Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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At a CLE program I attended last week put on by the LA Superior Court and hosted by Pepperdine Law School, two of the panelists, Max Factor and Peter Robinson, got into something of a debate about how to handle an ethical situation. The topic concerned the mediator’s responsibilities when the mediator learns that one party to a mediation has slipped a potential land mine into a proposed agreement. Suppose the party inserting such a provision admits their deceitful intent and specifically instructs the mediator not to tell the other side of the land mine’s existence. Is the mediator bound to keep that information confidential? Perhaps, but to avoid being a party to a potential fraud, the mediator can at […]

(Wikimedia Commons) Judge Jed Rakoff of the Southern District of New York today rejected a proposed consent judgment and  $285 million settlement of an SEC enforcement action against Citigroup. The SEC alleged that Citigroup had defrauded investors in a fund comprised of toxic assets, but was willing to accept a monetary settlement and injunction without requiring Citigroup to admit the truth of these allegations. In this case, the court disapproved this longstanding practice, in its words, “hallowed by history, but not by reason.” The court’s opinion determined that the proposed Consent Judgment “is neither fair, nor reasonable, nor adequate, nor in the public interest. Most fundamentally, this is because it does not provide the Court with a sufficient evidentiary basis […]

We’re starting to hear outrage from both the left and the right in response to the debt ceiling deal that leaders of both parties have made on Sunday.  We’re being assured by the usual gang of pundits that this outrage from the most partisan members on both sides demonstrates that the deal is probably fair. It reminds me of something that a lot of mediators like to say, which is that if both parties are unhappy with a proposed settlement, that probably means that it is fair. As a mediator, I never like to use that line. Why would I want people to leave unhappy?  I prefer to try to persuade parties to a conflict that they should feel good about the settlement they are making. I […]

I used to think, back when I was a naive young law clerk, and even into my first few years of practice, that the legal system should provide a clear answer to most legal questions. If you were to read and research carefully any random motion, say for summary judgment, or listen to all the evidence and argument presented in any civil case, the vast majority of the time, the system should provide the same answer to each problem.  Especially for pure questions of law. If we’re not all getting the same answer, we probably just haven’t analyzed the problem carefully enough. I still think that predictability is an important ideal, but I no longer think the legal system will […]

Let’s say you’re the mediator and the plaintiff’s attorney makes an initial demand of $20 million in response to which the defendant offers $2.5 million. You turn to the plaintiff and ask how he feels about settling his claims, and he walks out of the conference room, saying “Whatever all of you decide is ok with me.”  What do you do? This was the situation in the second episode of the new series Fairly Legal, which involved the mediation of a civil suit by an exonerated prisoner who was wrongfully imprisoned for more than 20 years. Most mediators in that situation would take the plaintiff at his word, especially since he has an attorney to represent his interests, try to […]