Mediator Geoff Sharp Up Close and Personal (with Vickie Pynchon tagging along)
DAILY JOURNAL NEWSWIRE ARTICLE
© 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.
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."