insurance coverage cases in the 8- to 9-figure range for a major international insurance carrier.  That carrier generally issued first level excess coverage to the Fortune 500 companies who claimed that their insurance carriers were obliged to defend and indemnify them for toxic cleanup actions.  Because those companies sued all their carriers both up and across the coverage profile, we litigated the cases in groups.  Joint Defense Groups.

The lawyers in the Joint Defense Groups worked together, strategized together, traveled to depositions together, and often settled cases together.  We appeared in Court together, argued motions together, worked on appeals and writs together, and played together as well.

So I turned for employment assistance to my friends and colleagues in the Joint Defense Group.  You'll remember that I was a twelfth year associate with no book of business, i.e., I had a marketing fool (myself) for a client (myself).  

I was not in demand at the level of practice I'd been working at.  Nevertheless, I had a lot of contacts in the Los Angeles legal community, who in turn had contacts.  As a result, I was unemployed for fewer months than my severance pay lasted.

But . . . . .

. . . I was about to cross the divide from one legal profession to another . . .

The peak on the right represents . . . law school graduates [who] joined . . .  commercial law firms. They are earning [between] $125,000 - $150,000 + per annum as they start [their careers]. . . . This peak, furthermore, is moving inexorably to the right in response to increased demand by these firms for premier entry level talent . . .

The peak on the left is a different matter. It represents all . . . law school graduates who are following career paths other than the top tier commercial law firms. They peak [around]  $35,000 to $40,000 compensation per annum[;] [r]oughly $100,000 a year less than their peers on the right!

From Rob Millard's Adventure of Strategy, America's Two Legal Professions, 24 September 2007.

Tomorrow, from tall buildings with sleek interiors to a storage room in a three man law firm. 

Negotiating Unemployment: Hope for Laid Off Lawyers

The last recession is vivid in my own mind because an AmLaw200 /1 law firm laid me off in the Spring of 1992 - a year after the recession's "official" end in March of 1991.  As the U.S. government's Monthly Labor Review Online explains in The 1990-91 recession, the "end" of the recession wasn't much noticed by the labor market which

  • continued to deteriorate long after other economic indicators began to improve and the official ending date of the recession was chosen. 
  • resulted in job losses for white-collar workers in general, and workers in the finance, insurance, and real estate industry in greater numbers than at any time in the past 
  • created many more unemployed workers who would not be rehired when the economy improved than experienced in downturns.

Those, of course, are just the statistics and no lawyer laid off by AmLaw firms in the past few months is much interested in yesterday.  They are rightly focused upon today and tomorrow.  /2  That's the focus of this piece -- today and tomorrow -- even though my 1992 "today and tomorrow" took place more than a decade ago.

Success or Failure

I teach a lot. Sometimes in law schools, sometimes in law firm settings, sometimes for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy, and sometimes in business schools.  The young people I teach are understandably concerned with one of life's "big" questions: 

WILL I BE SUCCESSFUL?   

My answer -- "sometimes" -- may sound glib, but it's one of the few pieces of genuine wisdom I have to offer from the tail end of the legal career path.  Sometimes you will be successful and sometimes you will fail.  Sometimes your failure will be wholly circumstantial and out of your control - layoffs because of national and international economic calamity, for instance.  Sometimes your success will come because you were in the right place at the right time.  And sometimes it will be the result of persistence, hard work, talent, skill and courage.  Usually, success and failure will be a combination of all of these factors. 

So begins my cautionary and hopeful tale.

The fall from a very high perch

The years 1989 through 1992 were among the most "successful" of my legal career if you measure success the way attorneys in the higher echelons of the profession tend to do - by the complexity and size of the cases I was handling; the prominence - both monetarily and reputationally -- of my clients; the parties opponent; and, opposing legal counsel; and, my salary - then pegged to an AmLaw 100 standard.

I was really busy and not paying that much attention to the economy.  I'd just bought my first ever sports car.  New.  Hot.  Turbo-charged.  And I'd been living in a newly acquired condominium just below the Sunset Strip for less than a year.  I was single and travelling a lot.  My colleagues were high-flyers and I slip-streamed behind them.  I was also . . well . . drinking a lot.  See Wikipedia, Early 1990s recession ("Like all recessions, the one of the late 1980s and early 1990s had a profound impact on society. Rates of alcoholism and drug abuse increased, as did rates of depression.")

People were being laid off but I knew their fates were tied to performance rather than the contracting economy.  My father, god rest his soul, had the following to say when I told him how much money I was making:

"I'm worried about you."

"Why?"

"Because you now have so far to fall."

Lay Off

The managing partner was a "buddy" of mine.  You know the type.  More than a colleague and less than a friend.  A member of the posse our practice group formed in the firm.  We'd biked 50 miles from Rosarita to Ensenada together.  Drank together.  Danced together.  Talked about who was interested in who together.  The male lawyers in the group had created a quite public "impunity" list of the  women lawyers they could sleep with "without impunity."  Everyone thought it was funny.

So, like I said.  I wasn't paying attention.

The managing partner took me to lunch.  We had a couple of drinks.  He told me the firm was laying me off.  I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach.  Tears welled up in my eyes.  I had trouble catching my breath.  The firm would pay me three months severence.  They'd hire me a head-hunter.  I could use the office or leave as I chose.  It didn't have anything to do with my performance.  

I was a twelfth year associate with no book of business.  I was making a lot of money with liberal bonuses, and tremendous benefits.  And I was pretty much spending all of it every month.  The new car and the new condo.  An expense-account life-style I'd taken on when not on a business trip.  An attitude.

Sound familiar to anyone?  Next post, unemployment.   

_______________________

1/  Although the AmLaw 200 did not come into existence until 1999, the firm that laid me off in the Spring of 1992 would likely have been a member.  Most pertinent to this story, that firm was paying its associates AmLaw100 salaries.

2/  According to Law Shucks Layoff Tracker As of February 13, 2009, there have been over 4,376 layoffs since January 1, 2008. There have been 2,614 in calendar 2009 - 1,071 in February alone.

Don't Skimp on Negotiation Skills in the Downturn

I've scaled my MCLE way back this year, including any continuing education that requires travel unless, of course, it's something I'm speaking at to continue growing my business.  Some MCLE courses, however, stay on my radar -- particularly those that don't require me to leave the office and that teach me skills to help me thrive in hard times.  This IP settlement webinar is one of those continuing education courses I'd attend unless I thought I was already the best settlement attorney I could be.  So seriously consider joining me and Chicago-IP lawyer extraordinaire R. David Donoghue of Holland + Knight for Hard Times? Learn How to Negotiate the Best IP Litigation Resolution

ADR in IP Litigation from ALI-ABA

Wednesday February 18, 2009 from 1:00-2:00 pm EST

Why Attend?

In a difficult economy, intellectual property protection and assertion is more important than ever. The combined stressors of a poor fiscal climate and shrinking legal budgets place a significant strain on any business dependent upon IP assets. as companies face difficult economic decisions, it is increasingly difficult to fit the expense and extended uncertainty of copyright, patent and trademark litigation into a forward looking business plan. This one-hour seminar explores the use of alternative dispute resolution as a means of protecting intellectual property and business activity, while minimizing the expense and devotion of time related to traditional IP litigation.

What You Will Learn

This program examines how to move an IP dispute toward alternative dispute resolution; best practices for controlling the expense and length of the process; and best practices for successful alternative dispute resolution. Whether you are an experienced IP practitioner or simply one grappling with IP issues in your general commercial practice, knowing how to offer your clients a wide array of ADR options might make the difference between a practice that survives and one that thrives. The seminar will cover the following topics:

How to choose between litigation and ADR.

  • The most successful strategies for guiding your dispute into the best ADR forum at the most productive time.
  • The five basic rules of “distributive” or “fixed sum” bargaining that will give you the “edge” in all future settlement negotiations.
  • The five ways to “expand the fixed sum pie” by exploring and exploiting the client interests underlying your own and your opponents’ legal positions.
  • The Ten Mediation/Settlement Conference Traps for the Unwary.

Invest just 60 minutes at your home or office to learn about alternative dispute resolution in the IP field from this duo of experts. This audio program comes to you live on Wednesday, February 18, 2009, 1:00-2:00 pm EST, via your phone or your computer. Materials corresponding to the course may be downloaded or viewed online.

Lawsuit-Proof Your Business to Cut Costs in Downturn

Lawsuits arise from a process social psychologists call "naming, blaming and claiming."  I broke my toe last week (youch!)  when I was talking to my husband from another room and walking into a closet to hang up my jacket.  Jammed it on the door frame, once again engaging in the risk-courting activity of walking and talking at the same time.

If I were mentally ill, I suppose I could go so far as to name my husband as the source of my own lumpish carelessness; blame him for my injury; and, claim some sort of recompense beyond his willingness to kiss my toe to "make it all better."

"Well, I guess that doorway was just too narrow," my husband the litigator joked.  "I suppose you could sue the architect."

Much litigation flows from incidents nearly as foolish as this.  If you'd like to see a collection of such outrages, you likely already know where to go -- Walter Olson's Overlawyered where suits against McDonalds for obesity and the like can regularly be found.  Today's entry, about the alcoholic who sued Marriotts "after falling over a stairway while plowed" is a prime example.

Naming, blaming and claiming (as well as the litigation that flows from this process) will always be with us.  But if you have some degree of communication with the people likely to name and blame you before making a legal claim against you, an understanding of the social psychology behind that process may well help you understand and deal with the problem "on the ground," i.e., short of suit.

Today, I'm directing you to Attributing Blame — from the Baseball Diamond to the War on Terror as a good primer on the process and its underlying cause -- Fundamental Attribution Error.  Link courtesy of @JuryVox who any litigator or dispute resolver should be following on Twitter along with @annereed.

Whenever we witness something harmful or unexpected, we humans look to make attributions of causation, responsibility, and blame. Social psychologists have been studying the way we make those attributions for the last half century. Part of that research, known as attribution theory, focuses on how we draw inferences about how much control people exert over their behavior: the more control they appear to exert, the more we hold them responsible or blameworthy for the consequences of their actions. To assess control, we draw inferences about, among other things, whether the person acted volitionally or intentionally and about the person’s motivation. When we think an injurer acted intentionally and maliciously we attribute blame — which is accompanied by a desire to punish the injurer and to compensate the victim.

This naive psychology of blame attributions is fairly automatic and depends on more or less instantaneous impressions. And although our attributions result from inferences of, among other things, intent and motive, we are hampered by the fact that we cannot directly access someone else’s motives or intentions (in fact, we’re not very good at ascertaining our own). And, often, the individuals who we are judging have an interest in presenting themselves as innocent — regardless of the truth of the matter. In making attributions about another person’s harm-causing actions, therefore, we are often forced to rely on imperfect external cues. Conflict between individuals and groups often emerges precisely because attributional ambiguity leads to divergent interpretations and reactions. What a victim might perceive as outrageous, an injurer might construe as merely unfortunate or even richly deserved. The legal system is caught up in these attributional contests every day. For instance, most of tort law — in doctrine and in practice — is devoted to the question of resolving competing attributional accounts for the same personal injury.

Continue reading at the linked headline above.  My most popular article on this process - Conspiracy Theories and Granfalloons can be found here.

Pre-Trial Discovery Decreases Likelihood of Settlement

From the Department of Counter-Intution we learn that our general assumption about pre-trial discovery -- that the open exchange of information will help align the expectations of disputants and increase efficiency by facilitating settlement /1 -- is probably inaccurate.

In When Ignorance is Bliss:  Information, Fairness, and Bargaining Efficiency, George Loewenstein, Department of Social and Decision Sciences and Don A. Moore, Graduate School of Industrial Administration, at Carnegie Mellon University, tell us that when "information . . . is complex or ambiguous enough to allow for different interpretations" by opposing counsel,

[s]elf-serving interpretations of fairness encourage biased estimations of the probability of prevailing in court and lead people to hold out too long, fight too hard, and settle too slowly.

Simply put, because we interpret incoming information as confirming -- and often strengthening -  our existing views, the "convergence" of adversarial views pre-trial discovery proponents hoped for, does not occur.  Rather, discovery tends to increase the parties' belief in the rectitude of their analysis, thereby proportionally decreasing the potential for settlement.  As Loewenstein and Moore explained:

In studies examining the self-serving bias, the magnitude of the bias was an extremely strong predictor of impasse, and two different manipulations that eliminated the bias led to close to 100 percent settlement compared to an impasse rate of about 25 percent in the absence of such debiasing.

The full article is well worth reading even though much of it is burdened with academese.

Because we attorneys pride ourselves on being able to "see the other side," here's an article entitled Confirmation Bias in Complex Analyses about a study in which intelligence analysts were provided with an analytic tool to help them overcome confirmation bias.  The tool -- Analysis of Competing Hypotheses -- was an

hypothesis testing matrix,” where the rows represent the evidence, the columns the hypotheses under consideration, and the cells the extent to which each piece of evidence is consistent or inconsistent with each hypothesis. The goals of the ACH matrix [were meant] to overcome the memory limitations affecting one’s ability to keep multiple data and hypotheses in mind, and to break the tendency to focus on developing a single coherent story for explaining the evidence—a tendency which [other researchers] hypothesized create[d] predecision distortions (and presumably the confirmation bias).

ACH [was] hypothesized to offset confirmation bias by ensuring that analysts actively rate evidence against multiple hypotheses and reminding analysts to focus on disconfirming evidence.

Absent the template, the process sounds a lot like that we attorneys use to test our theories and evaluate those of our opponents'.  Alas ACH provided the least amount to help to those study participants with professional analytic experience.  As the authors report, "ACH had no impact at all" on the professional analysts' tendency to give greater weight to the evidence that supported their theories and less to that which disconfirmed them.

What to do?  I'll attempt to find an answer before writing my next post.

______________________

Loewenstein and Moore quote Richard Posner on this expectation as follows: 

a full exchange of information…is likely to facilitate settlement by enabling each party to form a more accurate, and generally therefore a more convergent, estimate of the likely outcome of the case.

Richard A. Posner (1986:525) Economic Analysis of Law (3rd ed. Little, Brown 1986)

Diagnosis and Cure for BigLaw Layoffs? Revisiting the Gauntlet

Below, an excerpt from my article, Revisiting the Gauntlet In Monday's Los Angeles Daily Journal (subscription required)

According to statistics being updated monthly at the "Law Shucks" Layoff Tracker  10 national law firms have each axed between 50 and 270 lawyers since the first of January. During that same time, half a dozen others have laid off between 25 and 50 working attorneys. Bloggers and legal pundits who have been predicting the demise of "Big Firm" practice for years have been reporting these numbers (along with last year's collapse of giants such as Heller Ehrman) with ill-concealed delight.

As the recession and its effect on legal practice deepens, it is time to revisit Lauren Stiller Rikleen's 2006 indictment of law firm management practices, "Ending the Gauntlet - Removing Barriers to Women's Success in the Law." Rikleen, the executive director of the Bowditch Institute for Women's Success and equity partner at Bowditch & Dewey, suggests that women lawyers are the canaries in the mine shaft of modern legal practice - sending unintended early warning signals to management of the threat its present inefficiencies pose to the entire enterprise.

"Ending the Gauntlet" was and is meant to counter the widespread belief that women leave BigLaw in outsized numbers because they "don't want to work as hard" or "are more dedicated to their families" than their male counterparts.

Statistics tell the tale. In 2005, two full generations after women entered the profession in droves, the Massachusetts Bar Association reported that while 32 percent of its male members earned in excess of $150,000 per year, only 12 percent of its women did so. Women were not only under-represented at the higher levels of compensation, they were also over-represented at the lower, with 75 percent reporting earnings of less than $101,000 per year compared with 47 percent of the men. Three-thousand miles away, in Washington state, a 2001 survey of private law firm compensation by gender showed that 77 percent of the highest earners (the top 25 percent) were men while 62 percent of the lowest earners (the bottom 25 percent) were women. Even more troubling, a 2004 nationwide study reported that the overall gap in earnings between male and female attorneys was 60 cents on the dollar, worse than in the workforce generally [this 2005 Forbes article says 69 cents].

Subscribers to the Daily Journal can continue reading here.  I'll post the full story after the DJ article runs.

For those following the unemployment statistics, take a look at this very scary chart or go to the extended entry.

 

Continue Reading

The Most Efficient Conflict Resolution is Prevention: Avoiding Suit During Era of Massive Lay-offs

The British call layoffs "redundancies."    I prefer the American term - layoff -  because it focuses on the employer's need in times of economic stress ("I can no longer afford to pay you and so must lay you off) to the British locution which focuses on the employee's presumed inefficiency ("because your work is being performed (better?) by others, you have become redundant.")

Why the attention to semantics?  Because in times of massive law firm layoffs (see Law Shucks Lay-off Tracker here) you don't want today's efficiency become tomorrow's crushing legal liability. 

Lawyer Layoff Paranoia by the brilliant Charles Fincher at LawComix.com.

So how do you avoid the looming threat of litigation by laid off employees?  According to researchers, you terminate graciously, honestly, with expressed respect and compassion, and, if possible, with offers to help the laid off employee find work and replace critical benefits such as health insurance. 

Why do terminated employees bring suit?  It's not, as I'm always saying, just about the money. 

Researchers have found, for instance, that:

  • Feelings of unfair, insensitive treatment at the time of termination had nearly twice the effect of the next most potent factor in bringing suit.
  • Blame was not strongly related to the claiming process 
  • There is some, but slight, support for the proposition that certain groups -- women and minorities - are especially likely to sue
  • Perceptions of poor on-the-job treatment motivate lawsuits as much or more than an individual's belief in his or her ability to prevail in litigation
  • the shorter the notice of termination, the greater the likelihood of suit

Finally, and most importantly for law firm management, the best predictor of a former employee's willingness to file claims for wrongful termination was highly educated respondents.

Researchers have also catalogued the most common on-the-job experiences that lead to litigation, including most prominently,

  • negative experiences with supervisors;
  • the belief that processes used by the supervisor are unfair.
  • violations of procedural justice (the perceived fairness of the procedures by which outcomes are determined)
  • perceived violations of equity and distributive justice  (the perceived fairness of outcomes)
  • perceived violations of interactional justice  (the perceived fairness of the nuances of interpersonal treatment)
  • survivors' attitudes toward their organization are strongly associated with their beliefs about the fairness of the manner in which their companies laid off other workers
     

"Blaming and claiming" activity (lodging grievances; seeking relief from the EEOC; retaining legal counsel to file suit) is strongly correlated with the manner in which employees are terminated.

Why?

Because Termination Causes Employees to Reevaluate Fairness in Working Conditions.  And you do not want to give employees the opportunity to reevaluate those conditions in light of their last employment experience - termination - unless that experience is positive.

The researchers have found that:

  • people react strongly to nuances of treatment and style at the time of termination
  • the quality of dismissal affects people’s decision to bring suit as much as termination itself.
  • a fair, honest, and dignified termination should substantially reduce the temptation to retaliate through litigation.

The experts therefore recommend that employers:

  •  treat their laid-off or fired employees with compassion and respect at the time of termination
  • give several weeks advance warning to all laid-off or fired employees
  • provide terminated employees with help in finding new employment
  • give terminated employees honest accounts for the cause of their termination
  • provide transitional alumni status to terminated employees when possible
  • provide symbols of positive regard to terminated employees such as letters of reference, departure gifts or parties
  • offer counseling services to terminated employees to ease the psychological shock of employment termination

According to a recent ABA Journal article entitled One Lawyer Layoff Saves an Average of $250,000 also notes that:

  • some of the savings from layoffs is initially eaten up by severance payments
  • at least one firm chairman indicated that the firm pays about $7 million in severance for every $10 million saved in compensation
  • another firm chairman estimated that it takes about nine months before any savings are realized by lawyer layoffs.

If law firms don't want these savings to start bleeding red ink, they'd do well to study "naming, claiming and blaming" behaviors of terminated employees and to implement processes and procedures to reduce the potential for litigation flowing from these cost-saving measures.

For further reading, see my own Power Point Presentation from which most of the above statistics were taken here and the article from which most of that information was derived:  The Winding Road from Employee to Complainant here.

Litigation, Negotiation, Mediation, Oh My! The CharonQC Podcast

It's the British, of course, who we have to thank for the common law, the adversarial system of justice and that most lyrical denunciation of lawyers' passionate pursuit of legal procedure, Bleak House.  Charon QC is a serial podcaster, writer and producer of the satiric online soap opera West London Man, founder of the largest private law school in Great Britain, and all around QC about town.

My postcast interview with the great QC is here and his own is below.

Podcast 94: US lawyer Victoria Pynchon on ADR, mediation and settlement in the USA

Today I am talking to Victoria Pynchon, a US lawyer based in Los Angeles, California. She was a commercial litigator and trial attorney for 24 years before shifting her practice from representing clients in court to helping lawyers settle lawsuits hat involve greater risk, expense or time than their clients wish to expend. She this work through Judicate West Dispute Resolution Services, serves as a private judge (arbitrator) for the American Arbitration Association, is an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University and blogs at IP ADR and Settle it now. Interestingly Vickie also acts as a sherpa for Blawg Review the international rolling carnival of law bloggers and is on Twitter.

So who is Charon QC?  Let him tell you himself in this Podcast Interview at Family Lore, the blog of British family law attorney John Bolch.  To get an even better idea of Charon QC and the many reasons to read his blog, I give you his own introduction to himself at Charon QC the Blawg.

“Charon QC” is a lawyer, after a fashion, but is not a practitioner. He has taught law for many years - and, to his surprise, still enjoys law; although he enjoys other academic interests as well. Law is fascinating more in the human interest than the letter, but compared to literature, science or philosophy, it does not engage the mind in quite the same way. He awarded himself the title QC when the Lord Chancellor suspended the award for real lawyers. Now, as no-one can instruct him in any matter, or would wish to, he is free to comment as he wishes on matters which catch his attention. He is, of course, a figment of a febrile imagination . He drinks Rioja - in fact he will drink any red wine, smokes Silk cut, reads all the newspapers (3 Tabloids 4 broadsheets…most days) , has a passion for motorbikes and sips espressos three time a day - ordering two each time. He sleeps for 4 hours a night - but that is his problem. He gets up and starts work (sometimes, it has to be said… writing a blog post) between 3.30 - 4.00 every morning…

He is also a habitue of The Bollo and The Swan in Chiswick/Acton - and some other well known bars in London. When he finds a meal he enjoys - he eats it every day until he can no longer face eating it again. At breakfast, he always has one egg, two slices of toast, two slices of bacon, some baked beans, two espressos, a glass of tap water and an undisclosed number of Silk Cut cigarettes - and always starts eating the egg first… on a bit of buttered toast; turning the plate around so the egg is conveniently on the right hand side of the plate. He did not know he did this until it was pointed out to him by several friends. Breakfast takes approximately 35 minutes and is often taken while reading his tabloid of choice and The Indie… and then it is but a short motorbike ride back to his Staterooms where the day can begin. Breakfast is at 7.00 and more often than not Charon sits at a table outside - even in very cold weather - so he can keep an eye on the world as it goes by. He can also smoke outside without offending other early risers.

Negotiating Litigation: First You Have to Win

I play squash.

I learned to play the game when living in New York and continued to play at U.C. Davis (Law School) which had both regulation courts and racquets to lend. 

At a time when racquetball courts were being constructed with the speed of social media sites, I continued playing squash for pretty much one reason:  I'm a woman and just about any (mostly male) colleague I played with could beat me out of sheer physical strength.  Though both games require strength,  squash requires finesse and strategy more. 

How did I get my legal colleagues off the racquetball court and into my game of  squash?  Simple.  I told them I had no chance of beating them in their game (flattery, ingratiation, a "contentious" dispute resolution tactic) but that I was confident I could beat them at mine (challenge or "threat," also a "contentious" tactic).

So what do I mean when I say you have to "win" your litigation before you can settle it?  I mean you need to get your adversary playing on your court and actually win a few rounds.  You can shake your stick and fulminate and threaten, but unless you're capable of actually winning, your adversary's Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (his BATNA) is beating the pants off you at trial or watching you fold like a lawn chair on the courthouse steps.  

In most litigation, the first chance you have to prove your trial skills is in a deposition.  Yes, you want to obtain information and that's pretty easily done so long as you remember to ask reporter questions (who, what why, when, where and how).  You shouldn't, however, stop there.  Show opposing counsel that you can also theory test and undermine his witness' credibility on a few points, without giving away your entire game plan.

Whether you win by smashing the ball deep into your adversary's court or by aiming it oh so close to the "tell," letting it softly roll to the floor while your adversary is panting by the back wall, you must win on strength or skill or finesse (whichever you're best at) before you're entitled to "win" by way of settlement.  

That being the case, I give you the first of a three-part series on how to lose the game at deposition, a challenge to get you thinking about "winning" it there.

From Illinois Trial Practice

 15 Ways to Ruin a Deposition (Part 1 of 3)

In this series of posts, I'll dig into the archives of The Trial Practice Tips Weblog and highlight some of my prior posts about depositions. Although you can see all of these post in this weblog's deposition category, I thought I'd try to reorganize some of them in a new way.  

I'll begin with the first five ways a lawyer can ruin a deposition. I've been guilty of all of them at one time or another--

1. Deposing someone who doesn't need to be deposed at all. Unnecessary depositions are a waste of time and money. See this post: "Not Every Witness Need to Be Deposed." 

2. Failing to investigate the witness online. Just a few minutes of Internet research can turn up lots of things about a witness you didn't know before.  Here's a post about that: "Deposition Tip: In Preparing for a Witness, Always Check the Web."

3. Trying to wing it. Maybe you're so good that your only preparation is getting to the deposition on time. Sound foolish? It is. See this post: "The Dangers of Winging It in Depositions."

4. Neglecting the preliminary questions. Those cookie-cutter questions lawyers ask at the beginning of a deposition have a purpose. Don't skip the "you know you're under oath"-type questions, but don't turn them into a speech either. Here are two posts that make these points: "Those Preliminary Deposition Questions: What's Their Purpose?" and "Those Preliminary Deposition Questions: Don't Make a Speech."

5. Assuming the witness is telling you the truth. As human beings, we're conditioned to believe what people say. I feel like I am, at least. That's why I'm constantly making this mistake, even though I wrote this post: "Practice Tip: "Assume Your Deposition Witness Is Lying."


When Negotiation Fails, Do You Flip a Coin? Grab a Random Stranger?

Wheat and Chaff: Juries and Litigation

Let me tell you a short story.

A senior in-house lawyer is meeting with the CEO to talk about a problem the in-house lawyer had been asked to solve.  The in-house lawyer describes how his efforts at negotiation had failed, so he had taken steps to find a random person off the street so that person could resolve the problem for the in-house lawyer.  The CEO looked at the in-house lawyer like he was out of his mind.  The in-house lawyer, now worried by the CEO's reaction, asked if the CEO would feel better if he instead chose 12 people randomly from off the street.  The CEO fired the in-house lawyer.

Does anybody think the CEO is crazy?  Me either.  But let's rerun the story with three extra sentences.

For remainder of story, run right over to Patrick J. Lamb's blog, In Search of Perfect Client Service.

Knowing that a bench or jury trial is the only Better Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) what's a concerned CEO to do?  No, I'm not going to say "hire a mediator."  I'm going to say this.  Hire a litigator who understands and is skilled at interest-based bargaining.  The mediator, after all, is your last option.  You need an attorney who maximizes the potential for the best negotiated resolution possible at every major turning point in the litigation.  If you've hired a hot-head litigation firm, that's good.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with playing hardball.  Just make sure you also have available the litigation marital counselor -- at least one attorney in the hardball lawfirm, or settlement counsel outside of it, who is able to call a cease-fire and bring the parties to the negotiation table.

I like what Patrick J. Lamb has to say in his blog and in his bio.  He's got big firm background and 21st century thinking.  If I were looking for a business litigator/dispute resolver/efficiency machine, it's to people like Patrick I would go.

Also, see today's post at the IP ADR Blog about patent infringement jury trials and what you don't know about what your jury is thinking can hurt you.

 

TweetIt from HubSpot

Devil in the Details: the Deal, the Whole Deal and Nothing But the Deal

It's getting very late in hour eleven of the mediation and everyone is tired and cranky.  We've agreed upon:

  • the total sum of the settlement;
  • the period of time over which the settlement will be paid;
  • the Stipulated Judgment in the event of default; and,
  • the amount of the Stipulated Judgment (far more than the agreed upon settlement sum).

We could put these terms in a skeletal settlement agreement right now; include the "magic language" from Evidence Code section 1123 that will permit enforcement of the mediated agreement; and, let everyone get on the road, onto a plane and into bed.

Because these parties couldn't agree on what year it is, however, no one balks at my suggestion that we write up the entire deal -- settlement agreement with mutual general releases; the Stipulation for the Entry of Judgment; and, the proposed Stipulated Judgment itself.

The first problem is everyone's failure to bring a form Settlement Agreement and Mutual Release, let alone one that included enforceable terms for the entry of a Stipulated Judgment in event of default.   

ADVICE???  Carry these documents on a "flash" or "jump" drive whenever you're going to a settlement conference or mediation.  Heck, carry them with you to the first day of trial where you might be startled to learn that your adversary is prepared to settle the case right now!

Fortunately, I had access to my own files which contained detailed forms for everything we needed, forms I offered to counsel as guides. I did so only with the express understanding that I did not recommend my own forms as adequate, complete or enforceable.  

I'm just the mediator, not the legal representative of the deal in loco parentis.

It's a good thing we made the effort to fully document the deal because it threatened to fall apart over all of the following terms:

  • the dismissal of ancillary proceedings
  • forbearance from inducing future actions by non-parties
  • liquidated damage clauses for the breach of certain critical deal points
  • indemnification for future actions if induced by certain of the parties

Each of these items required separate negotiation and compromise and as to each I helped the parties calculate the degree of possible misbehavior by their adversaries and the protections that might "fit" the probable harm.  I do not believe the parties would have been able to resolve these terms (as well as others too confidential to mention) without third party assistance.  One was so difficult to predict both the series of possible events and potential remedies that we provided for arbitration of that term alone in the event of alleged default.

When we all finally left the building at one in the morning, we had fully completed paperwork, signed by all parties in hand. 

And yes, I was the only one present who could type.

 

Devil in the Details: Sticker Term Shock

The anger, suspicion and ill will that has characterized the first eight hours of this mutli-party, eight-figure antitrust mediation is about to heightened as I deliver Defendants' terms:  they will pay the settlement agreed upon in six equal yearly installments over three full years without any security to back it up.

Are you wondering what your mediator is thinking at times like this?

Aaaarrrrggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!

That "thought" is momentary, however, like the cry you squelch when the trial judge does something like, say, grant the other side's motion to disqualify your expert witness during the second week of trial. 

I don't have a plan, but I do have ideas.  Just as my suggestion that we use a bracketed offer to break impasse had eventually done just that, I'm already thinking of ways that the parties' most intractable and conflicting positions might move them toward agreement.

"They can wait," defense counsel is saying, "or they can try the case in February and see if they can collect it," to which a principal adds,  "this puts them on our side for a change.  If we make the money we believe we can, they'll benefit too."

"I thought you said you knew you could," I say, laying groundwork for the contingency ahead. 

"Yes, absolutely.  We know we can."

Back in the Plaintiffs' caucus room, the parties and their counsel aren't simply angry; they're flabbergasted.

"They sand-bagged us," says Plaintiffs' counsel.  "We'll report this to the Judge.  They didn't come here in good faith.  They're deliberately wasting our time."  

After some calming discussion about why the cash-poor defense would deliberately pay their own attorney and one-half of my daily fee in bad faith . . . a question to which no answer ever eventuated . . . Plaintiffs and their counsel begin to confidently predict the defense's inability to make a single installment payment.  Plaintiffs believe the defendants have resources - secreted away somewhere - but will never use them to settle this case.

When the temperature of the room has diminished to that of the sun's surface rather than its core, I ask about the possibility of a stipulated judgment in the event of default. 

"In a sum you hope the jury will award you at trial," I proffer.  "If you're right; if they have no intention, nor any ability, to pay even the first installment, you'll be in the same position on default that you'd be in if you prevailed at trial.  And if they're capable of paying, they're much more likely to do so if the alternative is a mutl-million dollar judgment against them."

Though the total sum of the Stipulated Judgment is the main topic of discussion over the following two hours, the parties' insistent conflicting predictions for the future make it all but inevitable they will eventually reach agreement.  If the defense never pays, the Plaintiffs will have their judgment more or less immediately, without the burden of proving it up.  And if the defendants are good for their word that they can service the "debt" the settlement agreement creates, they never have to worry about this potential judgment becoming a reality. 

The Stipulated Judgment as Contingency Contract

As Professor Leigh Thompson of the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, writes in The Mind and Heart of the Negotiator, the contingencies built into the parties' agreement (and the Stipulated Judgment providing for its enforcement) permit them to use their differences to reach agreement - betting on their own predictions for the future and protecting themselves against their worst fears about the other.  As Professor Thompson instructs:

Often, a major obstacle to reaching negotiated agreements concerns negotiators' beliefs about some future event or outcome.  Impasses often result from conflicting beliefs that are difficult to surmount, especially when each side is confident about the accuracy of his or her prediction and consequently uspicious of the other side's forecasts.  Often, compromise is not a viable solution, and each party may be reluctant to change his or her point of view.

Fortunately, contingent contracts can provide a way out of the mire.  With a contingency . . . differences of opinion among negotiators concerning future events do not have to be bridged; they become the core of the agreement. . . . [Parties] can bet on the future rather than argue about it.

Here, the agreement calling for a Stipulated Judgment of sufficient size to deter default, allowed the parties to:

  1. bet on rather than argue about their different forecasts for the future;
  2. manage their decision-making biases (overconfidence and egocentrism) by building them into the settlement agreement itself;
  3. solve the trust problem by creating a contingency (judgment) against the unknown ability of the defendants to perform
  4. diagnose the other side's honesty by "daring" him to bet on his own predictions
  5. reduce risk through sharing the upside gain (defendant will pay) and the potential loss (defendant will default)
  6. increase defendants' incentive to perform at or above contractually specified levels.

See The Mind and Heart of the Negotiator, The Six Benefits of Contingency Contracts, Box 8-2.

There's more, however.  The parties agree to the Stipulated Judgment in principle and sum during hour eleven and we've got three more hours to go.

Stay tuned!

 

The Devil in the Details: When Do You First Talk Terms?

As you'll recall, we're in hour nine of the mediation.  The parties have finally agreed to settle the antitrust litigation the Court ordered them to mediate ("we won't settle; we'll only be here for an hour"). 

Defense counsel wants to write up the "deal points" and make a quick getaway.  Before she does so, we have the following conversation.

"We'll need three years to pay it."

I fake calm.

"Your security?" I ask, my mind racing to the other room where an already unhappy set of plaintiffs are sitting.

"We don't have security.  I told you my clients are broke.  I also told you we'd need terms but you didn't want to talk about them."

This is true.  From hour one the defense insisted they'd need to pay over time and the Plaintiffs wanted to know what terms the defense was thinking of.  Throughout the day I'd told them both the same thing:  "let's see if we can agree on a number before we start talking terms."

I have reasons for this.  They are as follows:

  • once people have agreed upon a number, it's far more difficult for them to walk away from a deal; the Plaintiffs have already begun to think about what the money will mean to them and the defense has begun to imagine life without the litigation;
  • people are risk averse.  So long as there is no (or only minimal) money on the table, it's easy to refuse to engage in the often difficult process of readjusting their expectations and compromising their desires.  When there's enough money on the table to make both parties want to settle, walking away involves loss.  

This is often the trickiest part of the mediation.  The three-year time table and absence of security is, I know, enough to blow up this deal.  I'm going to take heat from the Plaintiffs' side, for resisting their efforts to learn the Defendants' terms before they spent an entire day agreeing upon the price.  I don't, however, regret my decision.  If these terms cause the negotiation to break down now, they certainly would have done so in hour one.

How I help the parties negotiate what is poised to become a rancorous impasse in the next post.

 

You've Settled? With a Term Sheet? The Devil in the Details

It's 8 p.m. and you've just spent nine straight hours negotiating the settlement of complex commercial litigation with multiple parties that was filed before George Bush first took office.  The case has been up on appeal twice and is now scheudled for trial in February.  All defendants but the final three standing have settled.   Three of the principals have flown in from out of state and two of the attorneys have driven a few hundred miles to Los Angeles from their home towns. 

"Let's just write up the deal points," says Lawyer No. 1, yawning.  "We can write up the full agreement over the long weekend."

Lawyer No. 2 turns to me and says "Judicate West has a form, right?  Let's use that."

Before we go further, let me give you the complete, verbatim language of the online skeletal Judicate West form.

Date:_________________

Stipulation for Settlement


    VS.                           

IT IS HEREBY STIPULATED by and between the parties through the respective counsel or representative of each that the above-referenced case has been settled according to the terms memorialized herein below.  This document is binding on the parties and is admissible in court pursuant to Evidence code section 1123 and enforceable by motion of any party hereto pursuant to CCP section 664.6.                                                                                   

In order to facilitate the above specified terms of settlement, the parties further agree that on or before the          day of          they will execute or change the following:

  • Settlement / Release Agreement   Prepared by _____plaintiff_____defendant

  • Request for Dismissal     Prepared by _____plaintiff_____defendant

Other____________________________________________________________

All relevant parties must sign below.  Copies are acceptable in lieu of originals.

I know.  You didn't expect the case to settle.  At least that's what I've been hearing you all tell me since hour one of the mediation.  But now we're in hour nine and the basic deal points have been reached.  It's January 15.  Trial is in 30 days.  You have all the parties present and the mediator who has by now sussed out the BS; developed a good working relationship with all sides of the dispute; knows how hard the parties worked to get here; and, is unlikely to let the "devil" in the details sink the settlement ship.

What do you do?

My own answers in next post.



The Forthright Negotiator "Rule" and Creative Ambiguity at Adams Drafting

Anyone who's been living in outer Mongolia for the past couple of years should head on over to Adams Drafting straight away.  Why?  Because once you negotiate the best deal you can, you have to write it up on the best terms you can.  Hence the need -- yes need -- for Adams' Drafting.

Today Ken Adams addresses a "rule" that one Court has dubbed "Forthright Negotiator" and the rest of us have always understood to be . . . well . . . the law, i.e., that one's subjective intent can be used to interpret an ambiguous contract term so long as that intent has been objectively manifested.

This gives Ken Adams an opportunity to address the question whether it's ever beneficial to purposely include ambiguity in your contracts -- a question I'd answer after nearly a quarter century of contract litigation practice with this -- sure, if you'd like to put my husband's and my grandchildren through prep school and college.  Otherwise, not so much.

But don't take it from me.  Go see what the master of contract drafting says.

NOW!

Do You Need to Understand Your Legal Rights to Serve Your Interests?

Daily Journal Newswire Articles
www.dailyjournal.com
© 2009 The Daily Journal Corporation. All rights reserved.


 
FORUM (FORUM & FOCUS)  •  Jan. 08, 2009
Every Case Is a Winding Road

FORUM COLUMN

By Victoria Pynchon

I have a confession to make. I am about to become embroiled in litigation. Though I preach the religion of negotiated resolution, I've nevertheless hired litigation counsel to assert my rights and pursue my remedies.

This is one of those moments when the rubber of our ideology meets the road of personal circumstance, the moment we are called upon to decide to walk our talk or take the more familiar road.

For more than 30 years - first as paralegal, then as a law student and finally as a commercial litigator - I'd been swimming in the waters of legal rights and remedies. The adversarial ocean had become so familiar a habitat that it rarely occurred to me that I was under the surface. One day toward the end of my first year of mediation practice, a much more experienced friend hooked me by the cheek and threw me on the deck of his ship, where I was gasping for air.

He'd asked me to co-mediate a will contest without the benefit on my clergy - lawyers with experience in the field. The "fish out of water" conversation that ensued went something like this:

Joe Mediator: "The family doesn't want to hire a lawyer. They just want to mediate."

Vickie: "But I know absolutely nothing about wills, trusts and estates. The parties need to talk to a lawyer first to learn their rights and remedies."

Joe: "You still don't get it, do you?"

Vickie: "Get what?"

Joe: "It's not about rights and remedies. It's about interests."

Vickie: "But how can they evaluate their interests without knowing their rights and remedies?"

Joe: "Because they're not interested in what the law says - they want to do what they believe is right for them as a family under the circumstances."

These people wanted to resolve a legal dispute without knowing their legal rights? Were they nuts? I understood "interests" - they were all the rage in ADR circles - the desires, fears and needs of the parties that drove them to take legal positions. Sometimes those interests were non-economic - the need for revenge, the desire to be personally accountable, the fear of failure, the hope for forgiveness and reconciliation. Others, though economic, could not be remedied by way of damages - better access to foreign markets, for instance, or wider distribution chains; the acquisition of better manufacturing processes; or, the retention of executives with "pull" in Washington. But all of those matters were secondary to legal rights and remedies, weren't they? You had to know what your rights were.

To read entire article, click here.

Here's a .pdf of the article taken from the "hard copy" of the paper.

 

You Can't Obtain a Favorable Settlement if You're Not a Formidable Adversary

The lowest level, most critical, most easily learned (you can even use a cheat sheet!) and most shockingly ignored skill is authenticating documents and bringing them within the available exceptions to the hearsay rule.

As we wade ever deeper into the waters of electronic discovery, E-Commerce Law provides us with the Internet Evidence Series below.

Internet Evidence

Part I:  Authentication

Part II:  Hearsay

Part III:  Hearsay Exceptions

Read it.  Learn it.  Use it. Prosper.

Thanks Jonathan!

It's Not About the Money; It's About Justice

I'd stop flogging this dead horse if I didn't have to weekly convince litigants of their own enduring human tendency to prefer relative well-being over absolute material possessions.

This week, that "news" is brought to you by the New York Times to explain why a surprising number of us have not been made terribly unhappy as our financial fortunes decline.  As Op-Ed contributor Sonja Lyubomirsky (of The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want) observes today:

the economists David Hemenway and Sara Solnick demonstrated in a study at Harvard, many people would prefer to receive an annual salary of $50,000 when others are making $25,000 than to earn $100,000 a year when others are making $200,000.

Why? Because we "care more about social comparison, status and rank than about the absolute value of our bank accounts or reputations."  In other words, we're more concerned with justice (fairness) than we are about the money.  Which is why our clients have sought out our help with their personal, financial and commercial problems -- because we're in the justice business.  When we understand this, the negotiation of financial settlements becomes a whole lot easier because there are many more ways to deliver justice than by throwing money at it.  

Read the full (short) article Why We’re Still Happy here.

 

 

For Your Attorney Holiday Book Gift List: Conflict Revolution

e-Bleak House: Twitter "Tweets" Discoverable

From E-discovery implications of Twitter at Lawyers USA

The social networking site Twitter.com allows users just 140 characters to describe what the user is up to – a post known as a "tweet."

But lawyers advising clients on e-discovery or using Twitter themselves need to realize that tweets are discoverable.

"Twitter posts are like any other electronically stored information," explained Douglas E. Winter, a partner at Bryan Cave in Washington, D.C. and head of the firm's Electronic Discovery unit. "They are discoverable and should therefore be approached with all appropriate caution."The increasing popularity of Twitter has made electronic discovery even more complicated.

Litigators!  Remember, you and your opponent(s) have a choice. It's not only in arbitration that you can make your own law, but by way of stipulated case management orders cooperatively crafted with an eye toward relative cost and likely benefit (ask me for a template!)

I don't need to tell you that clients are cutting back in 2009.  The litigation practice that thrives will be the most efficient and effective dispute resolution vehicle on the road.

And now, for your moment of zen - Charlie Dickens.

Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least, but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce without knowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendary hatreds with the suit. The little plaintiff or defendant who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and gone out; the legion of bills in the suit have been transformed into mere bills of mortality; there are not three Jarndyces left upon the earth perhaps since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his brains out at a coffee-house in Chancery Lane; but Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the court, perennially hopeless.

Jarndyce and Jarndyce has passed into a joke. That is the only good that has ever come of it. It has been death to many, but it is a joke in the profession. Every master in Chancery has had a reference out of it. Every Chancellor was "in it," for somebody or other, when he was counsel at the bar. Good things have been said about it by blue-nosed, bulbous-shoed old benchers in select port- wine committee after dinner in hall. Articled clerks have been in the habit of fleshing their legal wit upon it. The last Lord Chancellor handled it neatly, when, correcting Mr. Blowers, the eminent silk gown who said that such a thing might happen when the sky rained potatoes, he observed, "or when we get through Jarndyce and Jarndyce, Mr. Blowers"--a pleasantry that particularly tickled the maces, bags, and purses.

How many people out of the suit Jarndyce and Jarndyce has stretched forth its unwholesome hand to spoil and corrupt would be a very wide question. From the master upon whose impaling files reams of dusty warrants in Jarndyce and Jarndyce have grimly writhed into many shapes, down to the copying-clerk in the Six Clerks' Office who has copied his tens of thousands of Chancery folio-pages under that eternal heading, no man's nature has been made better by it. In trickery, evasion, procrastination, spoliation, botheration, under false pretences of all sorts, there are influences that can never come to good. The very solicitors' boys who have kept the wretched suitors at bay, by protesting time out of mind that Mr. Chizzle, Mizzle, or otherwise was particularly engaged and had appointments until dinner, may have got an extra moral twist and shuffle into themselves out of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. The receiver in the cause has acquired a goodly sum of money by it but has acquired too a distrust of his own mother and a contempt for his own kind. Chizzle, Mizzle, and otherwise have lapsed into a habit of vaguely promising themselves that they will look into that outstanding little matter and see what can be done for Drizzle--who was not well used--when Jarndyce and Jarndyce shall be got out of the office. Shirking and sharking in all their many varieties have been sown broadcast by the ill-fated cause; and even those who have contemplated its history from the outermost circle of such evil have been insensibly tempted into a loose way of letting bad things alone to take their own bad course, and a loose belief that if the world go wrong it was in some off-hand manner never meant to go right.

Thus, in the midst of the mud and at the heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery.

 

 

Arbitration and E-Discovery: Make Up Your Own #^%@ Law!

The National Law Journal's annoying practice of making its "best" content available only with a secret decoder ring forged in the fire of subscription dollars, nevertheless did not stop me from access to an intriguing article about arbitration's "e-discovery conundrum" (here for people with the secret code).

In Arbitration's e-Discovery Conundrum (thank you Mr. Thrifty for the copy) the author contends that:

. . . as litigation discovery techniques have become more prevalent in arbitration, arbitration has become just as time-consuming, expensive and burdensome. Without the benefit of an appeal process for the losing party, the primary remaining benefit for binding arbitration -- privacy -- is often outweighed by the other negative factors.

Parties and their litigation counsel have pointed to runaway discovery as one major reason why they have abandoned arbitration in favor of mediation in the United States and even internationally.

So how can "the long-recognized benefits of arbitration -- speed and cost savings -- be restored?"

(top:  is this what any of us went to law school for? Flowchart from Integreon)

The author recommends that the process must "address the needs and interests that led them to arbitration in the first place: to balance the need to discover those documents reasonably necessary for a party to prove its case with the cost, burden and time involved in producing such documents, while taking into account the need for fundamental fairness and to avoid surprise and trial by ambush."

Here's where reformers fail to get the direction the law is moving in.  It's not about finding a process that fits your needs - it's about creating the process that is tailor-made for your one and only completely unique and unrepeatable dispute.

The beauty of arbitration is not what it is.  It is what it can be.  The beauty of arbitration is that it allows you to make up your own $%#@^ law and procedure.  It restores control of the process to you.

What, you say?  Your opponent and you can't agree?  This is no longer a good enough reason, particularly because I do not see many attorneys making the effort to craft discovery and case management plans that reasonably addresses the parties' actual need for every document that someone marginally involved in the dispute might have once breathed upon.

I know whereof I speak.

The solution?  Sit down, for goodness sake, with your adversary, for as many days as it takes, to reach agreement about what each side actually needs.  Leave your huffing and your puffing, your posturing and your adversarial chops at the conference room door.  There will be plenty of time for all of that after the only people who actually understand the dispute -- YOU -- agree upon the type of process necessary to resolve it as efficiently and effectively as possible.

The law firms that do this will survive the recession. 

To Arbitrate or Not Arbitrate Securities Fraud, That is the Question

FINRA Securities Arbitration or Class Action Lawsuits?

A common question asked by investment fraud victims is whether they should partake in a class action lawsuit of a securities arbitration claim. Often, investors are presented with a choice of either partaking in a class action lawsuit or FINRA arbitration action. As a general rule of thumb, investors are better off avoiding class action lawsuits. The recovery rate in class action lawsuits tend to be paltry. Please realize this is not always the case but it is very common.

The main reasons for why FINRA securities arbitration actions are typically better than class action lawsuits for investors include the following reasons…

Continue reading here.

By the way, I'm not expressing any opinion on this issue at the moment.  Just pointing you to one lawyer's view.

The Mediator's Proposal: An Idea Whose Times Has Passed?

Are mediators being hook-winked by clients who create artificial impasses for the purpose of procuring a favorable mediator's proposal?  Does the mediator's recommendation carry so much weight that the parties are subject to a manipulated mediator's proffer?  Does the mediator become just a tool of a party bent on flim-flam?   Or is all distributive bargaining flim-flam?

Check out John DeGroote's in-house point of view over at Settlement Perspectives and leave a comment.  I've already left two there myself.

I understand some lawyers are settling all their cases with mediators' proposals.  Why is that?  Are they savvier than their colleagues?  Or do they just need the authority of the mediator to "sell" settlement to their clients?

Jump in here or over at John's place.  Whether you're a mediator, a litigator, or a client, we'd both appreciate your fresh ideas. 

Face-to-Face Conversations Powerful Resolution Tool

From this coming Monday's Forum Column in the Los Angeles Daily Journal (byline V. Pynchon):

 

Psychologists tell us that we are not only "meaning making" beings, but that we are all born conspiracy theorists. Viewing a field of nonsensical, unrelated data, we naturally begin to "connect the dots" - to organize the information into a coherent, and often compelling, narrative.

Pattern making or conspiracy theorizing is a human survival mechanism. We have never been the fastest or the biggest creatures on the planet. We don't have the sharpest teeth or blend in all that well with the scenery. Our soft, easily punctured skin is not covered with a protective shell. In a pinch, we can't take a running leap and fly away from land-bound carnivores who might make us their prey.

We are, however, the canniest creatures on the planet. To avoid the tiger who made lunch of our best comrade, we surveyed the scene and committed the pattern of otherwise unrelated details to memory. Five banyan trees, a narrow stream, and, a pile of rubble left by a recent avalanche means "there are tigers here."

Couple this with Fundamental Attribution Error and you have all of the ingredients necessary to blame inadvertently caused harm on elaborate conspiracies cooked up by our untrustworthy companions - Fundamental Attribution Error being our universal tendency to over-emphasize the role of others' negative personality traits to explain why harm befell us.

So it is with our legal adversaries. Once the channels of communication have been severed by the filing of a lawsuit, attorneys and clients alike begin to make up "what really happened" based on predispositions, scattered conversations, faulty memories and scraps of documentation.

 

Continue reading Monday's Daily Journal Forum Column here.

 

No Review of Discretionary Stay by Arbitrator

Thanks LACBA for the daily case reports!


Trial court lacked authority to review discretionary, prehearing order by arbitrator, who imposed stay on arbitration of dispute concerning uninsured motorist policy until plaintiff--who was driving on work-related business in company car provided by employer when rear ended--pursued workers’ compensation benefits in light of Insurance Code Sec. 11580.2.

Briggs v. Resolution Remedies

A Single Ray of Resolution Optimism in the Darkest Movie in American Film History

Must read:  Embracing Conflict's analysis of Dueling Banjoes in Deliverance written by  Niel Denny, a Collaborative family solicitor working in the South West of England who is a member of my twitter network here: @nieldenny.

Excerpt and video below but a reading of the entire post is a must for anyone looking for reasons to believe that we can reach one another across political, cultural, religious, social and economic divides.

The music develops by a process of answer and call. One of them plays a riff, or a short section of music, which is then followed by the other. They react to one another responding to and developing upon the riff they have just heard. By doing so they produce this amazing music in a memorable scene that is part of cinema folklore.

It represents a rare moment of optimism in what is an otherwise unbearably dark, oppressive film.

In the process of exchanging these riffs the protagonists are effectively collaborating. They are communicating. We can see their riffs as an analogy for talking. The riffs work where the spoken word does not. Drew and the Banjo boy clearly develop and enjoy a relationship while they are playing.

Negotiating Women: Never Negotiate Out of Fear, But Never Fear to Negotiate --

Video below is part I of an interview on negotiation challenges, strategies and tactics for women with

Vicki Flaugher, founder of SmartWoman GuidesThe full audio of the video is here along with Ms. Flaugher's kind comments about our conversation.   Ms. Flaugher describes her site resources as follows:

If you’re a beginning female entrepreneur or a women who is thinking about starting in business for herself, you have found your tribe. You have arrived at a safe place to talk about business. Especially if you are 35-55 years old, you are going to love this site because that’s a magic age time. You really discover who you are during those years and finally decide to do what you love instead of just what you’re “supposed” to do. The spirit of that revelation and all the promise it holds is why this site was created.

Now, Part I of Negotiating Women!

"Never Fear to Negotiate" from JFK's Inaugural Address with video here.

So let us begin anew -- remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate. Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.

Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms, and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.

Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.

Let both sides unite to heed, in all corners of the earth, the command of Isaiah -- to "undo the heavy burdens, and [to] let the oppressed go free."

And, if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor -- not a new balance of power, but a new world of law -- where the strong are just, and the weak secure, and the peace preserved.

All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days; nor in the life of this Administration; nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.

 

How We Tell the Tale Determines How We Resolve the Problem

People who are joined together by a dispute -- which includes everyone engaged in litigation and their attorneys -- are suffering more than most from a universal cognitive bias known as fundamental attribution error.  FAE is one of the ways we explain our troubles to one another. 

If we have suffered misfortune and are able to attribute our loss to the actions of another, we will universally attribute the series of events resulting in our loss to the bad intentions or evil character of the person we lawyers call "the defendant." 

If we are the defendant, we will universally attribute the series of events resulting in the injured party's loss to the circumstances causing Plaintiff's harm (or, of course, to the Plaintiff's evil intentions). 

The attribution of harm primarily to character or motive on the part of the victim and primarily to circumstance on the part of the accused is fundamental because it is hard-wired into the way we think.  It is an attribution error because it attributes effect to a particular type of cause.  It is error because all human activity and the inevitable conflicts that arise from it

"take[s] place not only between individuals, but in a context, culture and environment; surrounded by social, economic, and political forces; inside a group or organization; contained by a system and structure; among a diverse community of people at a particular moment in time and history; on a stage; against a backdrop; in a setting or milieu."

See Ken Cloke's Conflict Revolution (this from the Introduction) here and my review of it at The Complete Lawyer here.

In other words, all events, conflicts, injuries, and benefits, all causes and effects are determined both by human actors and by circumstance.  We are the cause and the effect of everything that surrounds us and everything that we surround.

How does this knowledge help us resolve our disputes and why does the way we tell our stories hold the key to resolving them?   I could give you more explanations from the field of social psychology or I could simply tell you a story.  In this case, I tell the story of a book of stories written by Malcolm Gladwell who writes about the stories we tell ourselves and one another about success. Gladwell, we're told, introduces us to Bill Gates as

a young computer programmer from Seattle whose brilliance and ambition outshine the brilliance and ambition of the thousands of other young programmers. But then Gladwell takes us back to Seattle, and we discover that Gates’s high school happened to have a computer club when almost no other high schools did. He then lucked into the opportunity to use the computers at the University of Washington, for hours on end. By the time he turned 20, he had spent well more than 10,000 hours as a programmer.

At the end of this revisionist tale, Gladwell asks Gates himself how many other teenagers in the world had as much experience as he had by the early 1970s. “If there were 50 in the world, I’d be stunned,” Gates says. “I had a better exposure to software development at a young age than I think anyone did in that period of time, and all because of an incredibly lucky series of events.” Gates’s talent and drive were surely unusual. But Gladwell suggests that his opportunities may have been even more so.  

Continue reading the NYT Sunday Book Review of Gladwell's new book, Outliers, here.

More on using dual narratives to help you settle litigation tomorrow (or later this afternoon)

Negotiating Potential Liability at Holiday Parties

Planning on partying like its 1999 to boast morale in your law firm?  Check out tips offered by Morrison & Foester in  Holiday Parties: Morale Boost but Employer Beware back in December of 1999, advice that is as timely today as it was then.  And remember, there's no conflict management strategy better than conflict prevention.  Here then are MoFo's excellent tips, which is just a small excerpt of the good advice to be found on the link above.

 

What Can Employers Do?

Short of assuming the role of "Grinch" and canceling the holiday party, what can employers do to protect themselves from liability for sexual harassing conduct during holiday parties?

First, employers should make sure that they have a comprehensive, written sexual harassment policy in place, including sexual harassment training in the workplace. Employers might also re-circulate the sexual harassment policy prior to the holiday party, or send a memo to employees reminding employees to act responsibly at the party and expressing a zero tolerance for harassing behavior.

Second, if the budget permits, employers could invite employees to bring their spouse, significant other, or guest. Although such an invitation will not rule out incidents of sexual harassment, it may reduce the likelihood of such incidents occurring, as employees may tend to act more responsibly and in a less flirtatious manner towards each other if they bring a spouse or special friend to the party.

Third, employers should monitor closely any employees who have a history of harassing behavior, or who have been involved in complaints of sexual harassment. If such an employee is observed engaging in any inappropriate behavior, he or she should be asked to leave the party immediately, and the employer should apply appropriate discipline upon the employee's return to work.

Finally, employers receiving any complaints regarding inappropriate behavior at the holiday party should treat such complaints seriously and should take prompt, effective steps to address the complaints. This includes interviewing the alleged harasser and harassee, talking to potential witnesses, and administering appropriate discipline if inappropriate behavior is found to have occurred. By taking prompt, remedial action to address complaints of harassment, employers can reduce and in some cases altogether eliminate liability for sexual harassment.

Thottam Confidentiality: Just Follow the Statute; Don't Get Fancy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the Los Angeles Daily Journal

November 21, 2008

CONFIDENTIALITY QUESTION HEADED BACK TO TRIAL COURT  By Greg Katz

LOS ANGELES - The state Supreme Court has denied review of an appellate decision that had become a cause celebre for mediators concerned about confidentiality precedents.

Instead, the case will head back for a new trial that includes a dispute over whether a hand-drawn chart, created in a probate mediation and initialed dozens of times by the parties, should have been admissible as evidence.

 A trial court had said that it was not, but the 2nd District Court of Appeal overturned the decision, saying it was in effect a settlement agreement and admissible under Evidence Code Section 1123(c). Thottam v. Thottam, B196933 and B196934 (Cal App. 2nd Dist., filed Sept. 3, 2008).

Many mediators expressed concern that the appellate ruling hurts mediation confidentiality by making draft documents admissible, and the case drew amicus letters from pro-ADR lobbying group California Dispute Resolution Council and others.

But the high court Wednesday denied review. 

Tyna Orren, who won the appeal for Los Angeles-based attorney and political activist Peter Thottam, said she was happy but unsurprised that the court didn't take up the case. 

"The reason mediators don't need to be concerned is that the opinion now tells them precisely what they need to do to avoid what happened in Thottam. Nobody should sign anything which leaves an opening for anything to be divulged," she said.

The 2nd District panel reasoned that the document appeared to be a settlement agreement, and that the parties had signed a premediation agreement allowing for the admissibility of mediation evidence that supported any agreements reached. That qualified the document for an exception in mediation confidentiality statutes.

"Whether or not the document contained all necessary details for enforcement, it certainly contained adequate manifestation of mutual consent to material terms which were capable of being made certain," making it a settlement agreement, Presiding Justice Norman L. Epstein wrote for the unanimous panel.

Justices Thomas L. Wilhite Jr. and Steven C. Suzukawa joined in the opinion.

Beverly Hills-based mediator Victoria Pynchon, who closely followed the case, said it was more about interpretation of the mediation agreement than about confidentiality, that the Supreme Court has vigorously defended the state's confidentiality laws in the past.

Attorneys should rely strictly on those laws when drafting mediation agreements, she said. "Just quote the statute or refer to the statute. Don't get fancy."

Stephen L. Kaplan of Laguna Niguel's Hicks, Mims, Kaplan & Burns, who had petitioned for review, said he was disappointed but expected that the new trial would go in favor of his clients, as the first one had.

The only difference: "There'll be one more piece of evidence," Kaplan said.

greg_katz@dailyjournal.com

Blog Bites Bar ; Goes to Court

See the Complaint here.

h/t to @taxgirl

As the ABA Journal explains:

A law firm contends new Louisiana lawyer advertising rules slated to take effect in April will restrict its right to comment on Twitter, Facebook, online bulletin boards and blogs.

The Wolfe Law Group filed a federal suit today challenging the rules, claiming they would subject each of the firm’s online posts to an evaluation and a $175 fee, according to a press release. The construction law firm says in the suit that its own blog may qualify for an exemption for law firm websites, but its comments on other blogs would not.

The firm claims the rules would restrict its First Amendment right to speak freely about its trade. To make its point, the law firm has launched a blog called Blogging is Speaking.

Sometimes your business or professional negotiation has to take place in Court.  This is an example.

Survive with the Fittest Lawyers on Evolution Day with Blawg Review # 187

Leave it to a legal marketing blog -- Lawyer Casting - to choose Evolution Day for its first entry into the BlawgReviewOSphere.  As blogger Joshua Fruchter explains in Blawg Review #187, because the anniversary of Charles Darwin's publication of The Origin of Species on November 24, 1859 is inextricably intertwined with the idea that only the fittest survive, Evolution Day should be celebrated with advice for survival.  And so it is.

For those of us who toil the legal fields, Fruchter suggests a range of survival options including

There's advice for law firms here as well, so crawl on out of the loser gene pool and make your way over to Blawg Review # 187.  The survival of the legal species might just well depend upon it!

Note that Eric Turkewitz at the New York Personal Injury Law Blog  will host Blawg Review #188.  Anyone interested in participating in future blog carnivals should take a look at Blawg Review, which has information about next week's host and instructions on how to get your blawg posts reviewed in upcoming issues.

Finally, in true celebration of Evolution Day, take a look at some of the most enduring misconceptions about Darwin's paradigm breaking theory here, including the fact -- noted by Fruchter -- that Darwin did not originate the phrase "survival of the fittest."

________________

*/ Pepper Hamilton is podcasting??????  A short but vivid season of my legal career was served as a Pepper associate back in the late '80s (Alum Network here) when this grand old Philadelphia law firm turned 100 at which time it was still using quill pens - at least in the Philly office.  In the Los Angeles office, we associates routinely gathered in the library (yes! with books) and were required to share the one Lexis/Nexis research station which we were forbidden to use except in the most dire circumstances and with pre-approval.

 

 

Negotiation/Mediation Terms of Art

I have recently been asked by several lawyers to write a few posts on mediation and negotiation terminology not only because some attorneys are unfamiliar with these terms, but also because different mediators and negotiators use them to mean different things. 

Mediators, lawyers and negotiators who read this post are invited to add, correct, object, or suggest further refinements and to add their thoughts on further strategic and tactical uses and perils of the impasse-busters we discuss today - the bracketed offer and the mediator's proposal.

And because my readers may find this post as dry as bones, I once again offer the X-rated "Negotiation Table" as pretty #%$@ true and funny  (think Ari Gold). 

Bracketed Offer:  Party A makes an offer to bargain in the zone he wishes to see the negotiation move to.  This is often used when neither party wishes to step up to the line of probable impasse and it can also be used to re-anchor the bargaining zone.  Quite simply, Party A offers to bargain in the range of, say, $2 million and $3 million.  He offers to put $2 million on the table if party B is willing to put $3 million on the table, i.e., "I'll offer to pay you $2 million if you'll offer to accept $3 million to dismiss your suit."

If party B does not accept the bracket, party A will not be "stuck" with having actually placed $2 million on the table when the next exchange of offers and counter-offers begins.

Responding to a Bracketed Offer:  Party B can:  1.  respond with a counter-bracket, i.e., I'll make an offer to accept $3.5 million in settlement if you'll put $2.5 million on the table; or, 2.  refuse the bracket and ask for an unbracketed counter.

Mediator's Proposal: 

The basics:  the mediator chooses a number for the parties, making an "offer" to settle for, say $2.3 million which the parties are free to accept or reject.  It is a double-blind "offer."  If either party rejects the "offer" neither party knows whether the other accepted or rejected.  Acceptances are communicated only if both parties accept, in which case they have a deal.

The circumstances:  The parties should seek a mediator's proposal only when they have reached a hard impasse.  A hard impasse exists when both parties have actually put their true bottom line on the table or their next to the bottom line and they see no hope of it closing the deal.

The purpose:  Both parties believe they could convince their principal  to accept a deal that is more than they wanted to pay or less than they wanted to accept, but they cannot convince their principals to put $X on the table or accept $Y.  They hope to use the authority of the mediator to sell the deal to their principals.  If they are the principals, they are willing to settle for a number lower or greater than planned but not willing to close the bargaining session having made such a concession, which would have the effect of setting the floor or establishing the ceiling of all future bargaining sessions.

The Mediator's number:  I do not know whether there is a general practice among mediators about how they choose the number proffered.  When parties ask me to make a mediator's proposal (I rarely recommend one in the first instance) I explain my practice as follows:  When I make a proposal I am not acting as a non-binding arbitrator or early neutral evaluator.  In other words, my proposal is not a reflection of the value of the case.  The number I propose will be a number that I believe the Plaintiff is likely to accept and the Defendant is likely to pay.

In rare instances, the parties wish to continue bargaining in the event a mediator's proposal is not accepted by both parties.  I have permitted this in a few circumstances after explaining to the negotiating parties that it often causes resentment on the other side because they feel as if the party who wishes to continue negotiating is unfairly attempting to use the mediator's number as a new bench-mark from which to bargain. 

I highly recommend against continued bargaining after the rejection of a mediator's proposal on the day of the mediation.  It should serve as a hard stop because the parties respond to it as an ultimatum.  That's part of its power.  Take it or leave it. 

Just as you would not continue bargaining after indicating that you were putting your last dollar on the table, you should not continue bargaining (during that session) after the mediator has, in effect, put both parties' anticipated bottom lines on the table for them.

 

 

Are Women Better Mediators Than Men?

First she's all about the election and now she's back to post-mid-Century America's gender wars?  Say it ain't so, Vickie!

These are just statistics from an extremely limited sample that tells more about this particular program in this particular place concerning the particular types of cases being mediated than they are about the relative abilities of male and female mediators.

I'm unaware, however, of any controlled studies on gender differences in mediation results.  I do know that there's a gender imbalance in the profession and have had panel administrators acknowledge on the QT that even when they're choosing mediators or settlement officers pro bono lawyers tend to choose men most of the time.  

So for women struggling in the profession, here's your moment of zen.

Examining the graphical representation of mediator gender and settlement rates, one can see that there are male mediators who settle cases at higher than average rates, as well as female mediators who settle cases are lower than average rates. Nevertheless, it appears that most of the popular mediators who settle cases at higher than average rates are women, while the majority of popular mediators who settle cases at lower than average rates are men.

Some may object to this “battle of the sexes” analysis on the grounds that men and women should be treated as equals. Based on our data, however, male and female mediators are not statistically equal with respect to the rate at which they settle cases. Whether this “good” or “bad” is more a matter of philosophy than statistics.

In her book In a Different Voice, Carol Gilligan described how men and women think about moral conflicts differently. Her research suggests that men tend to consider conflict in terms of rights while women generally view conflicts in terms of dynamic relationships. Accordingly, a “female” approach to conflict resolution may be better suited to the process of facilitating mediated settlements than a “male” approach to conflict.

For a colored chart and remainder of post, see Correlation of Mediator Gender to Settlement Rate at Practical Dispute Resolution here.

When I think of my own experience as a neutral for the past four years and compare it to my experience as an attorney in the first four years of my practice 1980-1984, I can only say that it is somewhat similar.

What made the difference in the years that followed?  Women flooding the profession.  As women litigators and bench officers begin to retire, I suspect that we'll begin to see greater use of women neutrals.  And no, I do not believe that the paucity of women on commercial mediation panels nor what I believe to be their greater struggle to build a thriving practice there is based upon conscious sexism.

Like the tendency to prefer judges over attorney mediators (a preference I believe to be waning) I believe that the sub-conscious preference for male over female mediators arises from a continuing misunderstanding among members of the bar about what settles cases.  Too many attorneys continue to believe that they need a mediator who can overpower the will of their adversary.  And if you're looking for raw power (particularly the power of authority) in American commerce and law, you will naturally choose the judge over the attorney and the man over the woman.

I haven't written about this in the past because it is a topic that tends to divide people and it is not my intention to start a tiny gender war in the tiny world of mediation.

But when these statistics started pouring into my in-box, I couldn't ignore the topic any longer.

Please feel free to comment.

Sqaundering Legal Talent from Jordan Furlong

The management of the Obama campaign among the lowest level operatives (i.e., me making cold calls and walking precincts) reminded me of the way in which every organization squanders its resources.

I forgive the Obama campaign its trespasses because it was run by a dedicated, exhausted, physically ill cadre of poorly paid tweens -- tweens in this case being young people in that awkward period between University and real life or University and graduate school (listen to This American Life's spot-on audio-documentary on College Voter Registration Drives here).  In any event, the Field Organizers whose goal it was to make X number of telephone calls and knock on Y number of doors were young and inexperienced in using human resources of any kind other than perhaps the counter-staff at the local McDonalds.

So it was that during the course of the last days of the campaign in Henderson Nevada that I met a growing number of 40+ volunteers who had given up going to the campaign office after walking precincts because its management style was anti-Obama -- top down, inflexible, and numbers rather than people-driven.  Two of the three campaign buzzwords -- inspire and empower -- were lost in the tumult of real life.

Law firms, unlike local political campaign offices, are presumably being run by mature adult professionals who understand that which Obama Field Organizers could not.

If it takes 1,000 phone calls to recruit a single volunteer (or lavish summer programs; sky-high salaries; and, signing bonuses for first year associates) it's best to treat that volunteer or freshly minted lawyer like the valuable commodity they are.  When the local campaign head or firm manager rages out of his office and browbeats his human resources into (temporary) submission, he might as well be keying his own new Bugatti Veyron.

I won't repeat most of what Jordan Furlong has written in his terrific post The Perils of Squandering Talent (a must read ) but I will give you his bottom line:

the legal profession [may be] at risk of becoming the North American automobile industry, about to be hammered by market forces we never prepared for[.] Are our clients, fed up with the cost of tapping our traditional resource, ready to cast about for alternative sources of legal talent? And does your firm in any way foreshadow General Motors, a well-known name poised to collapse from short-term thinking and a failure to give customers what they want?

Why is a negotiation blog put to the task of examining the well being of the profession as a whole?  Because the negotiated resolution of disputes requires innovative, value-creating "out of the box" thinking as does the health of our profession in the 21st Century.  That's why I've begun a new post category - Outside the Box - so that we can continue exploring those issues critical to our survival as legal professionals.

 

 

Learn Deposition Skills (and Much More!) at Solo Practice University™

Faculty @ SPU

It's official!  I've joined the faculty of Solo Practice University™

Huh?

I don't see that University in any tier of the U.S. News and World Report's Law School Rankings!  And if it's not ranked for goodness sakes, does it even exist?

Yes, Virginia, a school for legal practitioners does exist "as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy."

O.K.,Solo Practice University™ is not Santa Claus but it comes pretty darn close.

Solo Practice University™ is a revolutionary new web-based educational community that picks up where your legal education left off.

Learn from some of the most progressive lawyers, marketing pros, technology consultants and legal business giants how to:

* Plan, build and grow your private practice
* Differentiate yourself from the competition
* Attract and engage new clients more easily

… and much more. They just can’t teach you that in law school.

Need to transform your marketing strategy in these troubled economic times?  You can learn  not just how to blog your way into your desired market, but how to leverage what you love into how much you make from Blawgfather and SPU Professor Grant Griffiths.

Wondering whether to put rocket fuel into your networking vehicle by adding online social media?  You couldn't find a better teacher than SPU Professor Toby Bloomberg who has over 15-years of traditional strategic marketing experience and four years with social media through her company Bloomberg Marketing/Diva Marketing.

Are your clients peppering you with questions you can't answer about their rights and remedies in Cyberspace?  Then it is Christmas, Hannukah and Kawanza all rolled up into one. Brett is a patent attorney and frequent national speaker on internet and intellectual property law. Professor Brett Trout is teaching a course on intellectual property in cyberspace.

Whether your presence in Cyberspace is solo or in connection with a group practice, let SPU Professor Stephanie L. Kimbo help you hang out your virtual shingle. 

Don't yet know your way around the courtroom?  Thinking of adding criminal defense to your practice as a growth industry in troubled economic times?  Need to ask questions of a seasoned trial attorney that would make you feel inadequate to ask of your supervising attorney in the PD's office?  There's no better winter holiday gift than SPU Professor Scott Greenfield's semester-long course “The Practice of Criminal Defense - The Road to Perdition.”

Still waiting to take that first deposition?  Taking your 20th and can't stop worrying that the Court Reporter thinks you're just a tiny bit pathetic?  Don't know how to deal with obstreperous opposing counsel?  Afraid to run a line of killer cross-examination to re-position your case for summary judgment or settlement?  Wish you'd gotten the expert to admit that he'd consider the moon to be green cheese if his attorney had told him to assume it? (yes my partner did). 

Then you'll want to sign up for my Deposition Skills course based upon the NITA techniques I've taught for more than a dozen years and my own OJT during a 25-year commercial legal practice.

Let your real legal education begin at Solo Practice University™

 

 

Solo Practice University™

Because All Great Negotiations Are Performance Art

Bob Dylan on Creativity
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: dylan bob)
. . . with thanks to @guykawasaki for tweeting the dylan slide show!

How to Lose an Argument from Awake at the Wheel

 Jonathan Fields.Awake@the Wheel gives us 7 critical mistakes to avoid when trying to persuade someone to your point of view.  Excerpt below: Jonathan's full post is a must read and can be accessed by clicking on the link above.

  1. Don’t Attack - When you verbally attack either a person or their point of view, you immediately raise their defensive shields. . . .
  2. Don’t fail to acknowledge and validate another person’s right to believe what they believe - You may want them to emerge from the conversation with a different opinion, but their experience in life has led them to the point of view they hold today. . . .
  3. Don’t fail to anticipate and address objections - People feel a strong need to act and speak in a way that is consistent with their prior actions and statements. . . .
  4. Don’t skip building rapport, trust, credibility - Often, especially when people have strongly held convictions, they’ll launch into an argument in support of those convictions, before allowing the person on the other side of the conversation to (a) get comfortable with who they are, (b) build rapport and likeability, which is a tremendous aid in the effort to persuade, and (c) establish enough credibility in an area to allow the other person to feel comfortable deferring to your knowledge base. Take the time to establish these elements in the conversation BEFORE launching into your campaign . . . .
  5. Don’t forget to to adequate research - Be informed and prepared with the latest, most relevant information . . . .
  6. Don’t shut yourself down to being persuaded yourself - This may surprise you, we’re not always right. . . . .
  7. Don’t say don’t - By now, you may have realized that by simply removing the word “don’t” from each of these points, you’d end up with seven things to “do,” rather than 7 mistakes to avoid. . . . .

Rock on!

 

Obama's Persuasive Oratory for Your Next Court Appearance

Simply great post on Obama's oratory from About.com thanks to Grammar Girl in my Twitter network.  Excerpt below from Barack Obama's Secret for Stirring a Crowd:

Oh sure, this may look as easy as one, two, three, but the truth is it takes more than a flag-draped stage and a run of tricolons to turn an ordinary speech into great oratory. Also helpful is the occasional series of four--a tetracolon ("democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope")--along with effective repetition, a bit of alliteration, and a few conventional metaphors. The insistent use of the first-person plural ("we," "us," and "our") invites identification. And the right combination of anaphora ("It's the answer") and epiphora ("Yes we can") can lift a crowd off its feet and land a speech in the history books.

But that's not all. About 2,000 years ago, Cicero taught us that what makes or breaks a speech is effective delivery, which includes the qualities of dignity and grace:

All these parts of oratory succeed according as they are delivered. Delivery . . . has the sole and supreme power in oratory; without it, a speaker of the highest mental capacity can be held in no esteem; while one of moderate abilities, with this qualification, may surpass even those of the highest talent.
(De Oratore)

So to the list of Obama's persuasive skills add standing tall, speaking forcefully, and exuding confidence.

Oh, and one last thing. Especially in troubled and uncertain times, it never hurts to extend the promise of change, the prospect of hope, and the reminder that we're all in this together.

And if you haven't yet seen this hilarious video about 20-somethings' malaise post-election, click on play immediately!

 

Trial Skills, Deposition Skills and IP Negotiation Skills Programs

Here are my upcoming speaking and teaching engagements in November and January!

I'm baaacccckkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk!!!!!!!!!!


Judicate West Neutral and IP ADR Mediator and Blogger Victoria Pynchon.

Coach/Instructor, National Institute of Trial Advocacy: Building Trial Skills
Location: Loyola Law School Los Angeles
City: Los Angeles, CA
Dates: 1/2/2009 - 1/8/2009
Director: Williams, Gary C.

This is a week-long intensive program for new and/or experienced attorneys who need to learn/brush up on their basic trial skills.  If you can take the time, your entire practice will benefit from the experience.


BrightTALK Intellectual Property Summit here! on November 11, 2008 Webcast Free

Negotiating a Settlement in IP Litigation

   12:00 pm
   Presenting Victoria Pynchon, Judicate West, CPR, Settle It Now, IP ADR Blog

And coming soon!  Deposition Skills Training (NITA techniques) at Solo Practice University!!

 

Faculty @ SPU

The Toughest Negotiation - Time to Build Your Practice

By Guest Blogger Renée Barrett aka AAARenee 

One of my favorite movie quotes is from Angelica Houston’s character in Ever After. As the wicked stepmother, she declares to her favorite daughter

Darling, nothing is final until you're dead, and even then, I'm sure God negotiates.

Although I cannot speak to the question whether God negotiates, I have found the first part of the formulation to hold quite true. I have learned that if I am persistent, passionate, and willing to see my challenges and opportunities from a variety of angles, I am usually able to find a creative solution to a problem and identify common ground with someone with whom I have a dispute.

Whether it’s getting a customer service agent to empathize with my situation, haggling to pay wholesale instead of retail, or building consensus amongst a range of strong personalities, there is always a way to state your case and persuade your audience to see the world through your eyes. 

There is one challenge that I have discovered to be most daunting for professionals to negotiate -- the management of their time. 

Time is our most precious nonrenewable resource and as such, we put a premium on it. We attempt to prioritize and guarantee a return on our investment. Often we are left feeling that an activity was either not worth our time or took so much time that we were unable to sustain the task's momentum.

Between work and life, we struggle to find balance and sanity.

My work with attorneys -- helping them to build their practices; assisting them in overcoming their own internalized judgments about marketing and business development -- requires me to help them re-negotiate the way in which they allocate their time.

I empathize.  It is a daunting task to find a comfortable balance between one's professional and personal lives when you are forced to measure it out in six minute increments.  Despite many attempts to eliminate or modify the present system by which we value legal word -- the billable hour remains the entrenched and painful lens through which a lawyer's daily practice is viewed. Given this historic approach, it’s no wonder than that Web 2.0 activities (blogging, online social networking, & wikis) are met with such resistance.

 

While it is true that there is no one size fits all solution for growing a legal practice,  there is one excellent way to refocus the discussion.

I've never worked with an attorney who didn't agree that the practice of law is a relationship-driven business. Relationships take time to develop and require nurturing, both of which can be streamlined with Web 2.0 tools. If used correctly, there are numerous opportunities online to have a "deep dive" conversation - one in which attorneys can quickly learn a potential client's business, current needs, and future risks.

When someone is in pain, there are opportunities to help them find a solution and be of value. Relationships that would take years to develop offline can accelerate faster online because -- for better or worse -- the internet encourages candor.

 

If you are struggling with how to do more with less in these tough economic times then reconsider making a small investment of your time in the mostly free Web 2.0 resources.  

The sense of community, collaboration and reciprocity that exists in online social networks can quickly translate into marketing opportunities that are speedily turned into new engagements. If you contribute positively and regularly to the online conversations at Q&As (LinkedIn), subject matter listserv forums, blogs, and, most recently, twitter, you are highly likely to improve your "know, like and trust" stock.  

In the end, professionals who are able to renegotiate their time priorities to set aside a few hours a week to invest in online-relationship-building, will be rewarded many times over by the ease with which your network can be immediately deployed for your benefit or that of your clients. 

If you find Web 2.0 daunting, ask a tech-savvy professional friend to advise you or, better yet, give me a call!

Renée Barrett is a business development & marketing consultant, specializing in change management, professional development, branding, social networking, and client relationship management.

Negotiating a Conflict-Resolved Workplace

Want a horror story for Halloween?

Remember that Heller Ehrman collapse?  Seems that you don't get COBRA benefits if the health plan your former employer maintained is kaput because it has gone out of business.

Now think, pending surgery, no health insurance, pre-existing condition. 

Why do I lead a post about resolving work-place conflict with bankruptcy and tragedy?  Because no 100-year old AmLaw100 firm fails so spectacularly without having made some conflict resolution mistakes.

Can you eliminate conflict in the law firm?  Hellllloooooooooooooooo???????????  We're lawyers who Anne Reed at Deliberations this morning reminds us have been characterized as . . . well . . . sharks with

skin that is tough and rough -- covered with thousands of tiny hard teeth call denticles that abrade any passerby made of softer stuff. Lawyers are also thick-skinned. Easily identified by their humorlessness and abrasive personalities, they are the bane of many social gatherings.

Ouch!

What to do?  Apologize when your "denticles" abrade passersby, but more importantly, ask yourself the most important Bob Sutton-inspired organizational wellness question noted over at The Non-Billable Hour this morning:

 What Happens When People Make a Mistake?

 

 

Is Law Becoming a Clerical Function? Email and its Discontents

Over at the Mimosa Systems Blog, we get some good advice about in-house eDiscovery management.  What does this have to do with conflict resolution?  Some of our smartest, most well-educated, highly compensated, creative and dynamic conflict resolution specialists -- litigators -- are in imminent danger of becoming clerical workers.  Listen folks, it's e-Bleak House out there!.

Someone must be capable of providing a turn-key solution for attorneys who spend far too great a portion of their days filing e-mail into the right group folders.  I get these complaints both from my 35-year litigator husband and first-year litigator step-son, both of whose hourly rates would blow the top of your head off.  Think about it.  Clients are paying them to spend no small amount of time filing.

Though the below post does not address that particular issue, it does recommend ways to manage and control the new business-scourge of email management in-house.  Check it out.

More Lawsuits = Need for In-house eDiscovery Infrastructure

A recent New York Times article discusses how today’s financial crisis sets up a probable boom in lawsuits. Investors feel wronged by banks and financial advisors.

The creators of some of these risky investment vehicles spoke publicly of how financially sound the vehicles were while (stupidly) emailing each other about how concerned they actually were. (It still amazes me what people will put in an email - completely oblivious to just how discoverable what they write is).

What’s a company to do? First, realize that keeping the data around is not the risk. What do I mean? I spent the last week listening to lawyers talk about wanting to get rid of data as quickly as possible, when what they should want to do is better manage that information so they can find what they need as quickly and cheaply as possible.

Obama and the Politics of Despair

There's nothing like getting a new Harpers in the mail to upset my idealistic dreams of a new America flourishing under an Obama administration.  Here's the opening November '08 Harpers slap-in-the-face for dreamy liberals like me:

After eight years of catastrophic Republican misrule—in the midst of economic crisis and rising unemployment, in a nation plagued by ruinous energy costs and inflation, bank failures, and staggering public and private corruption—an eloquent, charismatic, intelligent Democratic candidate was locked in a statistical tie with a doddering old hack whose primary argument for his claim to the most powerful office on earth is that he was shot down over Vietnam and tortured for five years. Indeed, this remained the case even after McCain demonstrated beyond all doubt, in his impetuous selection of a ludicrously unsuitable vice- presidential candidate, that he lacked the good judgment that is the primary qualification for the job. If the Democratic Party loses this election, then it should forever concede the presidency.

Ouch!  I read this magazine for the same reason I watch Fox News.  To upset my own comfortable ideologies.  That's the trouble with us liberals -- we're always fretting about being fair, when, according to Harper's Roger Hodge we're just a big bunch of conflict-avoidant pussies.  

Conflict in politics is not a metaphor, and as with any fight, the audience is likely to get involved. That is the essence of politics. A campaign that decides in advance that voters are tired of negative campaigning, that they are sick of partisan attacks and will respond only to positive messages, has stupidly left the field of battle. The people who truly dislike political combat are presumably among the 95 million who do not vote. Senator Barack Obama, a sophisticated and intelligent man with sophisticated and intelligent advisers, promises to change Washington, to eliminate the tone of partisan rancor, to foster a new spirit of brotherhood and cooperation. Poor lamb, he wishes to lie down with lions. But the Kingdom has not come.

The answer? 

Attack!!

Unfortunately, the sovereign voter can do little, on his own, to remedy the situation, especially if he happens not to live in Florida or Ohio. Yes, he can make a campaign contribution, a slightly more effective form of voting, but unless the Obama campaign decides to wage a more creative and destructive war, casting monetary ballots remains an empty gesture. (Of course one can also join the battle personally, perhaps by repeating the rumors about John McCain’s Alz heimer’s meds or the Sarah Palin sex tape.) Ultimately, we return to the problem of political will, to the Democratic Party, to the commitment of its party bosses to prevail, finally, in this election.

We can hope for change, that the Republicans will make some fatal error, or that Obama’s party will fight hard enough to persuade a decisive number of “low information” voters that John McCain is not only a liar but a menace to our children’s future. Recent precedents, however, are not encouraging. The Republican Party lied its way through eight years of criminal misrule while Democrats mostly just cowered in a back room. Now, faced with a clumsy deception about whether Sarah Palin sought an earmark for a small town in Alaska, Obama exclaims, “Come on! I mean, words mean something, you can’t just make stuff up.” Oh, yes, Barack, we can.

In the same issue that suggests we dirty our hands by calling John McCain a liar and the Bush administration's "misrule" criminal, we read that Obama is a detached blank screen upon which voters can project any quality they like (or dislike) because . . . well . . . his mother was lonely and so is he:

Obama wants to believe in the common good as a way of providing a fullness to experience that avoids the slide into nihilism. But sometimes I don’tknow if he knows what belief is and what it would be to hold such a belief. It all seems so distant and opaque. The persistent presence of the mother’s dilemma—the sense of loneliness,doubt, and abandonment—seems palpable and ineliminable. We must believe, but we can’t believe. Perhaps this is the tragedy that some of us see in Obama: a change we can believe in and the crushing realization that nothing will change.

See The American Void by Simon Critchley

This is usually the point at which my own McCain-supporting mother breaks in with "honey, you know, you can think too much."  And after years, decades really, of finding this refrain irritating, I finally agree with her about the thinking part if not about her taste in Presidential candidates.

Like the Obama caricatured in this month's Harpers as an ineffective dreamer as intent on replacing his deceased mother's lack of faith with liberal-Christian-do-gooding as Oliver Stone suggests "W" was intent on finally pleasing Daddy, I simply choose to have faith in the stated values of the Democratic party.  I continue to believe that over time, we can do better as a nation through consensus and problem-solving, collaboration and compromise, than we can by adopting the tactics of the world's strong-arm leaders and disciples of discord. 

The Good News

Assuming that the guy I think Obama is -- highly educated, articulate, and idealistically dedicated to serving the common welfare -- actually exist on the political scene (and I will not give up this faith any more readily that others would renounce their own religions) I believe them to be riding the bow-wave of transformation.  I have staked my professional life on this faith in my fellows' ability to work toward the common good, abandoning the extremely lucrative practice of legal battle in exchange for the far less financially rewarding practice of collaborative negotiated conflict resolution. 

Who are the real cowards here and who the heroes?  People who refuse to negotiate face-to-face "without pre-condition" ("we won't discuss settlement unless they're willing to put $10 million on the table first") and without the protection of several layers of legal counsel?  Or those who are willing to test the rectitude of their "position" by sitting across a table with their opponent to frankly discuss their mutual role in whatever commercial or personal catastrophe flowed from the intersection at which their (mis)fortunes collided? 

The social psychologists tell us that we live on the razor's edge of individual survival (me, me, me, me, me) and the collective good.  It is our great challenge as a species to live that which we cannot refuse to understand -- "we" cannot drill a hole in "their" side of the boat without sinking all of us.

So I will continue to brave reading Harpers (which discourages me) and risk the challenge to my world view of Fox News commentary (which so often enrages me) on the off-chance that my religion -- tolerance; compassion; collective effort; empathy and the like, has more staying power than the religion of hate; discord; and, denial. 

And I will also continue to believe that none of us could ever possibly be right.  

Only that we could potentially be happy.

Ending on a positive gaping void note with Hugh McLeod's greatest to date contribution to humanity:  How to Be CreativeYou can catch him on Twitter here.

 

 

Hope, Safety and Innovation

The first thing we mediators are taught (after digesting the imperative to "be conscious") is that people in conflict need to be in an atmosphere of hope and safety to be able to:  (1)  recognize the point of view of another; (2) be accountable for his/her own "part" in the dispute; and, (3) generate creative solutions to bust past impasse.

This is the reason one of the post categories over at the IP ADR Blog is "Innovate, Don't Litigate," which is the dispute resolution mantra of Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz.

That said,  I am happy to link my readers to The Financial Crisis' Silver Lining over at Harvard Business Publications.

Perhaps the good times are in fact dead. And certainly someone thinking of forming the umpteenth "Web 2.0-widget-to-grab-audience-and-find-advertisers" ought to pause to think whether they really have some kind of defined competitive advantage that can translate into a sustainable business.

But real customers continue to face real problems. And as always, innovators who figure out different ways to solve those problems--and make money doing so--will have opportunities to create new growth businesses. In fact, the creative destruction unleashed by a crisis always opens up opportunities for innovation.

As a simple example, consider a New York based startup called On Deck Capital, Inc. As described in Monday's Wall Street Journal, the company loans money to small businesses. Instead of relying on individual loan officers to pour over episodic financial information and make decisions, the company has an algorithmic approach that uses software to analyze a company's day-to-day activities in a non-obtrusive way to assess credit worthiness. Its loans feature higher interest rates than loans from most banks, but lower than alternative sources.

The company launched in May, and has already distributed $10 million in loans. It has suffered very few defaults. The current credit crisis and hesitancy of many banks to loan to even the best-run small businesses creates substantial opportunity for On Deck to extend its model.

Llssez le bon temps roulez!

Blawg Review # 181 Celebrates International Conflict Resolution Day

It's effective, it's efficient and it's client-centered.  Just what we need to weather the financial storm.

 What?  The mediated resolution of litigated cases. 

Nobody blogs it better than Diane Levin at the Mediation Channel, who hosts Blawg Review # 181 in celebration of International Conflict Resolution Day.   BR's anonymous Ed. recently had these kind and grateful  words for Diane:

We'd like to take this opportunity to thank Diane for her many contributions to Blawg Review, having now hosted four outstanding presentations -- #43, #94, #130 and #181. Behind the scenes, in her role as a Blawg Review Sherpa, Diane has made contributions to many other issues of Blawg Review, too. So, speaking for myself and all the other Blawg Review hosts she's helped along the way, we'd like to say thanks a bunch and give you this extra little bit of link love to show our heartfelt appreciation.

Tomorrow I'll start my day by reading, and giving my own readers a head's up on what looks to be one of the best Blawg Reviews of the year by the best ADR blogger ever.

Anyone working up the nerve to host, click here. Lesser mortals can submit their week's best post by taking a look at the submission guidelines here. Next week Blawg Review  will appear at ..

 

Preaching to the Perverted.

(totally unrelated photo; just getting my iPhone photos from Paris in the mix)

But what a Blawg Review Diane has given us.  Thank goodness it's Columbus Day or I'd be short-changing my actual work-work by reading #181 half the day and its links the other half of the day.  And don't expect Diane to limit herself to mediation.  Most of us are also lawyers, after all, so she also covers the best legal posts of the week on the topic of the law, legal practice, life as lawyers -- the "whole catastrophe" as Zorba said. 

Geoff Sharp is spot on in urging you to read Blawg Review #181.  It could be malpractice not to do so!!

Brilliant Diane!  Thanks.


 

 

Helping Employees Help You Help Them

Earlier this week I was asked the following question by a concerned General Counsel:  how can we help our employees grapple with on-the-job justice issues without leading them to believe that our proposed solutions are untrustworthy.  

The problem, as eloquently described by a lengthy email posing the question, is one that all employers face, large and small.  For this GC to have thought that mediators might make a difference is particularly heartening on a day when mediator Justin Patten was reporting that mediators are the furthest thing in a UK company's mind when dealing with conflict.  

(above, the work of the brilliant Hugh McLeod)

To understand the depth of the problem posed, I'm providing you with the full email sent to me:   

Victoria:

I just read your blog post of September 15, 2008 regarding Peter Murray's article (which I have not read yet). I was having a discussion today with my Director of Human Resources, and raise a related issue.

Our company spends an inordinate amount of time explaining disability, workers comp and federal employment law to employees who misunderstand what their rights are, or do not give us the right information to help them get the help they need.

Of course, we are the big bad employer, so any information we give them is suspect. I have considered hiring a social worker as a case manager/advocate for these people, but that position would just be interpreted as another tool of the evil employer out to keep them out of work/make them go back to work in violation of their best interests, so it would be a waste.

We would LOVE if there was an independent agency that would assign a case worker, not to work as an attorney for the employees, but as an advocate to help them understand their rights and access the system correctly. I would gladly pay to fund this service.

Then I realized, if the employer, or a group of employers, funded this employee advocacy agency, employees would think the advocates were biased toward the employers and were just in a sham relationship to deprive them of their rights to serve the interest of the employer.

Now, I do not believe this would be the case. I trust in the professionalism and ethics of mediators, but I do believe that uneducated and single users would form that opinion. Professor Murray's opinion reinforces that conclusion, even though at first glance, he would seem to be "educated."

But, is bigger government the answer. My experience with the EEOC is that they want employers to do MORE than is required by law. We have had success with mediators after complaints are filed, but my goal is to get the employees what they need when they need it, not have a mediator help us fix it after time has run out.

What are your thoughts on this?

The Problem as Cognitive Bias

I've highlighted the sections of the GC's email that raise the problem of reactive devaluation -- our tendency to devalue and resist anything our "opponent" offers to us.  Most attorneys were taught reactive devaluation as first year associates -- "if opposing counsel wants it, you don't." 

As the linked article -- Reactive Devaluation in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution -- notes:

One can be led to conclude that any proposal offered by the “other side”—
especially if that other side has long been perceived as an enemy—must be
to our side’s disadvantage, or else it would not have been offered. Such an
inferential process, however, assumes a perfect opposition of interests, or in
other words, a true "zero-Sum" game, when such is rarely the case in real-
world negotiations between parties whose needs, goals, and opportunities
are inevitably complex and varied.

Combatting Reactive Devaluation in the Workforce

Cognitive biases such as reactive devaluation are not random artifacts of an irrelevant evolutionary past.  They are built-in protections against deception by our friends as well as by our adversaries.  There is only one lasting protection against this bias -- to engage in clear communication with your work force on a daily basis concerning the mutual and complementary interests of employer and employee; to express your belief in your interdependence in word and deed, i.e., by engaging in dialogue and activities demonstrating  benevolent intent; and to willingly listen to one another's complaints, understanding that one man's benevolence is another's bondage. 

As recent legal news touching too close to home (the Heller dissolution) bears out, the workplace will not work if the middle or the bottom collapse.  If human resources are your greatest capital asset, attend to the wisdom of Adam Smith Esq. on Heller's recent failure:

"Our assets go down in the elevator every night."

Take that bromide seriously.

You must give people a persuasive reason to come back "home" every Monday morning.they go down the elevator every night and must have a good reason to come "home" the next day. 

Asking Diagnostic Questions and Using Transformative Mediation Methods

I repeatedly tell my clients what I've learned from the academics who teach negotiation strategy and tactics at elite business schools throughout the country -- 93% of all negotiators fail to ask their bargaining partners diagnostic questions the answers to which would dramatically improve the benefits of the bargain to everyone. 

What's a diagnostic question?  One that would reveal our bargaining partners' needs, desires, priorities, preferences and motivations.  I'm no employment expert, but I have participated in the management of law firm personnel as a partner and have been managed by others throughout my professional life.  As a full-time mediator for more than four years, I have also asked hundreds if not thousands of diagnostic questions to help litigation adversaries understand one another's motivations, to reframe those motivations as non-threatening, or, at a minimum, the result of ordinary human fallibility, and to explore the parties' mutual and complementary interests. I also remind my parties and myself as often as possible that you cannot drill a hole in the other guy's side of the boat without making your own side sink to the bottom of the lake as well.

As the transformative mediators who have been most successful in workplace disputes tell us, our job is to assist the parties in moving from fear and powerlessness to accountability and mutual recognition of the interests of the other.

Empowerment, according to [the fathers of the transformative paradigm] Bush and Folger, means enabling the parties to define their own issues and to seek solutions on their own. Recognition means enabling the parties to see and understand the other person's point of view--to understand how they define the problem and why they seek the solution that they do.

(Seeing and understanding, it should be noted, do not constitute agreement with those views.)

Often, empowerment and recognition pave the way for a mutually agreeable settlement, but that is only a secondary effect. The primary goal of transformative medition is to foster the parties' empowerment and recognition, thereby enabling them to approach their current problem, as well as later problems, with a stronger, yet more open view. This approach, according to Bush and Folger, avoids the problem of mediator directiveness which so often occurs in problem-solving mediation, putting responsibility for all outcomes squarely on the disputants.

Rights and Remedies vs. Interests

It's not surprising that employees just don't seem to "get" the legal rights and remedies company HR departments keep trying to explain to them.  They don't make any sense absent legal training.  

People who are not lawyers simply don't understand why there is a legal remedy for one type of injustice but none for another that feels just as unfair.  Let's take our patchwork of Constitutional protections for employees.  As an life-long ACLU member, I'd be the last to denigrate them.  But we have to understand that we've created a "fair" workplace for only some of our citizens, not all of them. 

Women, people over 40, under-represented minorities and the like, can take the square peg of their unfair work treatment and cram it into the round hole of a viable cause of action.  If an employee does not want to cry "gender discrimination" even though she's being treated badly on the job, or if he has no bundle of legal rights to assert, there is no remedy for a termination that feels (yes, feels) wrongful.  Remember, it took us lawyers quite some time for the legal worldview to "click" and we were immersed in it, drilled in it and eager to learn it.  Employees just want someone to listen to their problem and to help them resolve it.  They don't want to know the wage-hour laws, the need to exhaust administrative remedies with the EEOC and the like.  

Employees and employers have people problems with justice issues, not legal problems with "irrelevant" emotional responses that get in the way of resolution. 

Expressed emotion is the key, not the lock. 

It is we -- the lawyers -- who legalize and monetize injustice, shutting our clients down when they try to explain what the problem really is because it's irrelevant to the legal solution.

If you're old enough to remember the lingering moment in United States history when our educational institutions went from white, on the one hand, to multi-hued, on the other, you'll know intimately how you deal with reactive devaluation.  You get to know one another.  Do this and Kaneesha is not "black" or "African American" but a well-known acquaintance or dear friend.  The same is true for employers and employees.  Create activities in which (alleged) oppressor and (purported) oppressed come together to engage in mutually productive (Habitat for Humanity springs to mind) and mutually enjoyable (basketball?  girls nights out?) activities.  At the holiday party, don't relegate the "underlings" to their own table.  Walk your talk.  Destroy the hierarchy everywhere except where it's actually necessary to get work done. 

I can't describe the benefits of interest-based resolutions over rights-based solutions any better than does my mentor and friend, Ken Cloke, in his brilliant new book -- Conflict Revolution.

[r]ights-based processes . . . generate winners and losers, undermine relationships, and result in collateral damage, . . . Since rights rely on rules, change is discouraged, though not prevented, and conflicts are settled rather than prevented or resolved.

This is not easy work. As a mediator, I know how elusive Cloke’s “outcomes” can be

--  outcomes [in which] both sides win and no one loses, when former adversaries en-
gage in meaningful dialogue and reach satisfying agreements, and when power is exercised with and for each other by jointly solving common problems.

I have, I am afraid, given my GC a problem rather than a solution.  More accurately, I've suggested an altered way of looking at the problem without a great deal of detail about crafting a solution.  Not only could people better versed in employee relations write books on this topic, they have.  Therefore, I'm asking my good ADR blogging buddies to please chime in here for you.

Diane LevinGeoff SharpBlaine DonaisOmbuds Blog? John DeGrooteNancy HudginsStephanie West Allen Gini NelsonTammy Lenski?

 

 

 

Ken Adams -- That's Conflict PREVENTION and Resolution

My only regret about leaving legal practice when I did is that I did so before Ken Adams started the AdamsDrafting Blog.  Now he's made me doubly regretful, having published A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, Second Edition.  See the ABA Q&A with Adams here.

One of the panels that uses my services is the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution ("CPR").  No other ADR panel I'm aware of preaches PREVENTION the way CPR does. 

The best means of preventing conflict from ripening into a dispute?  Clear communication.  And the best way to make sure your business deal is durable?  Clear contract drafting.

I've got Ken's book on my nightstand (did anyone ever SAY I wasn't geeky?).  You should have it on your desk and more importantly, open and in your hand even when writing confirming letters.  It's full of great dispute prevention strategies and tactics. 

Blawg Review #178 Celebrates One Web Day

If you believe that law blogging is not only informative and entertaining, but capable of transforming our lives, our society, our culture and our legal system as well, run don't walk over to Peter Black's Freedom to Differ which not only rocks, it twitters, on One Web Day.  Surely this will be the BlawgReview of the year!

. . . .one recurring theme on this blog has always been a recognition of the value in a strong and free internet.  Therefore it is an honour to be able to host Blawg Review on Monday September 22, 2008, which is One Web Day 2008.  One Web Day was founded three years ago by Professor Susan Crawford from the University of Michigan, and she describes it as an "Earth Day for the internet".  The One Web Day website describes the day in the following terms:

The idea behind OneWebDay is to focus attention on a key internet value (this year, online participation in democracy), focus attention on local internet concerns (connectivity, censorship, individual skills), and create a global constituency that cares about protecting and defending the internet.  So, think of OneWebDay as an environmental movement for the Internet ecosystem. It’s a platform for people to educate and activate others about issues that are important for the Internet’s future.

If you'd like to host BlawgReview or submit to it, click here.  All future BlawgReview hosts please note -- THE BAR HAS BEEN RAISED!

Private Means for Public Justice? Professor Murray Responds

After generously commenting on my own comments to his article on the Privitization of Justice (any chance I can get permission to publish it here Professor?), Harvard Law School Professor Peter Murray left a comment which I've decided to bring "upstairs." 

Murray assures me he is no "enemy" of mediation, reminding me that behind every accusation (mine) is a cry for help (mine) which I sometimes think this entire blog-effort consists of.  In Jerry McGuire's words, help me help you.  Professor Murray has graciously offered to do so by joining the (soon to be formed) steering committee of the LegalTED Conference about which you'll all see much more after the election. 

Professor Murray's comment below.

Ms. Pynchon's comments on my article on privatization of civil justice are right on. Of course the situation is nuanced. Mediation is an excellent technique to facilitate settlement of many, perhaps a majority, of the disputes which end up in the civil courts. My point is that having this service provided by private professionals rather than public servants increases the likelihood of economic influences playing a larger role than they would in a purely public institution. And mediated results, while providing some attributes that litigants cannot obtain in public judgments, does not provide others, namely a kind of vindication and creation of public norms to govern others.

I would be delighted to join a Steering Committee to set up a conference on these issues.

Let the conversation continue!

 

Law in Motion at KobreGuide

Are you spending too much time surfing channels or cruising YouTube for quality documentary film? 

Absent my NetFlix picks, I'd be wailing 600 channels and there's NOTHING to see!

Now there's KobreGuide with its own law channel here.

The Guide takes its name from its publisher and editor  Ken Kobré whose textbook (right) has been  widest-selling text on photojournalism in the world for nearly thirty years.  

I'd be excited about this new way to find quality moving journalism on the 'net whether or not my good friend journalist-mediator Jerry Lazar wasn't serving as Editorial Director -- a guy with some of the best instincts for quality journalism in the country.  Here's how the Kobre Guide describes itself:

This project is an antidote to comprehensive Web video portals, such as YouTube and MetaCafe... We're focusing instead on handpicked, high-quality documentary-style journalism that is being produced primarily by major media outlets -- and frustratingly difficult for consumers to find...

We're a "curated" site (to use the latest buzzword, now that "edited" seems to have lost favor), which means that we're relying on discerning eyes and ears of people like YOU (and not search engines or web bots) to help alert and point us to the creme de la creme ...

We've already located scores of prizeworthy multimedia gems to showcase at launch, and now we're soliciting input from smart folks like you, who are in a position to know about and share the good stuff out there...

Criteria? ... Think "60 Minutes" TV newsmagazine-style journalism (NOT daily news or event coverage) -- but geared for the Web... Mainly video, but also compelling audio-slideshows, or a hybrid thereof...

In short: True (nonfiction) journalism Web multimedia stories of the highest professional quality...

Potential for Treble Damages Adds Weight to Settlement Demands for Bad Faith

The following important update on the recovery of bad faith treble damages from the lawyers at  Edwards, Angell, Palmer & Dodge

California Federal Court: Insured Plaintiff Can Seek Treble Punitive Damages For Insurer’s Alleged Bad Faith

The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California recently denied a motion to strike and allowed a plaintiff to pursue treble punitive damages against his insurer for the insurer’s alleged bad faith. Novick v. UNUM Life Insurance Co. of America, C.A. No. 08-02830-DDP-PJW (Aug. 7, 2008).

The insurer issued a long term disability benefits policy to the plaintiff in 1976, providing benefits should the plaintiff become totally disabled due to an accident sustained during the course of his career as a surgeon. In June 1992, the plaintiff filed a disability claim with his insurer after sustaining a spinal injury that allegedly prevented him from performing surgery. The insurer initially paid benefits to the plaintiff, but discontinued making the benefits payments on January 18, 2007. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff filed suit against its insurer alleging breach of contact and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

In his complaint, plaintiff seeks punitive damages pursuant to California Civil Code §3294, which allows an award of punitive damages for conduct that constitutes malice, fraud or oppression. The plaintiff also seeks treble punitive damages pursuant to California Civil Code §3345, which provides for an award of treble damages “in actions brought by, on behalf of, or for the benefit of senior citizens or disabled persons . . . to redress unfair and deceptive acts or practices or unfair methods of competition . . . [when] a trier of fact is authorized by statute to impose either a fine, or a civil penalty or other penalty, or any other remedy for the purpose or effect of which is to punish or deter . . . .”

The insurer argued that §3345 does not provide for the trebling of damages for insurance bad faith claims. The court reviewed the legislative intent behind the statute and determined that the legislature did not intend for the statute to be limited to actions that specifically mention unfair business practices. The court noted that, as bad faith claims redress unfair practices, §3345 applies to insurance bad faith claims. Accordingly, as the plaintiff alleges that the insurer acted in bad faith, the court held that the plaintiff is entitled to pursue his request for treble punitive damages.

Full text of opinion here.

John DeGroote's Settlement Perspective is the Great New Kid on the Block

John DeGroote of Settlement Perspectives soon to appear at Mediate.com Featured Blogs.  The missing link between mediators and litigators. 

The client!!

Now we just need a blogging claims adjuster and we can bring peace to the Middle East.

Below are John's impressive credentials.  We meant to meet for a "quick" cup of coffee.  We talked negotiation strategy and tactics for nearly three hours.

As I review websites I often wonder about the experiences of the authors and the biases they bring, so I feel I should disclose mine for those who want to know more. I have been fortunate to work with two “hands on” in-house legal teams, with settlement negotiations handled primarily by employed lawyers rather than their law firms. I am also lucky to have practiced in law firms with true trial lawyers who generated genuine negotiating leverage whether settlement was their objective or not. Through these experiences I have settled cases threatened, pending or mediated in about 20 states - from Montana to Florida and from New Hampshire to California - and have managed the resolution of disputes around the world. Working with and against some very good lawyers and employing some of the truly legendary mediators, I feel fortunate to have seen a real cross-section of styles and approaches. In almost all of these cases I have had the opportunity to work behind closed doors with the people who really decide when cases settle - CEOs, CFOs, General Counsel, COOs, individual plaintiffs, insurers, board members, auditors, and more.

More on Mediation's Corruption of Justice

I note today that yesterday's post was . . . . well . . . a little snippy.  

Now that I've managed to get my hands on a copy of Professor Murray's article on the privitization of justice (which I'll post as soon as someone gives me permission to do so) I have a few more observations that are more nuanced than my first reaction.

First, I note that much of Professor Murray's article focuses on arbitration agreements that are forced down the throats of consumers -- an injustice that is so far removed from one that might arise in a mediated settlement conference that I'd like to address it separately on another day.  

Second, I am not without criticism of court-annexed mediation practices -- those criticisms populate this blog in great number.  Nor am I naive or inexperienced enough to pretend that mediators do not effect party decisions even when they are represented by attorneys who are presumably mediation- and mediator-savvy.     

Nevertheless, re-reading Professor Murray's criticisms of mediation this morning, I am once again stuck by the number of untested assumptions upon which he bases his pretty radical suggestion that mediated settlement agreements be vetted by judicial officers. The major and minor premises of Professor Murray's accusation that mediation corrupts justice include the following:

  • there is only one set of "powerful repeat players" -- insurance companies -- who choose and use the services of mediators;
  • the other set of repeat players -- plaintiffs' personal injury and employment counsel -- are more or less universally poorly equipped to either influence the mediator or to protect their clients from mediator bias;
  • the easily influenced plaintiffs' bar, if not protected from mediator bias, will counsel their clients to voluntarily enter into sub-optimal settlement agreements that favor the interests of insurance carriers over those of their own clients';
  • there is such a thing as an "objectively bad settlement" that a judicial officer would be  equipped to detect and remedy; 
  • money paid to a "neutral" is the only pernicious influence on dispute outcome, as opposed to, say, racial, nationality, gender, and/or any other socio-economic differences between a judicial officer and a litigant or between the jury and a litigant; and,
  • judicial officers are not subject to the influence of the repeat attorney-players who appear before them and socialize with them at Bar Association and other events.

Of all of the assumptions requiring testing before we impose a supervisory judiciary upon mediators, the premise that an objective, measureably "reasonable" settlement of any dispute exists is the one that most requires addressing.  

Because I could write a book on this topic, let me just highlight some of the factors that would make third-party vetting of mediated settlement agreements difficult to impossible. 

  • money is not the only reason people file suit nor the only basis for their decision to settle it;
  • whether the litigation at issue is a $2500 slip and fall action between a local grocery store and its customer; or a billion dollar insurance coverage dispute between an insurance carrier and an oil company, the people and commercial players involved are at least as -- if not more -- concerned with injustices that the law does not address as they are with those that it can address;
  • though mediated settlement agreements are partially based upon the cost of further litigation and trial, on the one hand, and the probability of victory times the potential jury verdict on the other hand, they are also based on party needs, desires and fears that have nothing whatsoever to do with legal causes of action such as:
    • a corporation's fear that it will not be able to overcome jury bias against commercial enterprises, particularly if that enterprise is engaged in providing liability and/or property damage insurance to its customers;
    • the fear of individuals that they will not be able to overcome jury bias against any marker of their marginalization from the dominant culture such as color, gender, nationality, sexuality or religion;
    • the desire that one's opponent acknowledge responsibility for the role he/she/it played in the events giving rise to the dispute and for the actions taken to resolve it, many of which further inflame the parties' experience of injustice; 
    • party desires for revenge; and,
    • party tendencies to "read" and "spin" the dispute in a way that is favorable to him/her/it in all particulars -- misperceptions that are often corrected in the course of joint sessions between the parties who actually experienced the injury-causing event.

Examples of ways in which parties are able to resolve conflict in the context of their highly individual interests rather than the little buckets of rights and remedies into which we pour the facts of their dispute?

  • a physician gives his consent to settle a malpractice action when he realizes that the Plaintiff is not attempting to "hold him up" but genuinely experienced the breast examination he gave her as an assault;
  • the creditor agrees to settle for pennies on the dollar when convinced by evidence proffered during a confidential mediation session that the debtor would be bankrupted by any payment in excess of the offer (evidence not discoverable in litigation because it is not "relevant" to the causes of action alleged);
  • garment manufacturers settle acrimonious copyright infringement litigation after their counsel allow them to have a confidential mediation conversation which cannot be used in court against them during which they learn that they have more in common -- and more ways to advantage one another economically -- than they have to fight about;
  • claims adjuster is brought to tears -- and seeks greater settlement authority -- by a father's frank confession in a confidential mediation conversation of the guilt he carries for the loss of his child in an automobile accident caused by the  high speed blow-out of an allegedly defective tire; and,
  • family members not only settle their lawsuit but reconcile after years of self-imposed exile when they realize the "family" asset they've been fighting over is worth less to them than their love for one another. 

What I'd like Professor Murray and everyone who reads his article to understand is that we all share this justice problem.  The adjudication system is not working well for the people it was designed to serve.  The ADR options we've put in place to smooth out the rough edges of 18th century adversarial theory and practice are themselves insufficient to efficiently and fairly resolve 21st century conflicts.      

That's why I'm calling for a LegalTED Conference.  And if Professor Murray will forgive the snippiness of yesterday's post, I'd like him to be one of the members of  the Steering Committee.

Negotiating Justice: Are Mediators Corrupting the Legal System?

Check out Geoff Sharp's review of Harvard Law School Professor Peter Murray's article The Privatization of Civil Justice recently published in the summer issue of Judicature magazine.  

The bottom line? 

  1. because mediators are people we must naturally place our own self-interest above that of the people we serve; and,
  2. because insurance companies are ADR "repeat players," we mediators will naturally favor them because . . . you got it . . .we can't help but serve our own selfish economic interests.

(below:  the Harvard Law School diploma that will be earned Professor Murray's students before they go on to serve the justice needs of "the people" against the corporate interests we mediators are presumably serving) 

Granted, I haven't read the entire article because it is apparently in Professor Murray's economic self-interest to publish his condemnation of mediators in a journal we can't read without subscribing to it (yes, thanks, Professor, I'd love a .pdf of the article so I can share it with my readers).  

If I could induce the good Professor into a dialogue with the mediation community, I'd start with these questions:  

  1. do you know that the non-repeat plaintiffs who you assume are victims of my bias  are represented by competent attorneys who are as much repeat players in litigation as are insurance carriers;
  2. do you know that both repeat-player attorneys in the type of litigation your article concerns (personal injury and employment) choose the mediator who will assist them in negotiating settlement;
  3. do you know that JAMS -- who you single out for opproprium -- is not in the personal injury  business, but rather provides mediators to well-heeled, repeat-player corporate disputants who cannot be shoe-horned into any easy victim-victimizer role;  
  4. do you have any data suggesting that mediators can and do exercise such a great degree of systematic undue influence on personal injury and employment plaintiffs' attorneys that they voluntarily enter into settlement agreements that favor their opponent;
  5. do you have any comparative data suggesting that the more well-heeled repeat player -- the dastardly insurance carriers -- will achieve more just results for their clients before a jury than they would have by negotiating a settlement agreement with the assistance of the (presumably dastardly) mediator; and, finally,
  6. have you ever actually represented either half of this particular justice coin in litigation; tried any case to a jury; lost any case to a pre-trial ruling; or settled any case with the assistance of a mediator?

 

18th Century Technology; 21st Century Problems

LegalTED, coming soon to a conflict near you.

In the meantime, I'm off to one of my two favorite cities in the entire world:  Manhattan.  In the meantime, I leave you in the capable hands of Albert Einstein.

Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage - to move in the opposite direction.

Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.

Concern for man and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.

Everything should be as simple as it is, but not simpler. 


God may be subtle, but he isn't plain mean. 

I've no special talent. I am only passionately curious.
 

And here, from BNet, How to Solve a Problem:
 


1. Pretend you know what to do; maybe you do.

2. Think of impractical ideas; they lead you to practical ones.

3. Come up with illogical ideas; they may lead you to logical ones.

4. Come up with wrong answers; they may lead you to right ones. In fact, come up with the stupid, foolish, and absurd answers. They may lead to the smart, feasible ones.

5. Turn the situation into a metaphor: What if it were a sports game? An elevator? A
cowboy movie? A vacation?

6. Break the rules; as Von Oech says, "You can't solve today's problems with yesterday's solutions. "

7. Play "what if. " Pretend you're a wizard. What if things could be any way you can
imagine?

S. When you find the right answer, look for another one. It may be better than the first.

9. Consider how someone in another profession or field would approach this situation.  What would an architect do? An actress? A farmer?

10. Ask the question differently. What if the problem isn't what you think it is?

An Idea Whose Time Has Come: A Legal TED Conference

A lessee of commercial office space complains that the common areas are not being properly maintained. The local high school has just banned Catcher in the Rye. Again.  A prestigious law firm fires a first year associate because he refuses to remove his new “tongue stud.” These seemingly disparate disputes have one quite obvious but ill understood characteristic in common – they are all examples of unresolved conflicts that have ripened into discrete disputes.

Pretend for a moment that you never went to law school.  I know.  It's hard.  But give it a shot.

Lawyers (those other people who went to law school) are are trained to understand, manage and remedy all disputes, no matter however different they might be, in a single, highly controlled manner.  

To help their clients deal with the problems mentioned here, lawyers will read the lease; research the latest Supreme Court rulings ("Fuck the draft"); and, study the statutes. Once they understand the facts that are relevant to the law, they “think like lawyers.”

How do they do that?  "Think" like lawyers?

First, they subject the facts and the law to as much scrutiny as any idea can bear before it disintegrates into the dust of first principles. They create a chronology of events, highlighting and tailoring the "story" of the conflict that "fits" the available "causes of action" giving rise to "rights" in their client, obligations in their "opponent" and remedies for the harm suffered.  

This "legal" dispute was once about a relationship between people.   Now it is an "actionable" claim in an extremely controlled process in which one of the parties will "win." 

That, of course, rarely happens because the legal system has become too expensive and the law too uncertain for most people to risk what used to be it's goal -- a jury trial.  

Lawyers recognize frivolous or baseless or "defendable" claims by observing just how uncomfortably the “facts” sit inside their opponent's “causes of action.” When called upon to justify their entitlement to get their client's claim before a jury (demurrers, motions for judgment on the pleadings, summary judgment motions, non-suits) the Plaintiff's attorneys can and will simply change the way the story is told.  They make the facts fit the law.  There's nothing wrong with that.  That's their job.  If the facts won't "fit" the law, lawyers apply themselves to the law's creative expansion. 

What attorneys do not learn in law school is how and why conflict develops into a dispute and then predictably evolves, usually getting more acrimonious and difficult to resolve.

My friends who are lawyers (I never went to law school, remember? and neither did you) tell me that they know how to escalate conflict but not how to de-escalate it.  They also tell me that they see a lot of injustice.  Sometimes the injustice arises because the laws themselves are unjust.  Sometimes the tragic and unfair consequences of human interactions just don't have any legal remedy.  And sometimes the legal process itself makes disputes worse -- more protracted, frustrating and expensive -- rather than better.  

In common law countries, like ours, where the law is forged in the fire of conflict, shouldn't attorneys be taught not only how to "win the case" but also how to dampen the flame?  Most litigators I know would respond with a resounding "no!"   

Conflict resolution that is not "handled" as litigation or arbitration is for some other professional to deal with.  Therapists come to mind.  Don't they help the parties deal with that most uncontrollable aspect of any dispute -- something not only lawyers but the law itself exclude from the legal action?

 Feelings.  Not just sad or mad feelings.  But the type of feelings that make teenagers shoot other teenagers on the streets of Los Angeles.  Feelings of loss, tragically unfair outcomes, powerlessness, rage and despair.

The purpose of this post and the new thread that it is meant to begin?  To start something radical.

If you're not aware of what I'm about to tell you, you should be.

Once a year, 1000 people are invited to the TED Conference in Monterey, California, to exchange something of incalculable value: their ideas. TED's mission statement is as simple as it gets:  

TED is devoted to giving millions of knowledge-seekers around the globe direct access to the world's greatest thinkers and teachers.

You can cruise the jaw-dropping results here.

(image links to the Photography site of Lars Kirchhoff)

I was just talking to a friend over coffee the other day about how we're using 18th Century technology (the jury trial) to solve 21st Century problems.  

Here's the idea.  A legal TED Conference. 

If you'll look at what TED accomplishes, you'll know what I don't mean.  I don't mean a conference to trot out any new/old "ADR" ideas -- mediate this, arbitrate that, create new rules and forms for the lawyers to use. 

No.

I mean creating the highest level think tank we can to first envision and then implement a dispute resolution technology that incorporates what we've learned since we first enshrined the jury trial in our Constitution more than 200 years ago.

I have one man in mind -- Larry Lessig.  But surely there are others.  The first step would be to suggest names for the coordinating committee.

Why do I think of TED?  Because what it envisions cannot be accomplished.  It cannot even be envisioned.  It's a fool's errand.  One I'd be willing to spend the rest of my own life working on.

Would anyone care to join me?

Negotiate Sobriety with the Labor Day Edition of Blawg Review # 175 at Austin DWI Lawyer

If you've never been asked to perform a field sobriety test, raise your hand.  That's what I thought.  Only Ken Adams whose Dilbert post was one of my week's favorites.

And for the three of you who have not yet seen this video of why not to come to court drunk and how not to respond to the Judge's questions in an intoxicated state, see this hilarious video. 

 

The rest of us -- most of us - by the grace of whatever Higher Power we invoke in our darker moments - have not needed the services of Jamie Spencer at the Austin DWI Lawyer Blog, host of the Labor Day Edition of Blawg Review #175.

This week, Jamie brings us, among other great posts of last week:

Res Ipsa's tutorial on FirefoxJordan Furlong’s radical suggestion that non-lawyers (ever heard of a "non-physician"?) can do a lot of good legal work without putting the rest of us out of work; Dan Hull's recommendation that first and second year associates be paid in experience rather than dollars (make law school one year and you're on Dan);  Lawrence Taylor's frightening image of cops with needles;  our sister blog's coverage of the recent FBI Blogger arrest and tips on negotiating with the FBI when they're on your doorstep; Susan Crawford's thoughts on nondiscriminatory Internet accessRandazza's trip down baby-boom lane in a "Fuck the Draft" leather jacket (yes, Gen X and Y, we'll be happy to receive your thank you notes for abolishing the draft now); Mark Hermann's post on enjoining a drug companies to give patients access to unapproved, experimental drugs; and much, much more. 

Check Blawg Review for submission guidelines to host Legal Literacy, a blog I've never visited but will now add to my Google reader as a good source for material on its topic -- building bridges between business and the law.  

Finally, my best field sobriety test anecdote from the police report:

Police officer:  Please recite the alphabet backwards.

Driver: (laughing)  Are you kidding?  I can't even do that when I'm sober!

Here's the web page for The Other Bar for any attorney who believes he or she may have just a tiny problem, perhaps a small issue, with drugs or alcohol.  There's no day quite like the day you finally realize that there's a single, relatively simple solution to an enormous number of personal and professional problems.

Step One:  We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

What Can You Do if Someone Breaches a Mediation Confidentiality Agreement?

(image from and links to HOA Issues Solved in Five Steps)

I've recently been covering mediation confidentiality from an attorney's point of view.  Because my statistics page reminds me that clients also read this blog, I sometimes direct posts to the people with the problem -- clients.  

This morning I notice that someone landed on my site seeking an answer to this question:

What can you do if your HOA Board member breaks the mediation confidentiality agreement.

The lawyerlike answer to this question is  -- "it depends upon what the agreement says." 

But let's assume the question is covered by California law.  

The Scope and Effect of Mediation Confidentiality in the Hands of Clients

Nearly every mediator begins every mediation session by explaining how and why information exchanged in mediations is confidential.  I know from my community mediation work that the people usually want to know something lawyers rarely ask -- whether they'll be able to discuss what happened in the mediation with friends or family.

In the absence of a more restrictive agreement among the parties, under California law today, the answer is "yes, they can."

What's confidential?  The California Evidence Code (section 1119) says that everythng said or done during a mediation is confidential   

But what does "confidential" mean?  .

Under the California Evidence Code, statements made in a mediation are 

  • not admissible in evidence; and,
  • cannot be "discovered," i.e., you cannot be compelled to disclose those communications in answers to interrogatories, in deposition testimony and the like. 

Those are the only restrictions on the disclosure of confidences exchanged in a mediation held in California in the absence of a more restrictive agreement. Unless a California court broadens the scope of mediation confidentiality, an HOA Board Member who runs around the complex or neighborhood talking about who said what during a mediation is not "breaking" (breaching) the California's protections for mediation confidences.  

The Parties Can and Do, However, Agree to Limit the Communication of Mediation Confidences to the Participants in the Mediation.

A contract is an agreement that creates private law governing the parties' relationship with one another.  If you enter into a Confidentiality Agreement in mediation, you should understand that you are creating obligations that bind you as well as rights that protect you.  A google search turned up Confidentiality Agreements that provide remedies for their breach.  This one for instance provides two poential consequences for breach: 

  1. any party to the agreement is entitled to ask the court to stop (enjoin) any other party from disclosing confidential communications; and,
  2. the party who wrongfully discloses mediation confidences will be liable in damages (including the expense hiring attorneys) for any damages caused by his or her breach of the confidentiality agreement.  

The California-based ADR Services has a similar term in its Confidentiality Agreement (here). 

Failure to obey an Injunction can be enforced by contempt, but this remedy is expensive, would require multiple trips to the courthouse, is difficult to obtain and would not likely make up for the harm caused by disclosure.  The second remedy - damages -- would require you to file a lawsuit and your monetary losses are highly unlikely to be worth the expense of litigation.

Here's another Confidentiality Agreement that expressly incorporates the  provisions of the California Evidence Code.  This agreement prevents the parties from:

disclos[ing confidential information] to anyone [who is] not involved in any existing litigation, or any litigation that may arise, concerning the subject matter of this mediation session . . . . 

The term "involved in . . . litigation . . . concerning the subject matter of this mediation" is broad and ill-defined. All homeowners might be said to be "involved in" the litigation subject of the mediation.  If you read the contract language broadly, you might convince your HOA Board member that talking about the medaition around the condominium complex or in the neighborhood violates the Confidentiality Agreement.

There's nothing in this agreement, however, that states what the consequences of breach might be.  Nevertheless, if you suffered monetary harm as the result of the breach, you might well be able to file suit for damages in a breach of contract action.  Off the top of my head, I can't think of any harm that might flow from the Board Member's indiscretions that would cause sufficient economic harm to justify the cost of a lawsuit.

The commercial ADR panel on which I serve, Judicate West, makes a form Confidentiality Agreement available to the parties (here) which merely restates the controlling principles of confidentiality law in the State of California.  In light of the recent Thottam opinion in California, I would hesitate before asking parties to sign any agreement that:

  1. expands the scope of confidentiality beyond that provided by the Evidence Code, while at the same time,
  2. carves out an exception for the enforcement of the agreement.

For my analysis of that opinion and the problems it creates for mediators drafting confidentiality agreements, click here and here.  

 

California Courts Let You Have it Your Way: Arbitrate and Appeal the Award

(while we're walking down memory lane anyway, "Have It Your Way" from 1976) 

When I ask litigators why they don't choose arbitration over litigation before unpredictable judges in a crowded court, their answer invariably is "because I can't appeal the ruling."   We cling to appellate review even though we appeal fewer cases than we try -- which is a very small percentage of our case load as it is. 

Not surprising, however, we litigators, as Max Kennerly recently noted, tend to be risk-averse, not risk-embracing (h/t Blawg Review # 174).  To give up that one last chance for our client to be vindicated and for us to be triumphant is generally just too much for us. 

Now we can have our arbitration cake and and follow it up with appellate ice cream.  Yesterday, the California Supreme Court in Cable Connection, Inc. v. DirecTV  held that arbitrating parties' agreement to seek appellate review of legal errors is enforceable in California State Courts despite its uneforceability in federal court.  As the Supreme Court explained:

On the first question, the United States Supreme Court has held that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA; 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq.) does not permit the parties to expand the scope of review by agreement. (Hall Street Associates, L.L.C. v. Mattel, Inc. (2008) __ U.S. __ [128 S.Ct. 1396, 1404-1405] (Hall Street).)

However, the high court went on to say that federal law does not preclude “more searching review based on authority outside the [federal] statute,” including “state statutory or common law.” (Id. at p. __ [128 S.Ct. at p. 1406].) In Moncharsh v. Heily & Blase (1992) 3 Cal.4th 1 (Moncharsh), this court reviewed the history of the California Arbitration Act (CAA; Code Civ. Proc., § 1280 et seq.).

We adhere to our holding in Moncharsh, recognizing that contractual limitations may  alter the usual scope of review.

The California rule is that the parties may obtain judicial review of the merits by express agreement. There is a statutory as well as a contractual basis for this rule; one of the grounds for review of an arbitration award is that “[t]he arbitrators  exceeded their powers.”  (§§ 1286.2, subd. (a)(4), 1286.6, subd. (b).)

Here, the parties agreed that “[t]he arbitrators shall not have the power to commit errors of law or legal reasoning, and the award may be vacated or corrected on appeal to a court of competent jurisdiction for any such error.” This contract provision is enforceable under state law, and we reverse the contrary ruling of the Court of Appeal.

Don't Like Mediation Confidentiality? Hold a Settlement Conference Instead

 

 

AUGUST 25, 2008 | FORUM

If You Know the Case Law, Litigation Doesn't Have to be Robotic

By Victoria Pynchon 

Here in California, there's no stronger rule of confidentiality than that applied to a mediation. It cannot be impliedly waived like most privileges, including the near-sacred attorney-client privilege. Simmons v. Ghaderi, 2008 DJDAR 11107. You cannot be estopped from relying on it. Eisendrath v. Superior Court, 109 Cal.App.4th 351 (2003). And if you want your mediated settlement agreement enforced, you must strictly comply with the requirements of Evidence Code Section 1123. Fair v. Bakhtiari, 40 Cal.4th 189 (2006).

Insurance policy-holder counsel Kirk Pasich of Dickstein Shapiro has criticized nearly all recent interpretations of mediation confidentiality by the California Supreme Court on the ground that they permit insurance carriers to use mediation proceedings to engage in acts of bad faith.

"Why should a carrier get a license to act in bad faith in mediation," Pasich asked, adding, "Cases settled, and still settle, in mandatory settlement conferences without that same shield. I don't think a process should exist that encourages, rather than discourages, a party from acting in bad faith."

Why, indeed?

If you do not understand the differences between settlement conferences and mediations, you are not alone. My informal surveys indicate that litigators believe there's no difference whatsoever between the two and few mediators are able to distinguish between them despite their training in the field. Nor have California's courts been of any real assistance.

What's in a name? Here, plenty. The application of California's Rules of Evidence to mediations has such significant potential economic consequences that mediator and litigator malpractice actions are surely looming on the horizon.

What type of misbehavior can occur in a mediation? Here are just a few examples: One party can make a misrepresentation of material fact on which the other relies in entering into a settlement agreement; as Pasich notes, an insurance carrier can act in bad faith; one mediating party could tortiously interfere with a third party's contract or prospective economic advantage; or the mediating parties can enter into a collusive settlement agreement, depriving the settling parties' co-defendants from learning facts necessary to challenge the settlement in a "good faith" hearing.

Even if all parties have expressed complete agreement during the mediation, which they then memorialize in a term sheet, absent strict compliance with the requirements of Evidence Code Section 1123, no evidence probative of that agreement will be admissible in a California court.
If the mediating parties are engaged in a settlement conference, none of this potentially bad behavior would be protected.

Given the potentially significant adverse economic consequences that can flow from a mediation, California's courts have clarified the differences between the two procedures, right?

Not so much.

If you have a DJ subscription, continue reading here.


 


Enforcement of Mediated Settlement Agreements in California - Get more Legal Forms

Settlement Unicorn Appears in Malpractice Mediation!

If you've been following the conversation between Settle It Now and Max Kennerly's Philadelphia Litigation and Trial Blog, you'll know that a "settlement unicorn" is composed of "two hostile parties on the verge of a lawsuit [who] get lawyers, almost file suit, and then, through deft representation, settle their differences peacefully and move on." 

I believe in Unicorns and Max doesn't so I've promised to keep my eyes open for appearances of that storied creature.  Previously, I have reported the Unicorn's appearance here (community mediation; potential lawsuit, no lawyers); here (litigation + lawyers who send the parties to community mediation); and, here (litigation + lawyers + clients who seek mediation without lawyers to resolve dispute).  

Today, I have a story of the Unicorn visiting the mediation room in a litigated case -- a case of the type that my (new) friend Max Kennerly suggests will not attract that shy beast because: 

The parties to a lawsuit do not have intertwined interests: they have directly adverse interests. Unless there's some possibility of a future relationship, the defendant doesn't want to resolve the conflict: they want the plaintiff to drop their frivolous claim. In their mind, their best alternative to a negotiated agreement ("BATNA") is for the plaintiff to crawl in a hole and die.

[My Comment:  the "intertwined interests" all parties to litigation have is the litigation itself with its attendant cost, delay, and, uncertainty, not to mention the discomfort "ordinary" people experience when plunged into the foreign environment occupied by attorneys with their strange "causes of action" and "affirmative defenses," their demurrers and JNOV's; their res ipsas and, most importantly, their view that only facts pertaining to a "cause of action" or "affirmative defense" are relevant to the injustice suffered by their clients.] 

[T]he plaintiff usually prefers imposing a conflict on the defendant (who the plaintiff believes cast the first stone) in pursuit of justice, an imposition they will only relieve for at least "full" compensation. . . .

The problem is that most parties don't consider their claims to be assets; the problem isn't that there's emotional baggage around the economic understanding, it's that the parties interpret their dispute as fundamentally non-economic.

[My Comment:  I've said before that all litigation is "fundamentally non-economic" -- it's about justice.  Though Max is one of the few practicing litigators who agrees with me, he does not believe in the existence of my solution -- a settlement conference or mediation conducted in joint session].

Hence a Mediation Unicorn with litigation and attorneys prior to any meaningful discovery.

I'm talking to a plastic surgeon whose artistry not only went unappreciated, but which gave rise to a lawsuit for battery and malpractice. 

The plaintiff is a model and an actor.  The surgery, she claims, left permanent scaring on her nose.  Her opening demand is $500,000.  I am trying to persuade the physician, his attorney, and the claims adjuster, not to walk out.  The plaintiff's deposition has been taken and the doctor's is scheduled for the following week.  No experts have been retained.  

The parties have made the rare effort to settle the case early in the litigation.

This is what the defense thinks about the opening demand in response to their good faith participation in an early mediation:  

%&*#%*#%@& and %&^@(% and *&$)*#! 

I am suggesting to the defense in separate caucus that they allow me to conduct a joint session in which the parties can talk about the surgery, the scarring and their post-surgical communications.  I explain that the Plaintiff is more angry than acquisitive.  She believes that the doctor disrespected her when she complained about the scarring. 

He denied that I had a scar.  He was rude and dismissive.  He disrespected me.  He had no bedside manner.  

She is one of the few personal injury plaintiffs who comes right out and says what so many plantiffs feel.  

I want him to suffer.  My attorney says he has to report any settlement in excess of $30,000 to the Medical Board.  I want to make him do that.  I want him to suffer as I have.  It's not about the money.  It's about accountability.  I want him to be accountable.   

The parties resist a joint session and we spend two hours negotiating in the strato- and nano-spheres.  $10,000.  $490,000.  $12,500.  $475,000. 

"We're getting nowhere," says Plaintiffs counsel.  "Tell them we're leaving." 

"The case will never settle.  This is a waste of time for my doctor and my claims examiner.  Tell them we're leaving. The case will never settle.  It simply won't settle.  The case cannot settle." 

Click Your Heels Three Times and Say "There's No Place Like Home."

Attorneys are fond of saying that all mediators do is "keep them in the room."  They might be right, but the difference is the room I keep them in.  It's a mediation room, not a conference room or a deposition room or a courtroom.  It's a room in which I ask the doctor if the feeling he has is something akin to a fish being hooked, pulled up out of the water and thrown onto the deck of someone's boat, gasping.  He cracks a smile for the first time that morning.

It's a room in which I say there must have been a miscommunication, a misunderstanding.  It's a room in which I say to the defense that the Plaintiff feels angry and disrespected.  It's a room in which I caution the Plaintiff that the physician is from a different culture than her own -- one where a doctor does not express empathy but only certainty in his skill and expertise. 

The claims adjuster asks me if I'd been able to see the Plaintiff's scar from where I was sitting -- across a conference room table.  I admit that I could not.  I acknowledge what is patent in the defense room -- the Plaintiff is blindingly beautiful.  A jury is unlikely to award her much in the way of damages.  I have said as much to the Plaintiff.  But she is angry and wants a pound of flesh.

I have another mediation in the afternoon.  I tell the defense we have fifteen more minutes.  The claims adjuster keeps repeating "the case will not settle, the case will not settle, the case will not settle." I take this to mean that the defense very much wants to settle the case. 

"If someone repeats something over and over again," my mentor Ken Cloke taught me, "that is the key to the resolution."  While that might be so, I haven't yet found a way to use that key to open any door.  But it is not really my case to settle.  It's my job to keep them in the room.

"I Want to See the Scar," says the claims examiner.

I wish I could take credit for the following but I cannot.  The Plaintiff's attorney says "why don't they go to the ladies room where my client can show Ms. Y the scar and together they can look at it."

I hear the click of the Unicorn's hooves in the hallway.  The plaintiff's attorney is male.  I don't believe he knows what he's suggesting.  He wants to send two women into one of the safest and most congenial, soul-bonding rooms in all of God's creation -- the women's room.

know the case will settle.

We are finally in joint session.  The claims examiner says, "I want to tell you that I now see the scar.  I'm sorry I denied it.  We'd like to offer you $X to settle the case."

Did $X settle the case?  No.  But $X + $Y settled the case ten minutes later.

And just around the corner, you could see the shadow of the settlement unicorn rear up on its hind legs in celebration.

Seven Ways to Improve Your Working Relationships

Thanks to Kevin's Remarkable Learning Blog (a fellow Forbes Blog Network member) for his  Seven Steps for Mending Broken Business Relationships

Each of the seven steps can help litigators de-escalate the conflict inherent in litigation before all-important settlement negotiations, whether they are conducted with the assistance of a third party neutral or not. 

One or more of them might also help ease tension in the law firm -- a very tense place these days given the recession, lay-off's, the de-equitization of partners and the shedding of non-productive practice groups or of those that might conflict with the law firm your firm is about to merge with. 

It's a rough time.  Let's all be a little more careful of our social capital there. 

We're going to need it.

Decide. The first step is you must decide that you want to improve the relationship. The precursor to this step is recognition - recognizing that the relationship needs improving - but the heart of this is the decision that this relationship matters enough for you to make the effort required to improve it. Without this decision, nothing else matters.

Forgive or let it go. If you feel the other person has done something to cause the rift or break-down, you must either forgive them or let go of your issues with it. Without this step, the steps that follow may help some, but will be limited in their success.

Take ownership. Recognize your role in the relationship, and take ownership and responsibility for it. Yes, deciding and forgiving are accountability actions; but being clear that regardless of the situation you have played a role in the change to the relationship is critical to your success in repairing any damage. Otherwise you are only blaming the other person - which cripples your chance for improvement.

Make your intention clear. Once you have decided to take actions to improve the relationship, your behaviors will change. Take the time to explain your decision and your intention to improve the relationship. Let the other person know that both the situation and the person matter to you, and you want a better relationship. This cements your commitment and communicates your intention to the other person.

Assume positive intent. While I have long believed this concept in a variety of situations, a colleague recently expressed it this way and it makes the idea completely clear. Assume the other person was - and is - acting in good faith. Will you be wrong sometimes? Perhaps. But by starting from this assumption you will immediately change your perception and therefore your behaviors toward that person.

Listen more. We all know how important listening is and how good it makes us feel when we are truly being listened to. Grant that gift to the other person. Listen intently, carefully and actively. Not only will you understand them (and their perspective) better, but they will trust you more and the relationship will build from their perspective.

Make an effort. Deciding is one thing. Doing is quite another. If you want better relationships, you must make the effort - it will seldom, if ever, happen automatically.

For the full post (well worth reading) click here.

Trap for the Unwary in Appointment of Referees

In some cases -- complex construction litigation comes to mind -- fees for a referee can be one of the most substantial costs of litigation.  Yesterday, the Fifth District California Court of Appeal held that a stipulated judicial reference agreement under CCP 638 precludes recovery of prevailing party's fifty percent share of the referee's fees as an item of costs if the parties have agreed in the reference stipulation to split the referee fees.

Solution?  Include in your agreement a provision indicating that the prevailing party in the litigation will be entitled to recover its half of the referee's fees.

See Carr Business Enterprises, Inc. v. City of Chowchilla with gratitude to the Met News for briefing these cases for us and to LACBA for putting them in our in-box every evening.



 

California Litigators -- How to Control Your Own Settlement Conference Destiny

Check out today's post at the IP ADR Blog on the Supreme Court's mediation confidentiality decisions and ways to protect your client from the resulting pitfalls -- Malpractice Alert:  Is it a Settlement Conference or a Mediation

Why you should care about the answer and what you can do to protect your client and yourself.

Daily Journal ADR Articles -- Updated Regularly

This page can always be found under Links to the left. 

Drug and Device Law Blog Achieves Enlightenment

The guys at Drug and Device Law Blog in Random Thoughts on Randomness have gone stark raving sane.  Please send medical assistance.  Western medicine.  With their stats, this could turn into a pandemic.

We admit it: We're as crazy as the next guy.

Heck -- given that we spend nights and weekends feeding this blog, there's a pretty strong argument that we're crazier than the next guy.

We fret about whether each and every one of the ten million documents has been reviewed and coded correctly, and we change commas into dashes -- and back again -- in footnote nine on page thirty of the brief.

We believe that our clients are more likely to win if we do our jobs right, and we devote an awful lot of energy to that cause.

And then the system kicks in.

Courts make utterly unpredictable procedural rulings that dramatically change the value of our cases. The MDL Panel, for example, may decide to consolidate a set of cases in a jurisdiction that previously had nothing to do with the litigation -- like sending Breast Implants to Alabama or Albuterol to Wyoming -- and all of a sudden an unanticipated body of local appellate law governs your federal issues, and your cases are either won or lost for reasons beyond your control. (See In re Korean Airlines, 829 F.2d 1171 (D.C. Cir. 1987).)

Or you tee up a legal issue in front of a judge, and you can't predict the result, because the cases are breaking fifty/fifty in that area. The judge might grant summary judgment, or he might deny it. Or, as happened in Tucker v. SmithKline Beecham recently, he might grant the motion in September and reconsider the following July. Your lawyering skills presumably had nothing to do with it.

One judge grants a Daubert motion, holding that the evidence linking Accutane to inflammatory bowel disease is junk science, inadmissible in a court of law. But, a couple of weeks earlier, a New Jersey jury had awarded millions of dollars of damages based on that same evidence.

One judge holds that a claim accrued on the day the plaintiff was diagnosed with a disease, and another holds that the identical claim -- on identical facts -- didn't accrue until the plaintiff "discovered" his claim based on press coverage or an article in the scientific literature. The statute of limitations bars the first claim; the second one goes forward.

You're a hero or a goat, and you had nothing to do with it.

One judge holds that the warnings on your client's product are adequate as a matter of law. Another holds that the question of adequacy is one of fact, to be decided by a jury.

One jury then finds in your client's favor, but a second jury -- looking at precisely the same warnings -- finds the opposite.

We're not complaining about this, really.

They're our lives, after all, and we picked this profession, and it can be awfully exciting and challenging and, yes, fun.

But doesn't it sometimes feel a tad random?

More to the point, our system sinks tens of millions of dollars into massive discovery to ensure that every last fact is known -- presumably in pursuit of an accurate result. But those carefully honed inputs then yield results that are both unpredictable and flatly inconsistent with each other (which means that at least one was wrong).

If the system ultimately values cases wildly inconsistently, just why does society invest massive resources into trying to ensure accuracy? Aren't there better things to do with our collective wealth?

But we digress.

We have to go back to scrutinizing the footnotes in all of the drug and device precedents, to pry out of them every last ounce of utility for our clients.

If we didn't, then a brief might not be perfect, and we might be more likely to lose.

The Trouble with Thottam: Mediation Confidentiality At Risk

UPDATE:  See the analysis of Thottam at May it Please the Court, noting that the "big print giveth and the small print taketh away."

Before further discussing the problems created by the Thottam holding, I'm providing a "brief" of the case about which I ranted and raved earlier here today.  

  • THE FACTS
    • A mediation confidentiality agreement entered into by the parties in Thottam provided that “all matters discussed, agreed to, admitted to, or resulting from ... [the mediation meeting]...
      • "shall be kept confidential and not disclosed to any outside person . . . ;
      • "shall not be used in any current or future litigation between us (except as may be necessary to enforce any agreements resulting from the Meeting), and,
      • "shall be considered privileged and, as a settlement conference, non-admissible under the California Evidence Code in any current or future litigation between us.”  
    • One of the parties contended that a chart drawn up and signed by the parties during the mediation, 
      • was sufficiently certain to be enforced according to its terms; and,
      • was admissble into evidence under section 1123(c) despite its failure to satisfy any of 1123(c)'s requirements.
    • THE RULES:
      • Evidence Code section 1123(c) provides that a "written settlement agreement prepared in the course of, or pursuant to, a mediation, is not made inadmissible, or protected from disclosure . . . if
        • "the agreement is signed by the settling parties and any of the following conditions are satisfied . . .
        • "(c) all parties to the agreement expressly agree in writing . . . to its disclosure."Id. (emphasis added).
    • PROCEEDINGS IN THE TRIAL COURT
      • Without finding that the settlement "chart" constituted a "written settlement agreement" under section 1123, the Thottam trial court required one of the parties to testify about otherwise confidential mediation communications because the Confidentiality Agreement required the disclosure of mediation confidences "necessary to enforce any agreements resulting from the [mediation.]"
      • Apparently before Elizabeth could testify, the civil action to enforce the alleged settlement agreement was consolidated with other proceedings in the Probate Court,
      • at the trial of the consolidated matters, the Probate Judge refused to accept the settlement chart into evidence because it did not comply with the provisions of section 1123(c).
    • THE APPELLATE DECISION
      • the appellate court reversed the Probate Court's decision.
    • THE HOLDINGS
      • Section 1123(c)'s requirement that all parties to a mediated settlement agreement "expressly agree in writing . . . to its disclosure,"
        • may be satisfied by terms contained in a writing other than the alleged settlement agreement itself; and,
        • may be satisfied by terms contained in a writing executed before any alleged settlement agreement has purportedly been entered into.
      • Here, the Confidentiality Agreement satisfied those requirements; and,
      • The skeletal written settlement chart was enforceable because its material terms were, or could be made, certain. 
    • RATIONALE
      • Because the proceeding in which Appellant attempted to introduce the alleged settlement agreement was an action "to enforce what he claims is a settlement agreement reached in mediation," and,
      • the parties carved out of the Confidentiality Agreement any discussions that were "necessary to enforce any agreements resulting from the [mediation]"
      • the Confidentiality Agreement satisfied the requirements of section 1123(c); and,
      • the skeletal Settlement Chart was therefore admissible in evidence under that subsection.

This opinion threatens to blow a hole in sections 1119 and 1123 large enough to obliterate their protections -- protections that have been repeatedly enforced to the letter of the law by the Supreme Court in its fairly recent Fair v. Bahktiari opinion -- holding that parties to a mediated settlement agreement must include in it an express provision that they intend to be bound thereby -- and Simmons v. Ghaderi  in which the Court held that parties cannot impliedly waive confidentiality nor be estopped from asserting it.

Most Confidentiality Agreements I've seen (and used) naturally carve out an exception for the enforcement of a settlement agreement.  If you sign such an agreement after Thottam, you risk the enforcement of a non-1123-compliant "settlement agreement" and risk being required to disclose otherwise confidential mediation communications on the sole ground that one of the parties alleges that the opposition entered into an enforceable settlement agreement during the mediation.    

Were I attempting to resist the disclosure of mediation confidences my adversary claimed should be fair game under Thottam, I'd contend that the Thottam Confidentiality agreement, and hence its carve-out, was unusually broad and that the Court's holding should therefore be read narrowly and limited to its facts.  

As California lawyers know, the Second Appellate District has jurisdiction over matters litigated in the Los Angeles Superior Court.  It is therefore particularly important to take a look at the impact this decision might have upon matters mediated by the neutrals on that Court's pro bono or party pay panels.  All such parties are required to sign a Confidentiality Agreement that protects from disclosure all mediation-related "written" and "oral communication[s] made by any party, attorney, neutral, or other participant in any ADR session" except  "written settlement agreement[s] reached as a result of this ADR proceeding in an action to enforce that settlement."

Under Thottam, a colorable argument could be made that the mandatory Superior Court Agreement's confidentiality "carve-out" should be treated as either:

  • an express agreement by the parties to waive confidentiality for the purpose of enforcing "written settlement agreement[s]" even if they do not satisfy the requirements of section 1123(c); and/or,
  • a part of the alleged settlement agreement so that the two agreements together (confidentiality carve-out + non-compliant settlement agreement) satisfy the requirements of section 1123(c).

What to do?  Don't sign any Confidentiality agreement that could possibly be interpreted in a manner similar to the one subject of Thottam unless you want to risk the disclosure of mediation confidences arising from a writing that does not comply with section 1123(c).    

You can certainly refuse to sign the Superior Court's agreement in light of the Thottam holding.  I don't know as a matter of Court policy whether that limits parties' ability to use the Court's pro bono or party pay mediators. 

I'd have to say that this case puts confidences made in mediation sessions controlled by the Superior Court's Confidentiality Agreement at risk whenever one party is contending that the other entered into an agreement pursuant to a signed term sheet.

New Case on Enforcing Mediated Settlement Agreements Muddies the Waters Again

The new Estate of Thottham case on the enforcement of mediated settlement agreements is troublesome because

  • it appears to contravene the holding of the Supreme Court in Fair v. Bahktiari (full opinion here)
  • it turns upon the interpretation of one ambiguous sentence in the parties' confidentiality agreement which I'm almost certain was not meant to create an exception to (or satisfy the requirements of) Evidence Code section 1123(c)
  • it shows a remarkable persistence in the trial and appellate courts of the desire to enforce term sheets in non-compliance with the Evidence Code, privileging finality over the the parties' reasonable expectations that all the proclamations about confidentiality will be honored.  
  • it creates uncertainty in the law, making it difficult for attorneys to guide their clients before, during and after mediation proceedings.

This is a ripe area for malpractice actions -- binding parties to agreements they later claim were not reached.  The Supreme Court keeps saying -- we mean what we say (Simmons v. Ghaderi) -- no exceptions to the requirements of 1123(c).  Nevertheless, the trial and appellate courts find enforcing skeletal mediation term sheets (this one was a chart) nearly irrisistable.  They just can't seem to get their minds around the idea that the point of mediation -- a non-legal process -- is to create a durable agreement that the parties all want to enforce.

If a mediated agreement were a consumer contract, there'd be a cooling down period during which the "buyers" could re-think a decision made in the heat of the moment with mediators and attorneys leaning on them to settle or else . . . . you know . . . whatever the parade of horribles is.   

Are parties bullied into settlement by mediators and even by their counsel?  Let's look again at the definition of bullying:  the repeated and deliberate abuse of power by one person or group of people over another person or group.

I'm not suggesting that mediators and attorneys know they are abusing the power of their position and authority to "persuade" the parties to accept a settlement that leaves the taste of injustice in their mouths.  We just sometimes forget how much power we possess and how overwhelming our importuning can feel to someone unfamiliar with the legal system.  Think about how helpless you feel trying to communicate with someone who speaks another language.

I've observed mediations in which the mediator -- repeatedly and, it can only be said, deliberately -- abuses his or her authority to gain the consent of parties who are clearly not comfortable with settling their case on the terms proposed and are certainly not satisified with the "deal."

Keep 'em in the room; wear them out; highlight their fears; diminish their hopes and then, when they're at their weakest, put a pen in their hand, ask them to sign and then elevate that signed agreement above all else because what we're after here is efficiency, brother, not justice -- a term too many mediators feel forced to put in quotes.  "Justice."  As if it could possibly be anything other than a cynical joke.

OK.  I misused this post to rant.

I'm going to come back and "brief" this case for you next, highlighting the traps for the unwary and commenting on the form agreement used by the Los Angeles Superior Court ADR panel -- a form that is now mandatory.

HEAD'S UP FOR THE NEXT POST NEW LAW STUDENTS -- THIS IS WHY IT'S IMPORTANT TO LEARN HOW TO DE-CONSTRUCT A LEGAL DECISION AND TEASE OUT THE HOLDING FROM THE RATIONALE, THE RULES AND THE DICTA

This Met News report, accurate as it is, doesn't do justice to the traps and troubles lurking here.

Evidence Code Sec. 1123(c)'s exception to mediation confidentiality--providing that a written settlement agreement prepared in mediation is not made inadmissible or protected from disclosure if signed by parties, and all parties expressly agree in writing to disclosure--applied in appellant's civil action to enforce chart prepared during mediation and signed by all parties which appellant claimed was a settlement agreement because estate beneficiaries, in agreement to mediate dispute over distribution of assets, agreed all matters discussed or agreed to in mediation would be kept confidential and not used in any litigation among them "except as may be necessary to enforce any agreements resulting from" mediation, and because chart--setting forth material terms which were sufficiently certain to provide a basis for determining what obligations to which parties had agreed--was a "settlement agreement."

Estate of Thottam - filed August 13, 2008, Second District, Div. Four Cite as 2008 SOS 4917
 

Demonizing the Opposition

O.K., I can't resist giving you one more cartoon from Fincher's new blog.  He calls this one:  Fundamentally Similar Arguments

Competitive Position-Based Negotiation Tactics from the California Lawyer

(right, more fabulous Fincher)

Thanks to mediator Tom Matychowiak for alerting me to "Managing Expectations in Mediation," by Dan L. Stanford (under "Expert Advice" in this month's California Lawyer).  

Tom noted that while most of the article addresses the management of client and adversary expectations, it concludes with these paragraphs:

Once you know who the mediator will be, always contact him or her and try to meet in advance of the mediation. If that is not possible, have a pre-mediation telephone conference. Focus only on the strengths of your case: If you represent a plaintiff, talk about the clear liability evidence, significant damages, your client's expectations of a big award, problems with the credibility of the defendant, and your willingness to try the case. Set the bar high. If you represent a defendant, focus on the strengths of your defense, including technical defenses, any persuasive evidence, and any credibility issues the plaintiff might have. Set the bar low. From both perspectives, provide the mediator with everything that serves your interests. [emphasis in the original]

At the mediation, continue this effort and work even harder at it. If the other side convinces the mediator that you will accept a lesser result than advertised, your chance of success will plummet (and you may end up facing a very unhappy client). On the other hand, if you convince the mediator that your adversary is willing to give more to settle than is on the table, you may well be on the way to having a successful outcome and a satisfied client.

Comments?

$50 million in insurance limits exhausted before a trial date is even set?

Read about it at theD&O Diary here.

 

BTW Blogger Kevin M. LaCroix, an attorney and a partner in OakBridge Insurance Services, Beachwood, Ohio, writes the most amazingly cogent and exhaustive analyses of insurance coverage issues I've seen anywhere on the internet. 

You might want to add him to your newsreader.

Mediator Meltdown and Dancing in the Streets

There's now a genuine reason for summertime dancing in the streets.  Charles Fincher of Law Comix has started a new blog here!!

 

Today's ADR offering below:

Why hasn’t the American Lawyer syndicated Fincher’s work for a nice little bundle of cash?

Hey!! AmLaw Editor!! Are you seeing these cartoons? Are you hearing the laughter in the hallways breaking the stress of daily practice? Are you understanding how many more pairs of eyes Fincher's work will deliver to you and your advertisers?  

Maybe you need to see this one:

Maybe Fincher just won't let his work appear there?  Or is he holding out for syndication in the New York Times?  The Wall Street Journal?  My small reader pool LOVES these and now they can subscribe via RSS feed over at the LawComix Blog

Thanks Charles!

 

Joint Sessions and Unicorn Settlements

Max Kennerly over at Litigation and Trial has graciously and profusely responded to our call for comments about the road-blocks to achieving optimal negotiated resolutions to litigated disputes.

Because Max and I are straining toward the same goal every litigant does when the burdens of a lawsuit begin to outweigh its anticipated benefits, I'm going to include my readers in the conversation.

Our Interests are Adverse, Not Mutual or Intertwined

Max suggests that the hypothetical "business school" negotiated resolution doesn't provide litigators with much guidance in resolving litigated disputes because the buyer-seller-mutual-or-intertwined-interest template cannot be comfortably laid over a conflict between parties whose interests are entirely adverse.  As Max explains:  

The parties to a lawsuit do not have intertwined interests: they have directly adverse interests. Unless there's some possibility of a future relationship, the defendant doesn't want to resolve the conflict: they want the plaintiff to drop their frivolous claim. In their mind, their best alternative to a negotiated agreement ("BATNA") is for the plaintiff to crawl in a hole and die.

Same with the plaintiff. Unlike buyers and sellers, who usually don't get much joy out of their 'conflict' as a conflict, the plaintiff usually prefers imposing a conflict on the defendant (who the plaintiff believes cast the first stone) in pursuit of justice, an imposition they will only relieve for at least "full"  compensation. 

The problem is that most parties don't consider their claims to be assets; the problem isn't that there's emotional baggage around the economic understanding, it's that the parties interpret their dispute as fundamentally non-economic. 

Before moving on to adverse/intertwined/mutual interests, I want to emphasize that what the parties "interpret . . . as fundamentally non-economic" is the key to the settlement of litigated disputes -- not a roadblock. 

Nor can the feelings that accompany litigation be called  "emotional baggage" unless we interpret the desire for justice as pathology. 

This hunger for justice is so fundamental to our social relationships that even  primate relatives like  capuchin monkeys will deprive themselves of food if they sense it is being distributed unfairly.  In capuchin monkey land, injustice appears to consist of being required to do five times more work to "earn" the same benefits as another.  

People seek out lawyers rather than therapists to resolve the emotional issues that accompany conflict -- because they believe themselves to be victims of  injustice and lawyers are in the justice business.  Our clients have not simply suffered an injury (tripped over their own feet) but have a wrong (stumbled over a trip wire placed in their path by a malicious or careless actor).  We can explain until we're blue in the face that money is the only remedy the law can provide.  Our clients will continue to seek justice and will not easily settle for money alone.  

"The Unicorn Settlement"

Max asks that I acquaint him with the Unicorn -- the state "where two hostile parties on the verge of a lawsuit get lawyers, almost file suit, and then, through deft representation, settle their differences peacefully and move on" Unicorns. Excluding business disputes where the parties have an existing and potentially mutually beneficial on-going relationship, this type of settlement, says Max, is a myth.  He explains:

I entered the law expecting The Unicorn to be rare but real; by this point, I have been trained by defense lawyers not to bother to check for it. I still usually do, throwing out what I think is a perfectly reasonable offer early on, which is routinely ignored or dismissed by a letter that gratuitously refers to my claims as baseless, frivolous, or made in bad faith.

So that's my biggest question to you: how do you suggest I get defendants, prior to the courthouse steps, to even enter the mindset that there's a valid claim and mediation / settlement should be considered? Reframed in words closer to your post: what can I do to (a) get the joint session to happen and (b) ensure everyone's in the right mindset?

The Conditions in Which Unicorns Flourish

When I started practice -- in 1980 -- I did so in a small community -- Sacramento -- where everyone was a "repeat player" with everyone else.  Perhaps more importantly, you could file a suit in year one and try it to a jury in year two.  Not only defense counsel, but insurance adjusters, knew which plaintiffs' attorneys would try cases and which would not.  They also knew which ones could persuade a jury to bring back a hefty award.    

Though I only handled personal injury litigation for my first two years of practice (after which I changed firms and moved on to commercial litigation) I saw dozens of "unicorns" in my first few months of practice.  As the junior-most attorney in a small P.I. practice, I settled hundreds of cases without ever filing a lawsuit -- on the telephone with insurance adjusters.  (A really, really good reason to leave PI practice, but that's another story). 

I settled these cases in the world of "three times specials" at a time when and in a place where everyone knew one another and used a common metric to evaluate potential liability and damages.  In that environment, Unicorns flourished.

Unicorn Hunting in the 21st Century

Max isn't asking me to shoot ducks in a barrell here.  He's asking me to deliver the holy grail of mediation -- how to convene an early settlement conference in which the parties (and their attorneys) are united in a desire to settle litigation without protracted discovery or pre-trial procedural wrangling.  

I hate to keep leaving my readers on the edge of a satisfactory resolution, but I DO have work to do and will return to this -- and Max's further observations -- soon, really soon.  Stay tuned.  And join the conversation by leaving your own comments here.

Face-to-Face: Emotion in Conflict Resolution

We've been having a blog-versation about joint sessions this past week thanks to attorney Gavin Craig, workplace conflict mediation trainer Guy Harris (see also An Attitude of Curiosity - continued) and Pennsylvania litigator and blogger Max Kennerly.

Kennerly says:

sometimes I don't want to discuss the case. Sometimes either we're at the end of the road or you're not even on our road, and I'm not going to humor you and your insufficient offers and your attempt to use social influence on me. Indeed, many of my best offers come after cancelling settlement conferences before they happen.

Just something to keep in mind. Every trick you know is a trick that can be played on you and/or your client.

While Craig recalls a mediation in which a joint session hardened the parties' positions as follows:

The mediator decided at the last minute that it would be nice to see if we could all meet and agree in a joint session.

In his defense, he had the advantage of reviewing the positions of both parties in their submittals. There was no warning that the mediator was going to try to help the parties come to an agreement in a joint session.

What I remember most was my client getting so incensed by the positions of the other party in the joint session. Unfortunately my client hardened his position – not helpful in mediation – and apparently the other party did the same. I think the theory about eye-to-eye meeting and negotiations is absolutely correct.

The problem is that parties bring so much emotion into a settlement discussion that I think they need to stay separate from the people creating the emotion before they can calmly assess the best course of action.

What interests me most about Craig's comment is this:

I think the theory about eye-to-eye meeting and negotiations is absolutely correct. The problem is that parties bring so much emotion into a settlement discussion that I think they need to stay separate from the people creating the emotion before they can calmly assess the best course of action.

I'm going to be writing about this conversation all week and invite others to please comment.

Right now, I'd like anyone interested in the resolution of conflict close to home (the neighbors; the  PTA President; the woman sitting in the cubicle next to you stripping laquer from her nails with industrial strength polish remover; the entire HR department; your boss, etc.) to read It Took a Villain to Save Our Marriage in the Style section of this Sunday's New York Times.

Here's the "money shot" for anyone who has ever mediated neighborhood disputes in a community mediation center as I do pro bono.

Then while the rest of the block kissed goodnight, I stomped down the street in the dark to Blocker’s house and pounded on his door.

He opened it, shirtless and calm; it unnerved me. I’m sure I looked crazed. I felt my face puff up. “Stop taking our signs!” I said.

There was a shift. It was he who had the advantage now — I was on his porch, and drunk.

But Blocker didn’t say anything mean. He didn’t seem angry, as he should have been, that I had bothered him late at night; he didn’t threaten to call the police. We stood close, inches away. There was an intimacy in our strange hate.

“I didn’t take them,” he said. “Seriously. The city picks them up sometimes. I know where they put them. I could check if you want.”

No, I didn’t want. But I thanked him, and walked home both shaken and comforted, and thinking Anthony would kill me if he knew I had crossed enemy lines like that, alone. I didn’t tell him.

There was one more encounter. Blocker drove by me in his car. He slowed and rolled down his window, and instead of grunting or sneering, he said, “Did you find your signs?”

“No. I didn’t look.”

We exchanged a few more words — about the weather, his dogs — but it was quick. He drove off, and a few weeks later we moved.

A trained and skilled mediator would take advantage of these two fleeting moments of concern on the part of "Blocker" who is the bully in this story with a heart-rending conclusion. 

Read it?

Now assume that these people -- all three of them and maybe a few additional neighbors as well -- belong to a homeowners' association with the power to fine the HOA "outlaw," making the fines a lien against his property.  Now its a legal dispute.

Ask yourself, what do the parties' legal positions have to do with the resolution of the conflict?

Leave your thoughts here -- down in the comments section -- and I'll be back soon to discuss the New York Times conflict resolution hypothetical based not only on my experience mediating the resolution of litigated commercial disputes, but also based on my pro bono community mediation experience and on the studies that earned me an LL.M that's purportedly not worth the paper its printed on (a judgment that could be just as easily applied to my Bachelors Degree in English Literature were it not for its transmogrification into a ticket to practice law).

Bonus Question:  do we really want to dedicate our lives to the satisfactory resolution of conflict -- which is what the law, after all, is all about -- or would we rather, like the author of It Took A Villain, take the pleasure to be had in the state of high dudgeon, self-righteousness, and passionate engagement with someone who is an easy target to blame for our own unhappy life circumstances?

Double Bonus Question for Lawyers Practicing in Los Angeles:  Would you let the Los Angeles Superior Court choose your trial attorney or your marriage and family counselor from a panel of people who have had 28 hours of training in their "professional" field of practice just because the first three hours are free?  

Joint Sessions and Settlement -- Trick or Treat?

In the actual news (the New York Times) are the results of a new study finding that

most . . . plaintiffs who decided to pass up a settlement offer and went to trial ended up getting less money than if they had taken that offer . . . 

Plaintiffs, however, are not the only ones who made the "wrong" decision -- defendants were mistaken in 24% of the cases.  Defense errors, however, were far more costly. 

getting it wrong cost plaintiffs . . . about $43,000 . . . For defendants, who were less often wrong about going to trial, the cost was . . . . $1.1 million.  

What to do?

It's no answer to say " take the last best settlement offer,"  though one party or the other will 80 to 90 percent of the time and often on the courthouse steps, i.e., at the point of a gun when decision-making is at its most flawed. 

Nor, I must concede, is the answer simply mediation, which is, after all, pretty much a pig in a poke.  Why?  Because mediation practice ranges all the way from

  • a retired judge bullying an "injured, situationally-weakened client with no negotiation skills" (cf. Max Kennerly's recent post at  the Litigation and Trial Blog) or disrespecting a marginalized defendant (cf. Dr. Ghaderi)  
  • to a mediator who knows only how to repeat "trial is expensive and the result uncertain"
  • to a settlement officer who does nothing more than shuttle numbers back and forth between two rooms
  • to a "transformative" mediator who allows the parties free reign to "vent" their "feelings" without helping them get a grip on the very real and serious consequences of the negotiated resolution that has been proposed to them.  

A friend of mine who is a psychoanalyst once told me that patients get better in therapy despite their analysts' "technique."  It's the relationship that's curative, she told me.  A patient in need will find the water of healing in the desert of a therapist's theory.  If the same can be said of mediation -- that it's the relationship that's curative -- the question that naturally arises is whose relationship?  

Why the disputants of course, which is why I recommend joint sessions.  Not stylized adversarial position-based, chest-thumping, shoe-banging joint sessions ("we will bury you") but interest-based, inquisitive, collaborative, reality-testing mediator-and-attorney directed negotiation sessions. 

Before talking about joint sessions, however, let's look at the problem every litigator faces when advising his/her client whether to accept, make, or reject a settlement offer.  

The Problem in Bullet-Points

  • we can't predict the future (darn)
  • we think so much like lawyers that we've fogotten how to talk to juries like normal people (cf. Gerry Spence)
  • too few of us get to try enough cases to be any good at predicting results based on experience
  • we're subject to all the cognitive biases every other human being is, including,
    • self-serving bias -- the tendency to evaluate ambiguous information in a way that "fits" our existing view of the world
    • egocentric bias --  recalling the past in a self-serving manner
    • hind-sight bias -- filtering memory of past events through present knowledge
    • bias blind spot -- the tendency not to compensate for our biases 
    • optimism bias — the systematic tendency to be over-optimistic about the outcome of planned actions
    • overconfidence effect -- when we say we're 99% certain, we're wrong 40% of the time
    •  fundamental attribution error -- the tendency to over-emphasize personality-based explanations for behaviors observed in others while under-emphasizing the role and power of situational influences and reversing this error when the behavior at issue is our own.
    • Just-world phenomenon — the tendency for people to believe that the world is "just" and therefore people "get what they deserve"
  • We get so stuck in our positions that we fail to ask diagnostic questions that have been proven to result in significantly better negotiated outcomes for both parties.
  • We're so averse to leaving money on the table that we walk away from negotiations without having learned that our respective "bottom lines" actually overlap

Joint Sessions

My friend Judge Alexander Williams -- the soon to retire full-time settlement Judge in the downtown Los Angeles Superior Court -- has the following poster hanging in his jury room.

The surface is what the lawyers know.

The depth and breath; the texture and particularity; the details of the dispute and the desire for justice that exists on both sides, is known only to the litigants.  And they haven't (and won't) tell you what they know or want.

Why you should never leave a mediation or settlement conference without letting a skilled mediator facilitate a joint session in which the litigants can explore their joint interests and conflicting goals will be the subject of my next post.

See also Nuts and Boalts (You Had Me at Your Initial Offer) which directs us to Prospect Theory as a good explanation for our settlement errors.

Negotiating Influence: How to Help Your Opponents Change Their Minds

I have alot more to say about this but for the moment am simply linking you to an article at Cognitive daily demonstrating the known fact that you are far more likely to persuade another if you are making eye contact with him.  

And still opposing parties resist sitting in the same room with one another when attempting to settle litigation!

There is a considerable body of research showing that eye contact is a key component of social interaction. Not only are people more aroused when they are looked at directly, but if you consistently look at the person you speak to, you will have much more social influence over that person than you would if you averted your gaze.

For full article, click here.


Neutrality, NFL Referees, Federal Judges and Mediators

I'm just back from a Judicate West retreat where we discussed the legal, practical and ethical issues of "neutrality."  So it is with no small amount of interest that I read Concurring Opinions provocative post I Trust NFL Officials More than I Do Federal Judges (h/t Quizlaw).  

Here's what Erik Lillquist has to say about the NFL official/federal judge comparative neutrality quotient:

My motivation for the title of the post is that I think NFL officials are actually better than judges on a number of these scores. For instance, NFL officials do not have the repeat-player problem. Furthermore, NFL officials are graded on all their calls, from every game, ensuring that the same calls are being made in all situations (and these days, they have to contend with the possibility of instant replay review on every call). And unlike federal judges and (to a certain extent) major league umpires, NFL officials are subject to the real possibility of termination for poor performance, something that cannot happen to Article III judges and rarely happens with major league umpires. As this LA Times article notes, between 2004 and 2007, there was actually more new Supreme Court justices than new (full-time, I assume) major league baseball umpires. In the NFL, on the other hand, turnover is more common. Because being a NFL official is so relentlessly competitive, the result is that (I think) NFL officials are more likely to get the call right than your typical judge (or umpire). 

To say neutrality is not precisely defined in mediation theory and practice is a vast understatement.    Consider these definitions of neutrality as reported in a "Knowledge Base Essay" on Neutrality at Beyond Intractability.

According to experienced mediator Robert Benjamin, neutral mediators:

  • will not intervene in the substance of the dispute;
  • are indifferent to clients' welfare;
  • have no relationship with the parties outside of the mediation;
  • will not attempt to alter perceived power balance differences;
  • are disinterested in the outcome; and
  • are unconcerned with the impact of the settlement on unrepresented parties. 

In contrast, Kevin Gibson, Leigh Thompson, and Max Bazerman (1996) identify three distinct conceptions of neutrality.

  • Neutrality as impartiality, which holds that the mediator should be free of bias and should set aside his or her opinions, feelings, and agendas.
  • Neutrality as equidistance, which focuses on the idea that mediators should try to give equal consideration to each side.
  • Neutrality as a practice in discourse. Mediators are supposed to shape problems in ways that give all speakers a chance to tell their story in a way that does not contribute to their own de-legitimization or marginalization.
  • The mediator gives each side a chance to talk about their positions and concerns, and then reframes these issues in a more neutral way so that parties are more likely to listen to and understand the other side's viewpoint. 
  • Then the mediator helps the parties to explore settlement options and to move toward a solution that all can agree on. Neutrality means that the mediator who facilitates this discussion should not have an interest in advancing the goals and positions of any party involved.

Similarly, Rachel Field (2000) points out that the term 'neutrality' encompasses "issues such as

  • a lack of interest in the outcome of the dispute,
  • a lack of bias towards one of the parties,
  • a lack of prior knowledge of the dispute and/or the parties,
  • the absence of the mediator making a judgment about the parties and their dispute, and
  • the idea that the mediator will be fair and even-handed." 

Thoughts from our readers?

It's Never Just About Money: The Wilson Sonsini Settlement

Big or small, litigation is never just about money.  Nor is settlement just about the strength of the parties legal positions or even the relevant facts.  Here, as reported by the Wall Street Journal Law Blog in Is It a Settlement? Wilson Pays Brocade to be Released From Backdating, its also about relationship and cooperation and respect.  Who knew?

So why would the S[pecial Litigation Committee] release [Wilson Sonsini] and Larry Sonsini? The SLC wrote that it weighed the opinion of a legal ethics expert as well as testimony and documents related to Sonsini and the firm’s roles at Brocade. It also listened to Sonsini and his firm’s “contentions that Brocade employees misled WSGR about stock-option grants” and that the firm had negotiated a good settlement with the SEC and helped avoid DOJ action against Brocade. The committee also considered the firm’s longstanding relationship with Brocade and the firm’s “willingness” to help the company resolve any “outstanding questions” about the backdating.

For the entire WSJ Law Blog post, click here.

Below -- Annie Lennox' Money Can't Buy It -- with a little Demi Moore Striptease for our gentlemen readers' mid-week enjoyment (with apologies to the puritanical and those who simply can't abide Demi Moore).

The IP Executive Summary of Blawg Review # 171

There's been some salacious commentary (such as WAC's Like a Vixen) about Blawg Review # 171.  I just want to say to anyone who missed the sexual revolution -- on either side of the generation gap -- we're sorry to have started it all.  We just never really left high school.

We've also heard some complaints that the most recent Blawg Review is just too darn long.  In honor of our sister blog and those attorneys who are still billing 2400 hours/year, we give you the IP Executive Summary of the Virgin Blawg Review #171 below. 

Isaac Newton.  The Straight Dope thinks the virginity of this octogenerian scientist and mathematician is less surprising that the fact that the math gene somehow keeps perpetuating itself.   We consecrate Newton's virginity to this week's best IP and IT posts.  William ("I am virginal") Patry is asking questions about the government's engagement in copyright infringement  but it is  Patry's final blog post that we celebrate as a true virginal moment.  Pause here.  

My late mother, aleha ha-shalom, told me repeatedly that I had a religious obligation to learn every day, and I have honored her memory by doing exactly that. Learning also involves changing how you think about things; it doesn't only mean reinforcing the existing views you already have. In this respect, Second Circuit Judge Pierre Leval once said that the best way to know you have a mind is to change it, and I have tried to live by that wisdom too. There are positions I have taken in the past I no longer hold, and some that I continue to hold. I have tried to be honest with myself: if you are not genuinely honest with yourself, you can't learn, and if you worry about what others think of you, you will be living their version of your life and not yours.

Other IP bloggers have, of course, reflected on Patry's Final Blog Words here and here

Back in the worldly word, Patently O -- which promiscuously shares itself with millions of readers every year -- turns its pen over to David McGowan who discusses why we should not interpret the recent Quanta decision too broadly Lou Michels suggests we be the masters of our own domains, using the the recent San Francisco IT fiasco as a cautionary tale -- don't let a single person have control of all the keys to your kingdom.

 

We've heard tell that reading your iPhone has replaced the cigarette for post-coital bliss, in which case you'll be glad to hear Brett Trout at BlawgIT suggest that you might soon be watching television from that device.  Protection, protection, protection.  In a software license, boilerplate integration and non-reliance terms might not insulate a firm from claims based upon its salesfolks "over"promises.  Elsewhere, at least one IP Blogger wonders whether blog content licensing might be dying for lack of buyers? (people pay for Blog content while I give it away for free?????)

The IP Dispute of the Week, of course, is Hasbro's suit against Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla for their Facebook hit Scrabulous.  Scrabble itself was invented during the Depression by Alfred Mosher Butts, an out-of-work architect.  How did he do it?  As the New York Times explained in its review of Steve Fastis book, Word Freak (Zo. Qi. Doh. Hoo. Qursh) Scrabble's inventor assumed that the game would work best if the game letters  "appear[ed] in the same frequency as in the language itself."  So he

counted letters in The New York Times, The New York Herald Tribune and The Saturday Evening Post to calculate letter frequencies for various word lengths. Playing the game with his wife, Nina, and experimenting as he went along, Butts carefully worked out the size of the playing grid (225 squares, or 15 by 15), the number of tiles (100), point values for the letters, the placement of double- and triple-score squares, the distribution of vowels and consonants, and so on.

In response to the Hasbro lawsuit Ron Coleman at Likelihood of Confusion asks "How Many Points is Infringement?" -- one of those rare legal questions that actually has an answer rather than 20 more questions.     

If Player 1 opens with "fringe" (double word) for 24 points; Player 2 follows by slapping an "i" on the triple word score followed by an "n" for "infringe" and 33 points; and, Player 1 responds with "ment" for 19 points, the combined score for "infringement" is 75 points. Our readers can do the math and moves on "trademark" and copyright." 

On the matter of greater moment --  Will the ax fall on Scrabulous -- Jonathan Zittrain at The Future of the Internet answers his own question in the affirmative based on the name alone, opining that by calling it "rainbows and buttercups” instead of “Scrabulous” there’d be little claim of brand confusion but noting the "residual claim that the Scrabulous game board infringes the copyright held in the Scrabble game board."  More on Scrabulous and its replacement with Word Scraper at the Video Game Law Blog here. (Mr. Thrifty's and my first game of Word Scraper here!) 

Has anyone recently said God bless the best IP aggregator in the universe -- the IP Think Tank's Global Week in Review?  This week IPTT points to the following posts on the Hasbro Scrabble debacle -- (Spicy IP), (Techdirt), (The Trademark Blog), (Out-Law), (Law360).  While we're talking IP aggregation, check out Patent Baristas' regular Friday IP Round-up.  All around aggregators include Anne Reed's (Deliberations) reading list and Kevin O'Keefe's LexMonitor.

Both Geoff Sharp and I picked up 8 impediments to settling patent cases on appeal (a desire for "justice" is not an impediment but a means to settlement).  While we're taking an ADR angle, Virtually Blind's post Second Life Lawsuit Avoided; Law is Cool's Love, Actionable; and,    Slashdot's recommend reading of the week (The Pragmatic CSO) are all well worth a look.  

Slashdot also reminds us that IP prevention is worth a pound of IP litigation with the post WB Took Pains to "Delay" Pirating of the Dark Knight as follows: 

"a new studio tactic [is] not to prevent piracy, but to delay it . . . Warner Bros. executives said [they] prevent[ed] camcorded copies of the reported $180-million [Dark Knight] film from reaching Internet file-sharing sites for about 38 hours. Although that doesn't sound like much progress, it was enough time to keep bootleg DVDs off the streets as the film racked up a record-breaking $158.4 million on opening weekend. .  . The success of an anti-piracy campaign is measured in the number of hours it buys before the digital dam breaks.'"

If you're sufficiently virginal to believe in magic, check out the Law and Magic Law Blog's announcement of the dismissal of a defamation lawsuit against Magic Mag as protected opinion while Ernie the Attorney has at least one more make to make your iPhone magic here.

Meanwhile, the Legal Talk Network gathers together bloggers and co-hosts, J. Craig Williams and Bob Ambrogi to welcome Attorney Kevin A. Thompson from the firm Davis McGrath LLC, and Lauren Gelman, Executive Director of Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society to discuss Viacom's suit against Google's YouTube for the violation of its copyrights in a $1 billion lawsuit.

Because I used to type patent applications for Uniroyal (IBM Selectric - 5 carbon copies) I get a sweet whiff of nostalgia from Wiki Patents -- like this one -- Flexible Row Redundancy System 7404113 -- a row redundancy system is provided for replacing faulty wordlines of a memory array having a plurality of banks. The row redundancy system includes a remote fuse bay storing at least one faulty address corresponding to a faulty wordline of the memory array . . . .  Another available data base for the engineering-attorney crowd is the subject of  Securing Innovations post IBM Technical Disclosures' Prior Art Data BaseConcurring Opinions covers IP in the News this weekPeter Zura's 271 Patent Blog considers a patent that was a "Colossal Waste of Time" and  IP Kat curls up with Small and Sole.  

Next week, the Blawg Review will be hosted by the Ohio Employer's Law Blog which we expect will be far more respectful of BR's readers' political, religious and sexual sensitivities than this one was.  Thanks for letting us play.  And a very, very, very good night!

Slow Down -- Trial Lawyer Practicing Tranquility Nearby

ImageChef.com - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more

Check out Underdog's Blog post Practicing non-anger if you're feeling stressed and cranky.   Because there's a riot of unruly pre-school children residing inside of me, I too center myself as often as possible by remembering that everything is internconnected.  Here's what DUI attorney Jon Katz does to keep himself from boiling over.  

One approach I try to use in staying consistently calm and not angry is in focusing on how everyone ultimately is interconnected. Those who reach such a view from a deeply-held religious perspective -- which I do not, still remaining an agnostic who is into Judaism and Buddhism nonetheless -- might have an easier time sticking to the view than I do.

In any event, the more we see that we are interconnected, the less we will be tempted to cause disharmony to others and the more we will want to help everyone rise as we rise, and not to try to pull them into a ditch even if we find ourselves in one.

Read the remainder of the post here.

I was just telling Mr. Thrifty over the dinner dishes that my life as a litigator got far far better when one of my biggest and most enduring pieces of litigation was assigned to Judge Carolyn Kuhl over at the Complex Court here in Los Angeles.  She set such an even-tempered example that opposing counsel and I aspired to live up to it.  We wanted to please her.  Everything got better after that.  

That led me to think about the way Judges' ill tempers effects their dockets.  The Judge bats the attorneys around the courtroom like cat toys and they begin to behave like caged animals on an electrified grid.  The attorneys behave badly and that irritates the Judge who demeans and belittles them.  The attorneys then demean and belittle each other and everyone is trapped in the vicious cycle. 

Maybe if Judges realized that they have this effect on attorneys, they'd adjust their own attitudes and see the attorney wrangling before them chill out a little.

Thanks for the wise words, Jon.

Negotiating Bankruptcy

My favorite local bankruptcy mediators

Ben Siegel of Buchalter (left)

former bankruptcy judge Herb Katz (right)

Bankruptcy mediation catches on nationwide

A decade ago, there were only a handful of mediation programs in bankruptcy courts.

Long associated with family law disputes, mediation programs were slow to catch on in complex business litigation, including bankruptcy cases.

But that's changing.

More than two-thirds of the 90 bankruptcy courts have mediation available, according to Robert Niemic, senior attorney at the Federal Judicial Center. Even more offer some other form of alternative dispute resolution, such as judicial settlement conferences.

In the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California, more than 3,800 cases have been referred to mediation since 1995. About 64 percent of those cases were resolved through settlements.

To keep costs down, the first day of mediation is free. Parties choose from a list of 200 attorneys and non-attorneys, such as accountants and financial experts, who volunteer as mediators.

Chief Bankruptcy Court Judge Barry Russell, who launched the mediation program in 1995, said that most cases settle in a day, producing major cost savings for both the court and the parties involved.

For full article, click here.

Change Your Definition of Winning?

Change your definition of “winning” to include the business perspective. “Winning for the business” may not mean victory in a trial but preserving management time and protecting the business’s reputation and brand.  From Early Case Assessment from Seagate Services.

Seagate is selling an e-discovery product (reason number one for leaving commercial litigation now -- e-discovery).  But the quote above nails my own attitude toward resolving complex commercial disputes.

Negotiating Revenge

Who negotiates revenge? 

Lawyers, of course. 

In the criminal law, the negotiation ends either in a plea bargain or the Best Alternative to it -- trial.

Most civil lawyers don't think about revenge much.  When settling a case, however, they should understand their clients' desire for vengence if they want to break past the psychological impasse to giving up the ultimate reward in a society based upon the law -- vindication of a party's  position and punishment of the opposition by way of a jury verdict.

Today, the New York Times -- in Calculating Economics of an Eye for an Eye by Patricia Cohen -- brings us a better way to understand the primal need for vengence which, it seems, is based not only on our "human nature" but also on our acculturation and personal experience. 

Even Dr. Melfi wants revenge in a world where the "justice system is %$^#'ed up."

 

The good news for countries clinging to the rule of law (as we are despite the recent assaults upon it) is as follows:

vengeful feelings are stronger in countries with low levels of income and education, a weak rule of law and those who recently experienced a war or are ethnically or linguistically fragmented. Anthropologists tend to believe that vengeful feelings were useful in binding a family or group together in early human society. They were protective devices before states were established and did the job of punishing wrongdoers.

Check out the full article here.  H/T to Marginal Revolution here.

Blawg Review 170 Negotiates Simple Justice

My friend, Joe Mockus, a criminal defense attorney in the San Francisco Bay area, once asked me, "just what is it that you do all day long?"   I know what Joe did.  He had at least one hundred court appearances a day and once in awhile tried a major felony case.  He was negotiating while I was writing stake-in-the-heart summary judgment motions in cases with 2 million documents coded in the Phillipines.  I took a lot of depositions and, if I was very very very lucky, I got to try a case to a jury once every five to ten years.

If you're a civil litigator like me (read:  "not really a trial attorney") and you haven't thought of criminal law since your first year of law school (it has something to do with a man jumping out a 20 story window and then being shot by an angry mistress from the 10th floor, right?  Cf. Magnolia below) then amble on over to Scott Greenfield's Simple Justice for a satisfying look at the world criminal lawyers inhabit every day.

And next week, we'll be hosting the Blawg Review over at the IP ADR Blog.  Which reminds me, this is likely the first and only post on this blog you'll get this week!

Habeas corpus actus reus corpus delicti crimen falsi crimen innominatum crimem laesae maiestatis de minimis non curat lex.



The Magnolia criminal law bar exam question half-way through this opening to the darkest comedy of the 20th Century, Magnolia.

Don't Know How to Tell Your Client It's About to Be Fined $25K a Day?

This may be the biggest break-down in attorney-client communication in the history of litigation.  Because this public statement by Allstate about its former attorney would be highly defamatory if not true, I'm taking Allstate at its word here.   

Allstate claimed that it had not deliberately flouted Manners’ orders. Rather, it said, its now-former attorney — then with the firm of Wallace, Saunders, Austin, Brown & Enochs — had failed to respond to discovery requests.

Allstate said it was appalled when it learned last year that it was being threatened with contempt.

“Allstate litigates hundreds of bad faith cases each year,” Allstate stated in court documents. “And it responds to discovery requests — just like the ones in this case — in many of them. There is no reason in the world for Allstate not to participate in discovery — particularly in this case, where there is an underlying judgment of $1 million.”

Allstate said it “immediately removed” the attorney from the case and retained new counsel.

Read the article about the lifting of the daily $25,000 contempt sanctions against Allstate in the wake of its settlement of the bad faith action in which they were imposed here.

The answer to the question "how to break bad news to my client" can be found at any of the links below.  Most of these links are for health care professionals, who have to break bad news to their patients and their families far more often than we have to tell our clients that something went terribly awry.  Put that at the top of your attorney gratitude list.

The Breaking Bad News Web Site

Breaking Bad News by Telephone

A Framework for Breaking Bad News  (anyone who read my Negotiating Life's End series knows that my father's physician could have used this excellent framework for delivering bad medical news to a patient's family)

Another excellent British source on breaking bad news listing the following traps for the unwary (partial list):

  • Do not avoid seeing the [client] or leave them anxiously waiting for news. Sometimes anticipation can be worse than even the worst reality.
  • Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.
  • Get the facts before you start.
  • Make sure you will not be disturbed. If necessary switch off phones or bleeps.
  • Be factual but sympathetic. Always be empathetic however you may feel personally.
  • Give time for the information to sink in and the opportunity to ask questions before moving on. Do not seem rushed.
  • If the [client] does not seem able to take any more be prepared to end the consultation and to take it up again later.
  • Look for all the cues, verbal or others. , , , Perhaps they would like you to speak to someone else or to have someone with them for the next meeting.
  • Never say that nothing can be done or the [client] will lose all hope.
  • Whilst trying to be positive never lose track of the fact that this is a serious and potentially fatal [reverse in the litigation].  Be optimistic but do not promise success or anything else that may not be delivered.

Employer Did Not Waive Right to Arbitrate by Telling Employee His Election to Arbitrate Was Premature

Not an earth-shaking opinion from the Ninth Circuit but a good one to keep around the next time you want to claim -- or resist a claim of -- waiver.  Thanks to the Met News for summarizing these opinions on a daily basis and to LACBA for putting them into my email box every night. 

What on earth would we do without them?

Where employment-related dispute arose between employer and employee who had executed employment agreement containing a mandatory arbitration clause, and employee wrote letter requesting arbitration to which employer responded by telling employee that it did not consider his claim ripe for arbitration, district court's order—after employee's termination—denying employer's motion to compel arbitration on ground that employer previously breached its agreement and waived right to arbitrate disputes was error because employee did not properly initiate arbitration under agreement's terms; district court improperly concluded employer waived arbitration where it was debatable whether employer acted inconsistently with right to arbitrate, employer initiated arbitration immediately upon learning of suit, and employer's actions did not prejudice employee.

Cox v. Ocean View Hotel Corporation - filed July 23, 2008

Can You Say What You're Writing to Opposing Counsel Face-to-Face? Would you Want to?

Thanks to David R. Donoghue at the Chicago IP Litigation Blog for picking up my recent Daily Journal article on the Dangers of Email in Litigation and running with it in A Call for Face-to-Face Communication in Litigation.  As David comments:

It is no surprise that increased aggression in a naturally aggressive proceeding has negative consequences. For example, parties that often meet for the first time at a mediation or settlement conference arrive not trusting or respecting each other, making resolution much more difficult. Pynchon suggested a somewhat radical solution to the email problem -- live meetings with opposing counsel. She suggested that you routinely have live meetings with opposing counsel throughout the course of a litigation, including perhaps even doing some meetings over a meal. The face-to-face contact would generate the trust and respect needed to resolve issues that always arise during a litigation. I have always advocated live meetings with co-counsel in a multi-party litigation. Email communications (or even conference calls) tend to get out of hand and the parties tend not to pay enough attention to others' positions. I am going to expand that practice to opposing counsel.

One other thought, that I do not know if Pynchon will agree with. Those who still avoid email and continue using letters as a main communication means are not off the hook. I started practicing when letters, not emails, were how you communicated with opposing counsel. Those letters tended to be far more aggressive than the attorneys were in a live conversation. And I suspect people tended to read extra aggression into the letters they received. I do not know if aggression is stronger in emails than letters, but the same problem exists whether you hit send, hit print or use a pen to write to opposing counsel.

Looking for help with your communication skills?  Though directed at teachers, here is a list of Six Ways to Improve Non-Verbal Communication Skills that will assist lawyers and their clients in resolving conflict face-to-face. 

 

And then the juror applauded . . . .

Thanks to Anne Reed at Deliberations for following California case law on juror misconduct and bias.  I won't steal her thunder -- click here for What is the Sound of One Juror Clapping?

I will, however, provide the appellate court's comment on human fallability -- a recognition we all need to carry into any settlement conference or mediation with us.  Vast conspiracies are the rare one-off.  As Al Gore once said -- we think we can evacuate the planet but not New Orleans?  It's our human capacity for error coupled with our human tendency to search the field for someone to blame that accounts for most unresolved conflict.  Here's the local Met News article on the opinion and the appellate opinion itself (from our own Second District here in Los Angeles): 

"The jury system is fundamentally human, which is both a strength and a weakness. . . . Jurors are not automatons. They are imbued with human frailities as well as virtues. If the system is to function at all, we must tolerate a certain amount of imperfection short of actual bias. To demand theoretical perfection from every juror during the course of a trial is unrealistic."

Enforcing Mediated Settlement Agreements Post-Simmons v. Ghaderi

Update:  there's a good discussion of the holding and rationale at the Complex Litigator -- Simmons v. Ghaderi: mediation privilege trumps allegation of oral settlement agreement here.

I'm re-posting this "how to" now that Simmons v. Ghaderi has been decided.  You no longer have even a fighting chance of enforcing a mediated settlement agreement that fails to comply with the Code.  So here's the procedure, as recommended by my and Deborah Rothman's article in the Daily Journal in November 2006 -- Take Steps to Ensure that Mediated Settlement Agreements Can Be Enforced. 

Assuming your client insists on orally memorializing the settlement reached in mediation, you must comply strictly with Evidence Code Sections 1118 and 1124. An oral agreement reached during a mediation can be proven and enforced only if (1) its terms are recited to a court reporter or recorded by a sound device in the presence of all parties and the mediator, (2) the parties expressly agree to those terms on the record, (3) the recording is reduced to writing and signed within 72 hours of its recordation and (4) all parties to the agreement expressly agree in a writing, in the sound recording or in the reported record that the signed written transcript may be disclosed.

Th[e] procedure for enforcing an oral settlement is so technical and cumbersome . . . (counsel and mediators rarely have court reporters standing by or tape recorders in their breast pockets), that we recommend against it.

We instead suggest that the parties document all settlements in writing, even if the writing contains only skeletal deal terms and even if someone has to begin drafting it at 2 a.m. The agreement should provide that the parties intend it to be enforceable or binding and that all parties expressly agree in writing to its disclosure. . . . If an action is pending between the parties, the memorandum of understanding should be made enforceable under Code of Civil Procedure Section 664.6.

See also the Supreme Court's decision in Fair v. Bhaktiari, interpreting the phrase "words to that effect" in section 1123(b) as requiring a written mediated settlement agreement to "directly express the parties’ agreement to be bound by the document they sign."

Almost right will not do.  You must strictly comply with these provisions or your mediated settlement agreement will not be enforceable.

Simmons v. Ghaderi: When the Legislature Said Mediation Was Confidential, It Meant What it Said

Today, the Supreme Court handed down a unanimous ruling in the long-awaited Simmons v. Ghaderi case about which I've commented on many occasions -- both on the importance of the confidentiality laws the Supreme Court held were air-tight today and on the process itself as a common example of a failed mediation proceeding.

Highlights from the opinion:

  • "The Legislature chose to promote mediation by ensuring confidentiality rather than adopt a scheme to ensure good behavior in the mediation and litigation process."
  • [T]he legislative history of the mediation confidentiality statutes as a whole reflects a desire that section 1115 et seq. be strictly followed in the interest of efficiency. By laying down clear rules, the Legislature intended to reduce litigation over the admissibility and disclosure of evidence regarding settlements and communications that occur during mediation. (citation omitted).  Allowing courts to craft judicial exceptions to the statutory rules would run counter to that intent."
  • In Foxgate,  we reasoned we "were bound to respect the Legislature’s policy choice to protect mediation confidentiality rather than create a procedure that encouraged good faith participation in mediation. Thus, we held that evidence of a party’s bad faith during the mediation may not be admitted or considered." 

Here's the appellate decision that was reversed on nearly every ground raised in Justice Aldrich's compellingly well-reasoned dissent.

Here are our previous commentaries:

Take Steps to Ensure Mediation Agreements Can Be Enforced (co-authored by local arbitrator and mediator Deborah Rothman, first published in the Daily Journal)

You Say Waiver, I Say Estoppel, Let's Call the Whole Thing Wrong -- Another Look at Simmons v. Ghaderi  

If I Settle, It Will Mean that I Killed Her -- Anatomy of a Failed Medical Malpractice Mediation, at the National Institute for Advanced Conflict Resolution

Here's a veiw that opposes my own -- Kirk Pasich Replies:  the Mediation Privilege and Bad Faith Carrier Conduct.

Summer Associate Advisory: The Staff Knows More Than You Do

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog (Don't Wear Flip-Flops and Other Advice for Summer Associates) points us to a valuable new site for young associates (and would-be associates) -- The Hiring Partner's Office.   Whether or not this anonymous blog is posted by a hiring partner or a savvy summer associate makes little difference to the quality of the advice provided.  Check out Top Ten Things that Annoy Your Hiring Partner, one of which recognizes what most summer associates don't yet know -- the power in the firm as far as you're concerned, rests with people you might be naive enough to believe are "beneath" you. 

Number three on the list of what not to do this summer is --     

Being rude to support staff. If you say thank you to everyone who helps you, you would be amazed at how the staff will respond. Support staff work hard to help make you and the firm look good to clients and other third parties. DO NOT treat them like doormats. DO treat them with respect and show your appreciation.

Why do we mention this in a negotiation law blog?  Because you need to know who the secret stakeholders are when you are attempting to resolve any conflict or broker any deal.  They are not who they appear to be. 

And, head's up!!  "Your" secretary has been "practicing law" for decades.  S/he knows the judges, the court reporters, the clerks at the courthouse and the pecking order in the law firm.  S/he also knows where the bodies are buried.

Be nice.  Be teachable.  Learn.  Thrive.

Even if They're Just Hoops to Jump Through ADR Clauses are Worth Getting Right

Bob Hunt over at Realty Times has a nice consumer-friendly article entitled Californa Court Holds That Mediation Provision "Means What It Says".  /*

As Hunt writes, 

The standard residential purchase contract in California is produced by the California Association of Realtors® (CAR). It contains two sections that are easy to overlook or to take as “boilerplate”, but that can be very important if things go awry between the parties. One of those sections deals with attorney fees, providing that, in the event of any proceeding between buyer and seller, the prevailing party shall be entitled to attorney fees and costs from the non-prevailing party. The attorney fee section contains an exception, however, and that exception is spelled out in the portion of the contract referring to mediation. There it is said that, if either party initiates an action “without first attempting to resolve the matter through mediation, or refuses to mediate after a request has been made, then that party shall not be entitled to recover attorney fees… .” [my emphasis] /*

When Mr. Thrifty and I purchased our house in '02, we were presented with one of these form contracts.  I'm a lazy form contract signator myself.  Negotiation training or not, I generally assume these contracts are "take it or leave it" and I sign them accordingly.  /**

Not Mr. Thrifty.

"What's the procedure?"  I recall him pressing our real estate agent.    "When is the demand for mediation supposed to be made and how are the parties supposed to conduct it and what happens if the parties can't reach agreement on the mediator to conduct the process?"

He was having none of it. 

"I'm crossing it out," he said, as blue ink flowed over the mediation provision and our agent let out of small gasp of dismay.

By that time, everyone was so "bought in" to the sale, that Mr. Thrifty's effort to strike  the form language prevailed.  No mediation necessary in this household!

Beware of Form Contract Language

As Bob Hunt explains, the Lange Court gave the back of its hand to the contention that it was "too difficult" to make the required demand for mediation.  

“If the [sellers] could be found and served with a lawsuit by mail, they could have been sent a mediation demand by mail[,]” [held the Court]  All that the plaintiff had to do was attempt to mediate before he filed suit; and he didn't. Quoting a related case, the court noted that the mediation provision “means what it says and will be enforced.” 

Though it's not surprising to find bare bones ADR provisions in industry form contracts -- bones so bear that their meaning must be litigated -- defeating the purpose of the summary proceedings provided for -- it is surprising to find attorneys continuing to paste form contract language into their client's negotiated agreements.  This is particularly troublesome when what's at stake -- the attorneys' fees -- makes the difference between bringing litigation or not or settling litigation or not.

If it's worth putting a clause into your contract, it's worth spending the time to imagine what might happen if circumstances triggering that clause arise.  If you're practicing in a firm with both transactional and litigation attorneys, I highly recommend that the wordsmiths run the "standard" ADR, attorney fee, choice of law, and venue provisions by the litigators who have undoubtedly already tested these provisions in the fire of conflict.  You won't be sorry you did.       

_______________________

*/  The case -- Lange v. Schilling -- was originally ordered not not to be published.  Had that Order stood, the case would not create precedent under California law.  As the reader of the linked opinion can see, however, it was subsequently ordered published and can be cited as authority. 

**/  The form contract language at issue reads as follows:

Buyer and Seller agree to mediate any dispute or claim arising between them out of this Agreement, or any resulting transaction, before resorting to arbitration or court action. . . . If, for any dispute or claim to which this paragraph applies, any party commences an action without first attempting to resolve the matter through mediation, or refuses to mediate after a request has been made, then that party shall not be entitled to recover attorney fees, even if they would otherwise be available to that party in any such action.

Are Discovery and Pre-Trial Victories the Only Big Game in the Litigation Hunt?

The quote below (though unduly harsh)  points to a problem we've had in the AmLaw 200 since most cases became too big to try. 

I'm coming back to this, promise. 

Now I'm just linking to John Wade's (as always brilliant) article -- Judicial Decision Making in Australia -- that quotes it.

“Because litigators rarely win or lose cases, they derive job satisfaction by recasting minor discovery disputes as titanic struggles. Younger lawyers, convinced that their future careers may hinge on how tough they seem while conducting discovery, may conclude that it is more important to look and sound ferocious than to act co-operatively, even if all that huffing and puffing does not help (and sometimes harms) their cases. While unpleasant at first, nastiness, like chewing tobacco, becomes a habit… Without guidance as to appropriate conduct from their elders, either at the firm or at the bench, it is easy for young lawyers not only to stay mired in contumacious, morally immature conduct, but to actually enjoy it.”  D Yablon, “Stupid Lawyer Tricks: An Essay on Discovery Abuse” (1996) 96 Columbia Law Rev 1618.

 

Mediator Geoff Sharp Up Close and Personal (with Vickie Pynchon tagging along)

DAILY JOURNAL NEWSWIRE ARTICLE
http://www.dailyjournal.com
© 2008 The Daily Journal Corporation.
All rights reserved.
-------------------------------------------

June 23, 2008

POPULAR ADR BLOGGER GETS SOME FACE TIME IN LOS ANGELES
By Greg Katz
Daily Journal Staff Writer 

SANTA MONICA - Nearly everybody in the Southern California mediation community knows the face of mediator Geoff Sharp but not too many have met him.

That's because the New Zealand-based mediator's scruffy mug sits atop his popular ADR blog, Mediator Blah ... Blah ..., at mediatorblahblah.blogspot.com.

Sitting down for coffee at a beachfront hotel with Los Angeles mediator and fellow ADR blogger Victoria Pynchon, Sharp said his blog is what got him his ticket for this trip to Southern California.

He was in town at the request of the Pepperdine University School of Law, giving a lecture at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution's annual summer dispute resolution conference last week.

"For someone like me to get to Pepperdine - why would you ask a farm boy like me?" Sharp said, laughing. "The blog's the only way that I talk to these people."

Sharp's witty and concise blog helps chart the course of the online mediation conversation. There are about 150 ADR blogs worldwide, according to one blogger, and many of them link back to Sharp's.

He blogs a potpourri of ADR links, anecdotes and opinions on a wide range of mediation topics, most of them relevant to both local and international audiences.

In one recent post, he chided some "lazy" neutrals who have given parties the impression that mediation is "a process where you show up at a downtown building but never speak to, or even meet, the room full of people with whom you have your problem and whose cooperation you require to solve it."

In another post, Sharp described a mediation in which a lawyer asked him to calculate the hypotenuse of a right triangle.

Sharp said he initially was worried that he couldn't do it.

"But I am pleased to report dear reader, that I was equal to the task," he wrote.

Sharp also broaches sensitive subjects, writing at length about how difficult it is for mediators to build their practices.

But whether the difficulties of mediation are financial or mathematical, he wouldn't think about going back to litigating.

In the late 1990s, Sharp left his litigation practice at Bell Gully, a large New Zealand law firm, to start mediating.

Sharp is now a member of the advanced mediation panels for both of New Zealand's widely recognized mediation training organizations, LEADR and the Arbitration and Mediation Institute of New Zealand.

He also is consulting with the International Mediation Institute on its proposed mediator qualifications standards. Mediator standards are a frequent subject of his blog posts, as well.

He said he relishes the freedom he gained from leaving a big firm, though mediating often proves lonely.

"If you ask why [mediators] blog, it's because we're so solitary," Sharp said.

Becoming an ADR blogger, he said, was like making friends "on the same block in a new town," even though most other bloggers are in other countries.

Sharp said that blogging about mediations, with their strict confidentiality rules, can be complicated.

At first, he would post about specific events in mediations, such as one lawyer who wore his Bluetooth headset throughout a mediation, even when he "went to the john," Sharp said.

Was it blinking?" Pynchon chimed in.

But now, with a wider audience, Sharp focuses on the more philosophical and legal issues in mediation. When he wants to tell a particular story, he embellishes the events that happened in mediation so no one feels their confidential conduct is being publicized.

"I haven't let the facts get in the way of a good story," says the disclaimer on his blog.

Pynchon, who writes the popular ADR blog Settle It Now, at negotiationlawblog.com, said that even when bloggers are careful, mediator blogs can disturb parties. One party recently came to Pynchon asking whether a post referred to that party's case.

It didn't.

Another post, about the California Supreme Court mediation confidentiality case, Simmons v. Ghaderi, provoked the defendant to call Pynchon personally.

"It's like having a cartoon character come to life," Pynchon said of being contacted by someone she only knew through reading briefs and opinions. Simmons v. Ghaderi, 143 Cal.App.4th 410 49 Cal.Rptr.3d 342 (2006).

But despite the occasional hassle, blogging has become a way of life for the two mediators.
"For me, blogging and dispute resolution rest on the same principles: collaboration and reciprocity," Pynchon said.

Sharp nodded his agreement.

"I don't do this profit," he said with a smile. "I do it for ego."

The Comforts of Litigation

I am writing an appellate brief.  I do this from time to time to keep my hand in the game.  I also do it because . . . . .  well, it's a heckuva lot easier to make money as a lawyer than it is to make money as a mediator.

Just saying.

Not only that.  Litigation is a heckuva lot more comfortable than mediation. 

Why?

  • I'm right

          Alone in my office with Lexis/Nexis, Westlaw, and the cold appellate record I am right about my client's position, its version of the facts, and its read of the law.  I've read the other side's arguments and they're . . . wrong, wrong wrong.  They mis-state the factual record, cite irrelevant case law, construe the contract contrary to its plain meaning and misapply its provisions under their own recitation of the facts.  They elide, evade, fail to answer the hard questions, and mislead the court.    

  • I'm on the side of truth, justice and the American way 

          I'm not only right.  I'm righteously right.  With this brief, I will correct every injustice my client has suffered, justify every humiliation I have suffered at the hands of the trial judge, vindicate myself for all of the times my client has doubted my first [perfectly right and righteous] evaluation of the merits of its case.  For this moment, as I sit at my computer alone, I live in a country and work in a system in which compromise is not necessary; loss need never be suffered; my client can be made "whole."

  • The chaos of community is orderly and predictable 

          There is precedent for this messy business problem.  The courts have laid out the grid.  All I have to do is meet the 3 tests, satisfy the 4 conditions, perch the right facts on each of the 5 prongs, prove the elements of my rectitude.  All of my versions of the facts being true, true, true, there is only one right and predictable outcome possible.  It is the one I have always said was right.  Chaos will be vanquished.  Order restored.  

  • I do not have to suffer loss

          Until the last appeal has been made to the highest court in the land, neither I nor my client need suffer loss.  We do not need to experience injustice; make an effort to make peace with our neighbors; accept the possibility that our memories are spotty; our analysis subject to criticism; our behavior less than laudatory; our reverses irreversible. 

  • As long as I am writing this brief, the world conforms to my vision.

          As long as I am writing, I am not only potentially victorious, I live in a world of my own choosing, that conforms to my sense of the way things ought to be.  The characters in my world are good or evil.  There is no middle ground.  They are telling the truth or they are lying.  They live their lives by right principle or they are scoundrels whose evil deeds will surely be their undoing.  

  • I am innocent again

          As long as this appeal lasts, I am a child again.  It is 1962 and I am in the fifth grade.  The Lone Ranger will always ride to the rescue. I do not yet have to worry about Tonto's place in the social and economic order of the day.  The cattle rustlers will be punished.  The hard working ranchers' goods will be returned.  Honor will be vindicated.  The bandits will be put behind bars or buried in their graves.  

 A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty "Hi Ho Silver!" The Lone Ranger.  With his faithful Indian companion Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains, led the fight for law and order in the early west. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. The Lone Ranger rides again!

Insurers with Potential Coverage Must Personally Attend Mediation Sessions

Head's up insurance carriers and their counsel!

Noting the benefits of appellate mediation and the desirability of participants attending in person, a California appellate court warned insurers in Campagnone v. Enjoyable Pools & Spas that even the potential of coverage requires a representative with full settlement authority to attend court-ordered appellate mediations in person, unless excused in writing by the mediator. Further, the court warned parties and counsel that they may also face sanctions if they fail to notify insurers with potential coverage about appellate mediations. The court noted that California’s strict mediation confidentiality provisions prevent mediators from disclosing whether anyone fails to attend, but that an aggrieved party may do so in seeking sanctions from the court. The court withheld sanctions in this case only because no previous opinion had spelled out these requirements, even though the insurer was only liable for amounts in excess of $3 million and the judgment in the trial court was $2.4 million.

Campagnone v. Enjoyable Pools & Spas, No. C055050 (Cal. App.3d Dist., May 30, 2008)


Thanks to Keith Seat Mediation Newsletter for the case.

And thanks to arbitrator and mediator extraordinaire Deborah Rothman for passing this along to me.  (speaking of gender politics, Deborah graduated with the first class of women to be admitted to Yale University)

Dispute Resolution by Old White Men: Gender Prejudice Sinks Abriration Award

O.K., the subject line was meant to shock you and to draw criticism for what I will admit is my greatest unresolved prejudicial default -- that white men over 65 who didn't participate in the  American cultural revolution of the late nineteen sixties and early 1970's did not and will never "get it." 

The Court opinion that triggered the headline and the recollections below is here.  The "executive summary" is as follows:  One of three arbitrators who cast the deciding vote on a plastic surgery malpractice case

  • failed to disclose that he'd been censured while on the bench for making "sexually suggestive remarks to and asked sexually explicit questions of female staff members; referred to a staff member using crude and demeaning names and descriptions and an ethnic slur; referred to a fellow jurist’s physical attributes in a demeaning manner; and mailed a sexually suggestive postcard to a staff member addressed to her at the courthouse.” 
  • The majority arbitrators deciding the malpractice case stated that the female claimant was not credible because the "severity of the symptoms to which she testified went beyond what she described to her doctors, adding, “This claimant has had five prior facial surgeries.”
  • Similarly, in summarizing the claimant's expert’s testimony, these arbitrators noted, “One thing probably everyone can agree upon, after five facial surgeries, [claimant] could have done without a sixth one.”

Back to My Own History as Descriptive of --  But No Excuse for -- My Own Biases

We all have biases that we hide from others and some that we successfully hide from ourselves.  

We live, I'm told, in a 200 year present.  That means that my early life affects your life today.  After all, I'm an old white woman, about whom you may well have biases.  If I sit on your arbitration panel, you're going to want to understand those biases.  That's why I'm giving you a bullet-pointed history of what the world was like when I was forming my essential character at 17 years of age in 1969.

  • the "want-ads" in the classified section of every major newspaper in American were categorized by gender -- "help wanted - women" and "help wanted - men"
  • in my senior year in high school, my entire class took "preference aptitude" tests to give us an idea of what our future careers might look like -- the girls were given "pink" tests and the boys "blue" tests -- had I shown an aptitude for, say, math (and no I didn't) I would have been steered into nursing; my male friends into "medicine" as physicians.
  • women were subject of explicit ridicule in magazine and newspaper cartoons -- we were airheads, bimbos, bad drivers, harpies or -- the "new" stereotype -- communist-longhair-folk-singing-America-hating-hippie-riot-inciting-"girls" who were alternately "men hating" or -- an old phrase -- "of easy virtue."

  • it wasn't until the 1970's, when I was in college and already planning a career teaching English (after all, nursing required math-skills) that the idea of a career in the law for women as anything other than a secretary began to seem possible.
  • when I was in high school
  • when I  was practicing law (these all from the early '80s)
    • a partner for whom I worked told me that women weren't permitted at the local "men's only" club because "we don't want our wives there."
    • a Judge required me to identify myself as Mrs. or Miss and when I said I didn't think it necessary to identify myself by my marital status, asked "what are you some kind of [women's] libber?" (yes, I lost the motion)
    • I was advised by the few women attorneys senior to me not to get pregnant until after I made partner
    • secretaries were allowed to refuse to be assigned to a woman attorney
    • the first woman to make partner at my law firm was quite openly referred to as "the first muff partner" by her colleagues 
    • on the other hand, when a client said (of my assignment to its case) that the company did not want to be represented by a "girl," my partner told the client "then you don't want this firm representing you because she's the best associate I have"

I promise to work on my prejudices.  And I advise anyone who is about to appear before any dispute resolver -- be that person male, female, white, black, young or old, GOOGLE THEM FIRST!

$29 Million P.I. Arbitration Award: the Mystery Here: Why Did the Plaintiffs Want to Avoid a Jury Trial?

(RIGHT:  ARBITRATOR PRATT)

See this article from the Fresno Bee -- $29 million awarded in fatal Kings Co. apartment fire --Couple and 3 children died as relatives watched the inferno (excerpts below). 

In one of the largest wrongful death judgments in Kings County history, relatives of a young couple and three children who died in a devastating apartment fire won $29 million Tuesday.

Derik Faubion and his fiancée, Michell Mattison, both 19, perished in the fire at the Northgate Apartments along with their 2-month-old daughter, Hayden Allison Faubion. Two siblings of Mattison -- Lexus May Bisnar, 4, and her brother Ariel Nel Bisnar, 2 -- also died.

Retired Judge Daniel Pratt, acting as an arbitrator in the case, ruled Lemoore Real Estate and Property Management was negligent in maintenance of the 23-unit apartment complex at 226 E. Hazelwood Drive.

A key piece of evidence was a letter from the property management firm to tenants that stated "smoke detectors are not in place in most units." The letter was written six months before the fatal fire, court records show. . . .

Both sides agreed to let Kings County Superior Court Judge Thomas DeSantos assign the case to an arbitrator to avoid a jury trial. DeSantos chose Pratt, a retired judge in Southern California.

Pratt ruled in favor of the plaintiffs after hearing one day of testimony from Lemoore residents, firefighters and investigators. Pratt also viewed photographs of the plaintiffs who cried as they stood helpless outside the burning units. . . . 

"This is one of the saddest cases I have ever seen," said Marderosian, who has been practicing law since 1977. "It not only shocked the city, but wiped out the next generation of two families."

Hat Tip to Lawyers USA.

ADR Column The Human Factor Takes Flight at The Complete Lawyer

In the last three issues of The Complete Lawyer (see the LACBA issue here!) Stephanie West Allen, Diane Levin, Gini Nelson and I have been tuning up our conflict resolution violins.  In this issue's The Human Factor column, the four of us once again share our TCL space to talk (ever so briefly) about the ways in which conflict resolution techniques can help lawyers achieve that elusive goal of a blanced work-life.

Gini Nelson calls conflict avoidance (one of my favorite techniques in "real life") "deferred relationship maintenance,"  which nails this way of handling our personal lives on the head.  Read all about it here.

Diane Levin (here) addresses the problems none of us like to talk about -- dysfunctional workplaces, noting that

Our ability to connect with others, gain their trust, influence and motivate them is the social lubricant that makes businesses thrive. In fact, Dan Hull, an attorney I admire for his focus on client service, once wrote, "Treat each co-worker like he or she is your best client." He's right—nurture relationships for a healthier law firm.

Stephanie West Allen (here) our resident brain science afficianado (see Brains on Purpose) notes that

Our brain likes to be fuel efficient; by discerning patterns, it saves energy. It studies the situations at hand, whether they are protracted mediations, playful exchanges with a partner, or steely verbal duels with opposing counsel, to see if they resemble a situation it has seen in the past. We then base our judgments on that unconscious notion of past—but we are not always fully aware of the present. Yesterday's solutions do not always fit today’s problems.

If you read this blog on a regular basis, my contribution to this issue -- Let's Start Talking About What We Genuinely Value -- will sound pretty darn familiar; here's 'the problem" at its source -- click here for at least one solution.

According to the Global Rich List, AmLaw 100 associates are among the top .01% richest people in the world. Mid-level AmLaw partners are in the top .001% and beyond that the GRL stops counting. Though of course we do not.

If a comparison of our salaries with these galactic levels of compensation make us unhappy, it is unlikely that the following knowledge will make us happy—three billion people live on less than $2 and 1.3 billion on less than $1 per day. Why does this knowledge leave us untouched? Because we don’t compare ourselves to the rest of the world. We compare ourselves to the guy sitting in the office next to us.

So how did we—some of the smartest, richest, most creative, energetic and best educated people in the world—get so unhappy about money? I personally blame it on the American Lawyer even though, like drug dealers and the paparazzi, legal journalists wouldn’t be concentrating on profits per partner unless we were all so avid to know them.

Beginning with the next issue of The Complete Lawyer we'll be taking turns writing the column.  If you like what any of us have to say about ADR's value in your work and life, stay tuned!  There will be much, much more!

The rest of the issue is also well worth reading.  The focus is on EXIT STRATEGIES -- a topic not reserved for those contemplating retirement (though our interests are addressed here as well).  This is one profession where people start talking about exit stragies around the second week of the first year of law school.  So check it out!

Don't Send that Email; Pass Me the Pliers!

This story occurs in the spring of 2001, in a hotel room in Toronto, at 3 a.m., the morning of a deposition I've been preparing to take of an aging petrochemical engineer.

2001 is a  year I'd dreamed of since elementary school.  But the technological changes predicted in the science fiction of my childhood and adolescence are nothing like the "hi-tech" I'm living with now.  

 There are no one-man jets cruising the skies; no robots running my errands or cooking my dinner; no tele-transportation; and, on the political scene (it's not yet 9/11) no Big Brother

My personal 2001 "future" is mostly about my instantaneous access to information and "real time" communication via the "killer app" -- email -- telegraphic, spontaneous, unnuanced, and about to get me in a great deal of trouble.  (See Vanity Fair's must-read oral history of the internet here.)  

There's an associate back in Los Angeles, you see, the quality of whose work and the strength of whose dedication to the case at hand is in alarming decline.  More troubling, his work is deteriorating at the same time I'm taking old fashioned passenger jets from province to province to take the testimony of as many witnesses still living who know how 500+ toxic waste sites got that way in the first place.    

Did I say it's 3 a.m.?  The associate I'm thinking about failed to get me the outline I need for tomorrow's deposition on time -- or at all.  The "hard copies" that were supposed to be waiting for me when I arrived at the hotel have gone missing.  I'm tired.  I'm hungry.  I'm lonely.  And I'm angry. 

Worst of all, I'm composing an email to my  associate about my considerable disappointment in his recent performance.  There is a moment, a split second, in which my finger hovers over the "send" button while a rational voice in my head says "no."  Then I push "send."

Email Makes Settlement More Difficult  

More and more often when I'm meeting counsel on the morning of a mediation, they're also meeting one another for the first time.  In fact, they often have not even previously spoken to one another unless they've met in Court ("good morning, counsel") or in depositions (eyes averted; objections made).  Increasingly, by far the vast percentage of their communications have taken place via email.  

And that's a problem. 

Conflict Escalation

There's no question that litigation escalates whatever conflict existed when our client first walks in our door.  We don't, after all, make requests.  We issue demands.  We don't seek concessions.  We insist upon them.  We don't make inquiries.  We require responses.  And we're not such great listeners.  Rather, we impatiently tap our feet in Court, waiting for counsel to finish his argument (which we've heard dozens of times before) so we can press our case.

Are these bad things?  Not necessarily.  So long as we understand what we're doing and the likely results our conduct will have, escalation is not necessarily worse than maintaining a steady state or even deescalating conflict.  

The problem for most of us is that we don't know what we're doing and we don't understand the breadth and depth of the likely repercussions.  

In Conflict Escalation: Dispute Exacerbating Elements of E-Mail Communication, author Raymond A. Friedman of the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University quotes conflict specialists Rubin, Pruitt and Kim on the difficulties caused by escalation tactics and strategy.  According to Rubin, et al., escalation is 

"an increase in the intensity of a conflict as a whole.”  Escalation is important . . . because when conflict escalates it “is intensified in ways that are sometimes exceedingly difficult to undo.”  One reason why escalated conflicts are so hard to undo is that when more aggressive tactics are used by one side they are often mirrored by the other side, producing a vicious cycle.

Email, Friedman argues, unnecessarily, and often drastically, escalates conflict in ways none of us fully appreciate.  Unlike conversation -- in person or by telephone -- we are not

physically present with others, can’t see their faces or hear their voices, and can’t give or get immediate responses. The lack of contextual clues . . . impose high “understanding costs” on participants in e-mail interactions, making it harder to successfully ground the interaction. . . . /*  [T]the inability to carefully time actions and reactions . . . makes communication less precise.  

E-mail Not Only Lacks Social Clues, it is "Profoundly A-Social." 

Sitting in my Toronto hotel room at 3 a.m., reviewing online documents for tomorrow's deposition and now "penning" an email to my errant associate, I am, argues Friedman, not simply making communication more difficult, I have become "profoundly asocial" as my associate will also likely be when he reviews my email the following day.  "E-mails," writes Friedman,

are typically received and written while the writer is in isolation, staring at a computer screen – perhaps for hours at a time, so that awareness of the humanness of the counterpart may be diminished.

As evidence, Friedman cites research in which subjects played the "prisoner's dilemma" game against a computer.  Not only did the gamers act asocially in this context, "many continued to act asocially even when told that they were now playing with people (through the computer)."

E-mail, Friedman concludes, "often occurs in a context devoid of awareness of human sensibilities."

The Precise Difficulties Caused by E-Mail Communications?

Use of aggressive tactics. If e-mail communication encourages the use of more aggressive tactics during a dispute, or makes a counterpart’s tactics appear more aggressive, then escalation will be triggered.

Changes in view of other. Escalation is more likely if e-mail causes negative changes in psychological processes (e.g., perceptions and attitudes) towards the other, such as (1) seeing the other as unfair, (2) lessening empathy toward them, (3) increasing deindividuation and anonymity, or (4) or seeing the other as immoral.

Weakened interpersonal bonds. If e-mail weakens social bonds with the other, then escalation is more likely (e.g., due to reduced inhibitions for aggression).

Problems are difficult to resolve. If the communication limitations of e-mail (e.g., asynchrony deficits) make problems more difficult to solve, conflict may be escalated as frustrated disputants move from mild to more aggressive strategies to achieve their goals.

As a result, says Friedman, there are "higher rates of escalation when disputes are managed via e-mail than via face-to-face communication or other relatively rich media . . . such as telephone conversations." /**

Back in Los Angeles the Following Day

You knew this story was not going to have a happy ending.  What a cranky, tired, stressed partner types into her computer at 3 a.m. and what a fully awake associate reads with his morning coffee the following day are, as Friedman stresses, two quite different things.  And though I've rarely had a face-to-face disagreement with a colleague that cannot be mended by further communication, apologies, explanations and the like, this particular communication caused a rift that I was unable to heal.

This experience from several years ago, coupled with my recent mediation experiences, makes me want to advise, exhort, plead, beseech, entreat and pray that you commence every litigation with a telephone call rather than a "demand" letter or email.  And that you continue to communicate with opposing counsel by telephone or, even more radically, in person over a meal, throughout the litigation to make sure channels of communication are as open and clear as possible.

The difficulties saved will not only benefit your personal life (reduce stress, increase fellow-feeling and the like) but will benefit your client as well -- in case efficiencies and better settlements all around.     

 

______________________

*/  "Grounding" is the process 

by which two parties in an interaction achieve a shared sense of understanding about a communication and a shared sense of participation in the conversation. Grounding is important because “speech is evanescent...so Alan must try to speak only when he thinks Barbara is attending to, hearing, and trying to understand what he is saying, and she must guide him by giving evidence that she is doing just this."

** /  There's much more to be learned from this article, but these highlights should tell you whether further reading is in your interest or worth your time.  

The title?  The Firesign Theater here.

Negotiating Medical Liens on Settlement

This just in from the Met News for California practitioners. 

Where minor entered a settlement agreement with a third party tortfeasor by and through a guardian ad litem, and court made an allocation of the medical expenses portion of the settlement in the order approving plaintiff’s compromise, trial court did not err in rejecting plaintiff's later motion to reduce the amount of Medi-Cal lien against settlement proceeds by the same percentage that the settlement bore to the overall value of plaintiff’s case. 

Espericuenta v. Shewry - filed July 1, 2008, Second District, Div. Two Cite as 2008 SOS 3901

Question:  how do you determine the "overall value" of the plaintiff's case in order to reduce the lien by the same percentage that the settlement bears to that value?  Declaration by the Plaintiff's attorney?  Anyone who's actually read this case, do let my readers know! 

 

In a Down Economy, Drive "Iffy" Cases into ADR

See What About Clients' Post At What Price Glory here; excerpt below.

In a down American economy, litigation tends to increase. More suits are filed. And in my view clients and their plaintiff's lawyers file more questionable suits, i.e., ranging from Rule 11 violations and frivolous to iffy and wasteful. Employee and business nuisance cases are a big chunk of those filings.

A good arbitration panel or mediator will cut to the quality of the suit and its likelihood of success quicker than even the best American judges, who often feel obligated to give bad and iffy cases a wide berth. And good judges understand the problems of the business community and the utility of arbitration and mediation.

Get jurists on your side in your attempt to drive iffy cases into ADR.

Happens all the time; the parties come together to mediate their dispute and find that they haven't really understood their differences or the areas of agreement . 

"Your client didn't care about the first shipment of goods?"

"No, it was the second that was the problem."

"What was wrong with the second?"

"They were plaster of Paris."

"What are you claiming as damages .. .. . "

Etc., etc.

Forget ADR.  Pick up the telephone and talk to opposing counsel. 

Negotiating with Alpha Centaurians

(right, our ancestor, built for fighting)

In How to bargain with aliens, Marginal Revolution asks its readers the following questions:

 Let's say you meet up with an alien race and you need to bargain with them by radio or some other method of signaling. You don't have any other information other than your knowledge of human beings. What traits should you think are overrepresented in humans, relative to what a rerun of evolution can be expected to produce in an intelligent being? Would you expect them to be more or less benevolent than humans?  Should it matter if they have demonstrated superior technology? Should such achievement make you think they are more or less cooperative toward "outsiders"?

I suspect that all of these questions are meant to lead to the conclusion that "people" from more advanced civiliations would naturally be more peaceful, less aggressive and more cooperative with one another than we are. 

Why?  Because scientific and technological advancement occurs more quickly and is less prone to error if researchers are collaborating with rather than trying to "scoop" one another..

And the traits that are "overrepresented" in human beings?  Aggression of course.  As reported last year in MSNBC's Technology and Science column:

Even though [our primate forbears the] ustralopiths walked upright on the ground, they retained short legs for 2 million years for the same reason squatness helped out other great apes—for male-male combat. With the advantage in combat, short-legged primates would likely be victorious and gain access to females. That meant passing their genetic traits, like shortness, to offspring.

Could intelligent human beings have evolved without aggression?  Certainly. 

Chimps vs. Bonobos.

Over at theIP ADR Blog, */ we quoted author Nicolas Wade's 2003 comparison between the aggressive, vi