‘Oncoming Tsunami’: With CDC Eviction Moratorium Ending July 31, Will ADR Programs Come to the Rescue of Tenants, Landlords, and Courts?

By Mylene Chan

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a number of negative economic effects, and one of the most significant is the exposure of renters across the United States to increased eviction risks.

And mediation, in turn, has been a significant response.

According to Princeton University’s eviction tracking system–monitoring five states and 29 cities in the United States–landlords have filed about 386,000 evictions during the pandemic, including an estimated 6,250 filed last week.

In response, governments at the federal, state, and local levels have developed short-term eviction moratoriums and similar measures to help renters keep their homes. But in the long run, eviction proceedings are likely to rise.

Federal, state, and local governments have adopted a variety of temporary emergency measures aimed at helping renters. For example, in September 2020, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Centers for Disease Control issued a nationwide moratorium on evictions. See the Federal Register announcement, since extended, here.  

This moratorium was challenged by real estate groups, but a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this week allowed it to remain in effect through the end of the month. Alabama Association of Realtors, et al. v. Department of Health and Human Services, et al., No. 20A169 (June 29); see also analysis at Amy Howe, “Divided court leaves eviction ban in place,” Scotusblog (June 29) (available at https://bit.ly/3xhd74c).  

In addition, Congress allocated $46 billion in rental assistance to struggling renters through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and the December 2020 Covid-19 relief package; much of the relief funding, however, has yet to reach struggling renters. See, e.g., “Emergency Rental Assistance through the Coronavirus Relief Fund,” Congressional Research Service (June 8) (available at https://bit.ly/3Ak9vjX).  See also Kristian Hernández, “As CDC’s Eviction Moratorium Ends, States Prepare for Flood of Cases,” Pew Stateline (June 22) (available at https://bit.ly/3AqTHw2).

Several states and cities–such as Maryland, New York, Vermont, Hawaii, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.–have adopted eviction bans or limitations. These moratoriums have sharply reduced eviction filings during the extent of the pandemic. 

But eviction restrictions will not remain in place indefinitely. After being extended several times, the federal moratorium is scheduled to expire on July 31. (See the CDC press release on the extension at https://bit.ly/3684qNN.) State and local eviction protections are also expected to end at some point this year. As a result, states and cities are preparing for a potential wave of eviction actions in their housing courts once moratoriums lift.

Some states and local governments have attempted to modify eviction procedures to make the process less burdensome on renters. For example, Maine passed a bill instructing landlords to explain the eviction process, options for legal assistance and rent relief, and eviction notices. Nevada and Illinois each adopted a law requiring courts to seal records of evictions relating to defaults during the pandemic.

One possible solution that could help both the courts and renters adapt to the expected rise in evictions is alternative dispute resolution. These programs aren’t new.  But recently, interest has been heightened due to the pandemic, and many U.S. jurisdictions have turned to ADR eviction programs to encourage tenants and landlords to negotiate.

According to the Urban Institute, as of April, there were 38 ADR eviction diversion and prevention programs nationwide. Mark Treskon, Solomon Greene, Olivia Fiol & Anne Junod, “Eviction Prevention and Diversion Programs,” Urban Institute Housing Research Crisis Collaborative (April 2021) (available at https://urbn.is/3qI9C4j).

The states with programs include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington. See https://bit.ly/3xdHMPP, collected by Chicago’s Resolutions Systems Institute.

ADR eviction programs have been successful in several jurisdictions over the past few years. One example is a St. Paul, Minn., housing clinic. Colleen Ebinger & Elizabeth Clysdale, “Justice Served, Housing Preserved: The Ramsey County Housing Court Model,” 41:3 Mitchell Hamline L.J. of Pub. Policy & Practice: Article 10 (2020) (available at https://bit.ly/2V1DaON).

In July 2018, the Ramsey County court—covering part of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area–launched a housing clinic with the target of reducing eviction by 50%  in five years. Eighteen months after implementation, eviction judgments declined, settlements rose, the court trial calendar lightened and expungements doubled.

Another successful eviction mediation program was developed by the Washington University School of Law Civil Rights & Mediation Clinic and the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council in St. Louis in 2012. Karen Tokarz, Samuel Hoff Stragand, Michael Geigerman & Wolf Smith, “Addressing the Eviction Crisis and Housing Instability Through Mediation,” 63 Washington U. J. of Law & Policy 243 (available at https://bit.ly/3694AEG).  

In the St. Louis Mediation Project, professional mediators and students provide free mediation services for landlord-tenant cases. In 2018, 71% of pro se landlord-tenant cases mediated by the project resulted in a settlement. More than half of these agreements resulted in a dismissal of eviction proceedings.

There is some evidence that even many landlords support ADR in the eviction context. Last month, the American Bar Association and the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program published a report identifying nationwide best practices to divert eviction filings and enhance housing stability. See “Designing for Housing Stability: Best Practices for Court-Based and Court-Adjacent Eviction Prevention and/or Diversion Programs” (available at https://bit.ly/3yn3FN7).

This research revealed that stakeholders generally supported eviction prevention efforts during the pandemic. More than 70% of the landlords surveyed were willing to discuss tenant non-payment outside of court. 

Report author Deanna Parrish, Clinical Instructor and Lecturer at Harvard Law School’s Dispute Systems Design Clinic, wrote in an e-mail:

Effective eviction prevention and/or diversion programs use a multi-sector and holistic approach to provide parties with a combination of legal representation, quality mediation, cash or rental assistance, and self-help or supportive services. Investing in eviction prevention and/or diversion programs is not just urgent, it is doable. These programs enjoy wide support across landlords, court staff, and tenants. Over 81% of property owners surveyed reported being less likely to pursue eviction if their tenant had access to rental or cash assistance.Court staff and judicial stakeholders reported eviction diversion programs as essential to helping lighten what they described as an “oncoming tsunami” of eviction filings once the CDC moratorium lifts. Tenant advocates have long been calling for legal representation and easily accessible rental and cash assistance, among other interventions, to help increase housing stability. Legislatures and courts should act swiftly to formalize eviction prevention. Doing so would be nothing short of a lifeline for millions of Americans, landlords and tenants alike.

As the Covid-19 pandemic winds down and emergency measures are lifted, alternative dispute resolution eviction programs may soften the blow to tenants as eviction moratoriums end. Although these ADR programs are in the early stages of adoption, there are promising signs that they might help the U.S. economy’s housing segment return to normalcy without significant housing disruptions.

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The author, an LLM candidate, at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, is a 2021 CPR Summer Intern.

[END]

Highlights from the June Session of the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation ‘Mediating Disputes’ Training

By Mylene Chan

The Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation conducted a June 7-11 program called Mediating Disputes. This is a recurring course that the program has offered to executives for many years.

About 50 professionals from around the world, including judges, lawyers, business executives, and nonprofit managers attended the sessions taught by Robert Mnookin, Samuel Williston Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, Gary Friedman, of Mill Valley, Calif.’s Mediation Law Offices, and Sausalito, Calif., mediator Dana Curtis.

Mediating Disputes provides training in the non-caucus “Mediation through Understanding” model of mediation that Mnookin, Friedman, and, along with Friedman, co-founder of the Center for Understanding in Conflict, Jack Himmelstein, of New Rochelle, N.Y., have developed and promoted as teachers and practitioners for more than 20 years at the Center of Mediation in Law and the Harvard Negotiation Research Project.

The Understanding Model is a transparent approach in which conflicts are resolved through deepened understanding. This approach eschews the risks of coercion and manipulation potentially present in some other mediation models. 

A distinguishing feature is that all parties work together in a mediation with everyone present. There are no separate meetings and no shuttle diplomacy where the mediator alone has information from both sides. This arrangement eliminates the opportunity for mediators to manipulate information asymmetry. Apart from resolving that ethical dilemma, working together fosters more extensive mutual understanding between the disputants.

The model starts from the foundational belief that disputants should not caucus when conflicts arise and that, in fact, embracing conflicts is often the best opportunity to create value. By staying together throughout the mediation, even when emotions are high, the disputants are forced to vet their underlying interests, allowing the true issues to surface and bring about more nuanced appreciation of each party’s perspective and interest.

Another distinctive characteristic of the Understanding Model is the emphasis on placing ultimate responsibility for whether and how the conflict is resolved on the disputants, not the mediator. It is the parties, rather than the professionals, who ultimately have the best knowledge of what underlies their disputes. Although the intensity of the conflict can obscure their views, the parties hold the key to reaching a resolution of their dispute that best serves them.  When the parties take the lead in resolving the conflict, coercion and manipulation can be eliminated from a mediation, according to the course. 

Mnookin, Friedman, and Curtis presented together during the five-day course. The faculty members engaged the participants in two full mediation stimulations–a personal dispute and a complex business dispute–using the Understanding Model. Each day was dedicated to one of the model’s phases, including contracting, defining the problem and dealing with conflict, understanding law and interests, generating options, and exploring interests and packages.

The faculty demonstrated how each phase should be conducted.  They sent the participants to breakout rooms to roleplay, with guidance and critique, followed by debriefing.  After the day concluded, the three faculty members held office hours for follow-up questions.

The attendees participated in about four hours of simulated mediations using the Understanding Model so they could understand its impact and effect cognitively and viscerally.  

On the final day, the faculty showed a mediation training video produced by the International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution, the host of CPR Speaks, illustrating the caucus model to compare and contrast the different styles. See “Resolution Through Mediation: Solving a Complex International Business Problem” (updated version on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTbj-eHwX-w and available from CPR at https://bit.ly/3cFEkW5).

* * *

Reflecting on the processes reviewed in the Program on Negotiation training sessions, Prof. Robert Mnookin noted, “Many lawyer-mediators primarily rely on separate meetings or caucusing for understandable reasons:

(1) it is more comfortable for them because it avoids their having to deal with heated conflict between the parties;

(2) they believe they will be told things in secret that will allow them to create alternatives that facilitate resolution. Besides, many lawyers (who typically select the mediator) prefer it because it gives them more client control.”

“But in my view,” Mnookin continued, “there is far too much reliance on caucusing. The Understanding Model puts the focus on the parties themselves and provides a much greater opportunity for them to take responsibility for helping shape a resolution that may provide a foundation for repairing a damaged relationship.”

Faculty member and Understanding Model developer Gary Friedman noted in an email,  “The model is premised on the idea that the power of understanding is an underutilized power as opposed to the power of coercion, and has the ability to help people find agreements that are more responsive to what’s personally important to them. Understanding in the form of agreements about how the mediation proceeds as well as the ultimate result give the parties control not just over the outcome, but provides them with participation in designing the process as well.”

Faculty member Dana Curtis, like Robert Mnookin, also had misgivings about relying on caucuses in mediation. She stated, “Unfortunately, the caucus model has eclipsed the Understanding Model, especially in recent years. I believe this has occurred for two reasons. Lawyers prize their role as legal adversaries and protectors at the expense of their role as collaborators and problem-solvers. And mediators, especially retired judges and lawyers brought up on settlement conferences, have not acquired the skills and understandings to enable them to offer parties and lawyers an alternative that can lead to a satisfying and meaningful process and, hopefully, resolution, rather than simply a ‘deal.’”

Concluded Curtis: “We would like to change that!”

Details of the Understanding Model can be found at the links above, and in Beyond Winning: Negotiating to Create Value in Deals and Disputes by Robert H. Mnookin, with Scott R. Peppet and Andrew S. Tulumello (Harvard University/Belknap Press 2004).  A mediation training video illustrating the Understanding Model titled Saving the Last Dance: Mediation Through Understanding, with Robert Mnookin and Jack Himmelstein as narrators and Gary Friedman as mediator, is available at the Harvard Program on Negotiation website at https://bit.ly/35hbdEE.  

And for more on recent views of mediation joint sessions and caucusing, see “Decline of Dialogue? Galton, Love & Weiss on Joint Sessions, Caucuses, and the State of Mediation,” CPR Speaks (June 2) (available at https://bit.ly/3daRBGe).

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The author, an LLM candidate, at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, is a 2021 CPR Summer Intern.

[END]

Claim Forfeited? California Appeals Court Upholds Exclusion of Estate Benefits for Non-Compliance with Court-Ordered Mediation

By Mylene Chan

A recently filed petition for review pending before the California Supreme Court raises a controversial issue regarding the fairness of court actions related to non-compliance with court-ordered mediation.

Breslin v. Breslin, 62 Cal.App.5th 801 (Jan. 26) (available at https://bit.ly/3xI7ige), is a probate case for which a cert petition was filed at California’s top Court on May 6.

The case involves a probate dispute regarding interests in a trust, with potential beneficiaries including 24 charities. The court ordered mediation, but most of the nonprofit groups did not attend. The attending parties reached an agreement.

The opinion notes, “The settlement agreement awarded specific amounts to various parties, including the appearing charities, and attorney fees with the residue to the intestate heirs.” Other non-attending parties were not included.

The probate court approved the settlement and explained that appellants lost their interests in the trust by failing to file responses and objections to the initial trustee’s petition and failing to participate or appear in the court-ordered mediation.

The appellate court upheld the probate court’s decision on the ground that the California Probate Code gives courts discretion to order mediation. “A party receiving notice under the circumstances here, who fails to participate in court-ordered mediation, is bound by the result,” the opinion states.  

The appellants argued that the court’s decision conflicts with existing California laws that are designed to honor a decedent’s testamentary intent, protect beneficiaries, avoid forfeitures, and encourage charitable giving. “Under the label of ‘forfeiture,’ the majority opinion has established what amounts to a terminating sanction for beneficiaries who fail to attend private mediation,” the petition states.

In a reply to the cert petition, Kevin G. Staker and Brandon P. Johnson, of Camarillo, Calif.’s StakerLaw Tax and Estate Planning Law Corp., on behalf of respondent David Breslin, who is the estate’s trustee, argued that the appellants were never vested beneficiaries and lost their alleged rights in the trust because they failed to participate in the court-ordered mediation.

Mark A. Lester, Katherine H. Becker, and Eric A. Hirschberg, attorneys at Jones, Lester, Schuck, Becker & Dehesa in Camarillo, Calif., who filed a brief on behalf of intestate respondents Paul G. Breslin and Kathleen Breslin LaForgia, took a similar position, and also noted that affirming the lower court decisions benefits the trust and estate practice. Respondent counsel Lester indicated in an email with the blog’s author that using mediation early in trust and estate disputes means that the vast balance of the estate gets to the beneficiaries rather than the attorneys. 

The California attorney general submitted a six-page amicus curiae letter in support of the appellants’ request that the state Supreme Court grant review of Breslin. The attorney general argued that the case raises important questions concerning whether a court has discretion to waive a beneficiary’s objections to a petition for approval of a settlement agreement and presents significant policy ramifications.

It is uncertain what trends Breslin would set nationally because Breslin raises several challenging issues, such as forfeiture, due process, cost burdens, and bad faith. For now, it does not appear that New York, for example, would endorse a similarly harsh sanction for non-compliance with court-ordered mediation.

In the past five years, in New York state and federal courts, a court has sanctioned parties for non-compliance only in rare cases. For example, in Workneh v. Super Shuttle Int’l, Inc., 2020 WL 3492000 (S.D.N.Y. June 8, 2020), the court dismissed the case; in Kantor v. Air Atl. Med., P.C., 2020 WL 7130732 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 23, 2020), the court issued default judgments and recommended monetary sanctions, and in Rice v. NBCUniversal Media, LLC, 2019 WL 3000808, (S.D.N.Y. July 10, 2019), the court imposed a monetary sanction.

These three cases involved egregious behavior–such as repeated violations of court orders in a variety of contexts over the course of two years (responses to discovery requests, refusal to provide authorization, failure to appear as directed), and failure to communicate with the court and opposing counsel for almost a year–warranting serious sanctions. It appears, however, that New York judges might not quickly divest parties of rights for non-appearance as did the California court in Breslin.

If the California Supreme Court accepts Breslin and affirms the lower court rulings, it could signal a shift in the impact and effects of court-ordered mediation. The mediation community, as suggested by the cert petition, is watching closely.  Practitioners will want to monitor the case because of its potential to change the standards applied to parties in court-ordered mediation.

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The author, an LLM candidate, at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, is a 2021 CPR Summer Intern.

[END]

EEOC (and Congress) Rolls Back ADR Policy

By Cai Phillips-Jones

A new U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rule affecting the agency’s conciliation process became effective Feb. 16, but was repealed via a Senate resolution last month. The May 19 Senate move signals “disapproval”; In order for the rule to be fully overturned, the House will have to vote on the joint resolution, and it must be signed into law by President Biden.

Passage is likely in House, where it awaits consideration. The conciliation process rule, devised under the Trump Administration, drew fire from Democrats because it required more information in early stages of discrimination complaints to be provided to employers, and critics said that could spark retaliations.  Republican supporters said the process supported settlements. See, e.g., Daniel Wiessner, “Senate votes to repeal EEOC settlement rule that ID’ed bias victims,” Reuters (May 19) (available at https://reut.rs/3wcIYCG).

Conciliation is a mediation-like process that aims to increase the speed at which EEOC complainants get relief. Conciliation is conducted by an EEOC investigator rather than a third-party mediator, and takes place after the agency has found evidence of discrimination.

The new rule required the EEOC to share the factual and legal basis of any findings of discrimination with employers about findings of discrimination during the conciliation process. The rule aims to increase the transparency of the conciliation process by providing the employer with more information about their potential liability.

The rule has been viewed as a rollback of the Supreme Court decision in Mach Mining v. EEOC, 575 U.S. 480 (2015) (available at https://bit.ly/2TmuMZg), which limited the amount of information employers received about EEOC discrimination findings.

The Senate vote to overturn the new conciliation rule is the latest example of EEOC rules changing since the Biden administration took office. In addition to this rule change, a conciliation pilot program was ended earlier than expected, in January. The pilot program made a small change to the existing EEOC program by mandating that settlement offers be shared with “appropriate levels of [EEOC] management” before being shared with the respondent.

In January, the EEOC also ended a mediation pilot program, which expanded the use of mediation to additional case types and during more phases of the EEOC administrative process. The mediation pilot program was announced on July 7, 2020, and was originally scheduled to run for six months, ending in January 2021. On Jan. 6, the pilot was extended until September, 2021. But the EEOC reversed course weeks later, and under new Biden Administration EEOC leadership, ended the program on Jan. 27.

In addition to expanding the availability of mediation, the pilot program also increased the use of video-conferencing mediation and electronic feedback from mediation participants. The video conferencing and electronic communication elements will be carried forward from the pilot program, as will the ability for parties to request a mediation at any point during the EEOC process.

It appears that the only major part of the pilot not being continued is the expansion of mediation to additional case types. EEOC cases are individually evaluated for referral to mediation. Some case types, however, including class and systemic charges, have historically been exempted from mediation referrals. During the pilot, these exemptions were suspended. The end of the pilot likely signifies a return to exempt status for these cases.

In the Jan. 27 press release terminating the previously extended pilot but noting the popularity and success of EEOC mediation, the new EEOC Chair, Charlotte A. Burrows, endorsed the continuing use of mediation and conciliation when appropriate. “I strongly support the prompt and voluntary resolution of discrimination charges whenever doing so is consistent with our mission,” she noted in a statement in the release, adding, “The Commission will continue to strengthen its conciliation and mediation programs in accordance with the overarching goal of preventing and remedying discrimination in the workplace.”

Burrows was critical of the pilot program’s implementation by predecessor chair Janet Dhillon. As an EEOC Commissioner last July, Burrows, noting that the program hurt the agency’s traditional enforcement role, said that Chair Dhillon “lacks authority to institute this sweeping change unilaterally, because it contradicts policy formally approved by a Commission vote.” See Paige Smith, “EEOC Alters Mediation Process Under New Temporary Program,” Bloomberg Law (July 7, 2020) (available here).

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The author, a J.D. student who will enter his third year this fall at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, is a 2021 CPR Summer Intern.

[End]

Decline of Dialogue? Galton, Love & Weiss on Joint Sessions, Caucuses, and the State of Mediation

If the point of mediation is to get parties together to discuss and thereby resolve their problems, why is the distinct trend to keep the parties apart?

The cover story in the new June issue of Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation presents a survey that shows how caucuses predominate and joint sessions are declining in mediation practice. 

The authors–veteran leaders in the profession—are Eric Galton of Lakeside Mediation Center in Austin, Texas; Lela P. Love, a law professor and director of the Kukin Program for Conflict Resolution at New York’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, and Jerry Weiss, founder of MediationInc, based in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

The authors join us in the YouTube video above to discuss their research.  Please like and share it at the YouTube link or below on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

In their Alternatives article, “The Decline of Dialogue: The Rise of Caucus-Only Mediation And the Disappearance of the Joint Session,” 39 Alternatives 89 (June 2021), the authors chart the regional differences in the use of joint sessions and so-called phenomenon of “mediation without dialogue,” and use an example of how joint sessions can be deployed to reduce the conflict that caused the dispute.

Alternatives is available here to CPR members who are logged into the CPR website.  Subscription information is available at altnewsletter.com.

[END]

Mediation Confidentiality: Misconceptions, Pitfalls and Best Practices

By Temitope Akande

CPR’s Mediation Committee presented Los Angeles mediator Jeff Kichaven on the limits of mediation confidentiality at a March 16 online program that provided attendees with cutting-edge and occasionally controversial practice guidance on confidentiality, and avoiding neutrals’ liability disclaimers, as well as ethics continuing legal education credits.

Kichaven began his presentation with a statement he attributed to the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in 2003:

The principle of separation of powers is central to the American system of government. The framers of the American Constitution believe that that principle, as popularized by Montesquieu, was the single most important guarantee of freedom. No political truth, wrote James Madison in the Federalist Papers, is certainly of greater intrinsic value or is stamped with the authority of more enlightened patrons of liberty.

Kichaven continued, “For the separation of powers regime to work, we must have a robust and functioning judiciary, as well as executive and legislative branches to our government, and for that to happen it’s necessary for people to have confidence in the judiciary.”

That’s why we have the “basic rule of evidence everywhere–all relevant evidence is admissible,” Kichaven explained. If parties and advocates want courts to get things right, he said, the courts need to have the relevant evidence before them, and anytime court does not get a case right, it is eroding a key element of the law.

While evidence law recognizes certain privileges, which frustrate courts’ abilities to get relevant evidence, “those privileges serve important societal purposes,” he said, which is critical, for example, for the functioning of lawyers, doctors and clergy in their critical professions.

Kichaven explained that Wigmore’s attorney-client privilege—the prevailing standard in law and practice protecting communications—”construe[s] privileges narrowly, no more broadly than necessary to effectuate their purposes, because every time privileges are asserted, a court is deprived of relevant evidence, [and] it becomes less likely that a court will get a decision right.” So, a key element of the rule of law is eroded every time a court is unable to adjudicate a claim properly.

This led to the discussion of what Kichaven called “the mantra that confidentiality is necessary for effective mediation.” Kichaven emphasized the word “mantra” because he opined that there is no evidence to support the assertion the confidentiality is necessary for effective mediation.

He defined confidentiality for the purposes of the session in three ways–

  • Evidentiary confidentiality: “Can courts compel disclosure of what is said or done in mediation as part of discovery or trials?”;
  • Caucus confidentiality: “People say things to mediators in caucuses and mediators agree not to disclose those things to the opposing parties,” and
  • Societal confidentiality: “Are we allowed to talk to reporters, bartenders neighbors and various others about what people say or did in mediation?“

On caucus confidentiality, he said that it assumes people disclose secrets, and mediators keep them confidential. The two parts of the assumption are problematic in commercial cases, he said, because it is rare that parties volunteer weaknesses in their case of which the other side is not aware because “there is always a greater than zero percent chance that the mediator will leak” those secrets.

Kichaven said, “The best way to keep it a secret is not to tell the mediator in the first place.  . . . And also, let’s face it, mediators often leak. We can’t help it.” He discussed subconscious actions and words that result in mediator leaks.

Societal confidentiality is a problem in product liability and sexual harassment cases, among others, said Kichaven, because it is generally a subject to be covered by statutes. Still, legislatures haven’t imposed societal confidentiality as a condition of participating in settlement talks or mediation, he explained, but some mediators put it into their confidentiality agreements.

“In essence,” he said, “the mediators are conditioning their willingness to serve on people forfeiting rights that legislators wanted them to have, or at least allowed them to have. [T]hey are having people waive those rights, a condition of serving as mediator.”

Kichaven discussed at length evidentiary confidentiality, which was his key focus in the CPR seminar.  He stated that there is no evidence to prove that evidentiary confidentiality is necessary for effective mediation. In support of this assertion, he discussed the California Legislature’s request to the state’s Law Revision Commission to evaluate a possible exception to California’s mediation confidentiality law for legal malpractice that is alleged to have occurred at a mediation.

The exception—which is in the Uniform Mediation Act but which California has not adopted–would have allowed the introduction of mediation evidence from the session to back a legal malpractice claim. The mediation establishment, according to Kichaven, failed to produce any evidence to prove that evidentiary confidentiality actually is necessary to conduct effective mediation. If the evidence existed, he said, nobody was in a better position to deliver it.

He further stated that U.S. jurisdictions largely reject the need for evidentiary confidentiality in mediation, and compared the adoptions of the Uniform Mediation Act. The act is “kind of a failure,” he said, noting its adoption in only 11 states and the District of Columbia.

Neither has the act fostered “mediation tourism,” he said. If statutory confidentiality were necessary for effective mediation, there would be more mediation in states that have the statutory confidentiality, Kichaven maintained, adding, therefore, “this concern about confidentiality is just overblown.”

In In re MSTG Inc., 675 F.3d 1337 (Fed. Cir. 2012) (available at https://bit.ly/3tX8rP8), the appellate court was asked to adopt a settlement communication privilege as a matter of federal common law, which Kichaven said would far exceed the protections of Federal Rule of Evidence 408, Compromise Offers and Negotiations.  The circuit court, he reported, held that “while there is clearly an important public interest in favoring the compromise and settlement of disputes, disputes are routinely settled without the benefit of a settlement privilege. It is this thus clear that an across-the-board recognition of a broad settlement negotiation privilege is not necessary to achieve settlement.”

Kichaven repeated that parties do not conduct mediation “tourism” to take advantage of statutory confidentiality like litigators may do when the laws would be to their advantage. That is, litigators do not react to the statutory confidentiality, privilege, or rules in mediation like they might in other areas, like patents.

Kichaven discussed two cases, People v. PriceWaterhouseCoopers, 150 A.D.3d 578 (2017), and GE Company v. APR Energy (see discussion below). He noted that the first case is a complex financial matter, important to the mediation confidentiality issue, because the process and analysis has gotten much more complicated with many mediations conducted with interstate parties–with parties and advocates often living and practicing law in different states.

He focused on the PriceWaterhouseCoopers case in part because of its New York origin, noting that New York is important to commercial litigation and mediation, making it a likely site of problems.  And “New York law is kind of a mess, and it’s not a mess that favors mediation confidentiality,” he said.

In the case, the New York court applied the forum law—which does not include a statutory accountant-client privilege, in contrast to the law where the contract took place, Texas.

This led Kichaven to discuss of the 1934 and 1971 Restatement of Conflict of Laws. The 1934 restatement provides for the territoriality test–courts are to apply the law of the forum where discovery was sought in cases where there are conflicts regarding evidentiary privileges and confidentiality, regardless of where the communications took place.

But the American Law Institute’s second restatement in 1971 replaced the territoriality tests with the “significant relationship test,” where courts are supposed to apply the state privilege law with the most significant relationship to the communications at issue. Generally, said Kichaven, that’s thought to be the state where the communications took place.

Therefore, courts have a motivation to do justice in the case before them, and want to get relevant evidence to do their jobs, Kichaven explained.  That means, he said, they are inclined to pick the law of whatever state gives them the greatest ability to obtain evidence while conducting the mediation, which puts the mediation communications at risk.

The important point from General Electric Co. v. APR Energy PLC, 19-CV-3472 (VM) (KNF) (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 14, 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/2PdF9Nc), is territoriality. New York courts will not automatically apply the privilege or confidentiality law of the place where the mediation took place. That is, a written confidentiality agreement in a prior mediation may not protect a party even if the prior mediation took place in a state with stronger statutory protection for mediation confidentiality.

The result is that a New York court may compel production of materials from a prior mediation upon request in a New York matter, Kichaven said, potentially even using a general evidentiary relevance standard under FRE 26, rather than a heightened mediation “standard of need.” That could occur in New York, he said, even if the state the mediation occurred in had a higher standard of protection and even if there was a confidentiality agreement between the mediation parties.

Kichaven warned that when there is a breach of confidentiality, a mediator could be sued for ordinary negligence, negligent misrepresentation, or perhaps more severe claims on basis that the neutral induced or allowed clients to be more candid than they otherwise would have been.  So, since confidentiality may not protect mediators, it is problematic in terms of whether mediators should promise mediation confidentiality at all because they are not promises mediators have the power to keep, he said.

As an ethical issue, mediators and lawyers are not supposed to make guarantees to clients on the outcome of judicial proceedings. “But,” explained Kichaven, “when you make that airtight [mediation] confidentiality promise, is that not just precisely what you have done? . . . By so doing you’ve misled your clients as well and that’s a potential ethical issue, too.”

Advocates need to inform their party-clients on the potential persistent use of the territoriality test, said Kichaven, and decide on how candid they should be during the mediation. For these reasons, Kichaven disclosed that he does not use written mediation confidentiality agreements in order to avoid the appearance of making promises to mediation parties, or practicing law via the production of a contract that applies to the rights of both sides. “It’s up to the parties to have the kind of confidentiality agreements that suit them best,” said Kichaven.

Finally, Kichaven advised that the best practice is for mediators to ensure that they do not get sued based on a prospective waiver of liability.  He said to avoid the use of such clauses in confidentiality agreements—that is, the waivers are another reason not to provide a confidentiality agreement.

He noted that the typical clause says, “The mediator shall have no liability for any act or omission in connection with this mediation.”  Said Kichaven, “It’s a cowardly act,” something mediators would do to avoid the consequences of their conduct.  

He stated that the liability waiver is really saying that, as a mediator, “We are announcing to the world that we are lowering our ethical standards.  . . . We should be sending the message that we stand behind the quality of our work and that we want you to be compensated and treated fairly in the unlikely event something goes wrong.”

* * *

CPR members can access the full video here after logging in.

* * *

Akande, who received a Master of Laws in Alternative Dispute Resolution last May at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law in Los Angeles, is volunteering with the CPR Institute through Spring 2021.

CEDR’s Eileen Carroll: Her Mediation Story

By Antranik Chekemian

F. Peter Phillips, director of New York Law School’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Skills Program, welcomed an online audience earlier this month as part of the program’s long-running lunchtime speaker series for a session with veteran U.K. mediator Eileen Carroll.

Carroll is founder of London-based Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution, better known as CEDR, “by far the most influential and prescient dispute resolution organization not only in the U.K., but really . . .  in Europe,” said Phillips in the introduction to the Feb. 10 session, which had about 40 attendees.

Phillips invited Carroll to share her professional background and how her journey into the ADR world started.  Carroll opened describing, among other things, a long history with the publisher of this CPR Speaks blog, the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution, and recounted some of those interactions over these years.  [Phillips is a former CPR senior vice president.]

She said she was a senior litigation partner at a London law firm in the 1980s, with “good contacts” in the U.S., and she took a six-month secondment to San Francisco.  “I was one of the senior litigation partners and they asked me whether I would go and work with a firm on the west coast,” she said, “and I took myself off to San Francisco.”

She said that she decided her focus would be alternative dispute resolution. “I learned a bit about mediation from some of the research I had done, and I thought that would be my project,” she said. She noted that she was impressed by how the mediation process “extracted people from the drama of litigation.” Carroll explained:

I then was given a book called The Manager’s Guide to Resolving Legal Disputes by Henry and Lieberman.  . . . Jim Henry, based in New York, who had started . . .  CPR. He became a very dear friend, and I was going to write a book, but someone gave me his book . . . and I decided when I read that I was really fired up to do something.

James F. Henry is founder of CPR, and Jethro Lieberman is a former CPR vice president and a retired New York Law School professor.

Carroll showed the audience an article she wrote stemming from her U.S. work, “Are We Ready for ADR in Europe?” International Financial Law Review 8 Part 12, 11 (1989).

The article’s title, she said, “was a question no one had asked, and I was determined that we were going to be ready for ADR in Europe. But I knew […] that I needed to do something to get a support behind me, so I set about founding a nonprofit organization.” She added, “I did get inspiration from Jim [Henry].”

She added, “By the time we launched CEDR, I had managed to get with the help of others–80 big companies to support the idea–[and] the major law firms in London didn’t want to be left out, so they thought they better support the idea.”

Philips jumped in and mentioned that CEDR’s story was similar to the CPR Institute’s origin in the U.S. “It wasn’t as if the idea was ‘Let’s take mediation and convince people of it’ so much as it was ‘Let’s take a core of leading owners of disputes–leading corporations, people who spend a lot of money litigating–and convene them so that they become the torchbearers,” said Phillips, adding, “They became the people who are convincing their peers.”

Carroll said that the ties to North America in her work continues, citing current work with the International Academy of Mediators. [CPR and CEDR continue to collaborate on seminars and trainings. Information on the next scheduled joint training–a four-day advanced mediation skills training seminar that begins April 19, in which the organizations will be joined by the Silicon Valley Arbitration & Mediation Center, is available on CPR’s website here.]

Philips asked Carroll about the role of emotion in commercial mediation, noting “the challenge to determine the extent to which . . . the expression of emotion in a commercial context is helpful.”

Carroll said, “In every conflict, there is emotion–people are upset in some way or other. Whether it’s because they have been avoiding it, whether it’s anger, whether it’s anxiety, all of those emotions I find present, and they display themselves in different ways, because we all have different kinds of personalities.”

She stressed the importance of “creating an environment where people can tell whatever their story is.” She stated that a mediator’s job is not to patronize but to notice the parties’ emotions and feelings, and explore them at the right moment with the right questions.

Carroll further emphasized that there is not a uniform approach in mediation. “There may be several working sessions with different people,” she said, “so to deal with these emotions, you have to go at it carefully without too many assumptions and create the space to get to know the people that you’re going to work with.”

Phillips then asked Carroll about the challenges women encounter in ADR. “When you were a practicing lawyer, you were very frequently the only woman in the room,” he said, “In the early days of ADR, you were very frequently one of the very few women who was making a go of it,” he said.

She emphasized that because law firms usually advise their clients during the mediator selection process, “they often follow the same kind of pattern of three names.” She expanded:

When l look back to the beginning of the field when we first started, . . . there was just a sense that we need people with status, people with experience, so at that point people were kind of looking to, ‘Who were those senior people?’ And the legal profession, even in the early 90s, a lot of those people were men. It is changing. But . . . those who were early entrants to the field obviously got . . . a reputation. [If they] were good mediators and good arbitrators who were around in the mid-90s, some of those people still have incredibly effective practices today.

Phillips then asked Carroll about a recent CEDR report that discussed “how female mediators view their strengths as opposed to how male mediators view their strengths.” [CEDR’s current research can be found here.]

“[W]omen recognized that they were good at relationships and empathy,” said Carroll, recalling the research, “and a lot of guys obviously have that experience, but . . . a lot of the men saw themselves as more as getting the deal done, much more transactional.”

Carroll then referred attendees to a Simon Baron-Cohen’s 2012 book, “The Essential Difference: Men, Women and the Extreme Male Brain, which discusses these issues.

“Women do have some very natural abilities in relation to communication skills and they have done work with babies, boys, and girls . . . and the way they react.  . . . So, women have a lot of natural skill in the area of mediation which I think sometimes they underplay because if you look at in life, women often have the role of having to make . . . all the relationships work within a family, sometimes in an office,” said Carroll.

Emphasizing the need for diversity, she concluded, “Women absolutely have the capability to do any tough mediation, because they have got the intellectual skill, they understand the background of the problem. There is no reason why there could not be as many successful commercial women mediators as men. I think it’s something about the filter of the selection process, which I think is changing.”

“All the business people I have worked with through the years in mediation, I have never had a problem,” said Carroll.  “Over time,” she continued, “I have never . . . felt any concern in dealing with business people about the role of the woman mediator. Never. I would not say that was always the case in relation to certain members of the bar.  . . . I have always managed to walk around it. It hasn’t been a problem.”

She concluded her presentation discussing instilling “patience and persistence” into mediation to make it successful.

* * *

Eileen Carroll’s presentation is archived at the NYLS ADR Program link above and directly on YouTube here.

* * *

The author, a second-year student at New York’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, is a CPR 2021 intern.

[END]

#CPRAM21: Managing Workplace Conflicts, On-site and Remote

If you missed the 2021 CPR Annual Meeting in January—the first free public meeting held online in the organization’s 40-year history—the videos are being posted on CPR’s YouTube Channel. While additional videos will be posted for CPR members only, the first, linked here on CPR Speaks, is open access and features the keynoters, CNN Anchor and Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash and General James Mattis, who is former U.S. Defense Secretary. Click the Subscribe button at YouTube for alerts and for more CPR content. For information on full access and joining CPR, please visit CPR’s Membership webpage here.

By Antranik Chekemian

Kimberley Lunetta, who represents management in employment matters as of counsel at Morgan Lewis & Bockius, moderated a third-day CPR Annual Meeting panel on state-of-the-art best practices for addressing and resolving workplace disputes. The panel mainly concentrated on managing employees and disputes in the current remote environment, and how to set up an ADR program in order to prevent and resolve conflicts.

The Jan. 29 session included four panelists:

  • Alfred G. Feliu, who heads his own New York firm, is a longtime panelist for CPR Dispute Resolution and the American Arbitration Association’s commercial and employment arbitration and mediation panels. He is past chair of the New York State Bar Association’s Labor and Employment Law Section and a fellow of the College of Commercial Arbitrators and the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers.
  • Wayne Outten is chair and founder of New York’s Outten & Golden LLP, which focuses on representing employees. He has represented employees for more than 40 years as a litigator. He has long advocated for using mediation in employment disputes. His practice focuses on problem solving, negotiating, and counseling on behalf of employees.
  • Cheryl M. Manley is a veteran labor employment attorney with more than 25 years of  experience, and since 2005 has been at Charter Communications, where she is senior vice president and associate general counsel of employment law, leading the broadband/cable operator’s Employment Law Group.
  • Andrew J. Weissler is a partner in the labor and employment group of Husch Blackwell. He is a member of the firm’s virtual office, the Link, based in Bloomington, Ill. Weissler advises and represents public and private clients on workplace issues involving difficult personnel decisions.

Feliu and Outten are on a subcommittee of CPR’s Employment Disputes Committee that is working on a model workplace disputes program, along with a new version of CPR’s Employment Dispute Arbitration Procedure to be issued soon.

A poll conducted at the beginning of the panel showed that remote working was new for most of the participants.

Lunetta launched the discussion by asking Feliu about the threshold questions employers should ask themselves when considering an ADR program.

If the principal goal is avoiding litigation, responded Feliu, then employers “are really focusing on processing existing or incipient claims.” As a result, he said, employers “are going to focus more on arbitration–on ending up with a process that brings an ultimate result.”

But if the employer’s goal is more on problem solving and identifying tensions before they become disputes and the employer views conflict resolution as a strategic imperative, then the alternative approach of problem-solving should be embraced, he said. Here, the focus is different than pure litigation avoidance. Said Feliu, “Litigation avoidance or reduction of legal costs will be part–will be an effect, hopefully–of the problem-solving process but wouldn’t necessarily be the goal.”

This approach would also help the organization become more competitive, he said–to work more constructively and efficiently while, as an after-effect, avoiding litigation.

Feliu explained, “How do you do this? You do this is by opening up lines of communication, by necessarily undercutting to a certain extent the chain of command. You’re empowering employees to come forward with their disputes at whatever level and whatever the nature. And by doing that, you are creating a different kind of an organization that is less hierarchical, less structured, and more fluid.”

Wayne Outten added that ADR is ideal for workplace disputes. Because there already is an important relationship between both sides and the relationship is typically continuing, said Outten, it “is a perfect place for identifying problems and solving them early on.” He then presented two approaches that companies can embrace for dispute resolution procedures, the legal mentality and the human resources mentality.

The legal mentality, said Outten, is, “Let’s find a way to avoid lawsuits and to maximize the chances that we will win them with the least possible costs.” He said the HR approach is better, with goals of making employees happy and providing an environment where workers can be productive and focus on their jobs in an effective and efficient manner.

With the HR approach, Outten said, a program should start identifying problems at the earliest possible stage. “If a problem ripens into a dispute,” he said, the goal is “resolving the dispute in the simplest, quickest way possible and escalating only as and when you need to.” The HR approach also serves the lawyers’ perspective as it “tends to avoid disputes ripening into the possibility of litigation.”

Lunetta then asked the panelists whether having employees working from home in a number of states, possibly new states to the company, would affect the design of an ADR program.

Al Feliu responded that working from home would not alter or change the program itself, but it increases and amplifies “the need for it to be enforceable across 50 states and 50 jurisdictions.”

Wayne Outten discussed some of the positive and negative changes regarding the nature of workplace disputes that come with remote working. On one hand, the kind of disputes that arise from being in the same place, and having interpersonal reactions, presumably will be reduced with the increase in virtual offices, such as sexual harassment claims and bullying.

“On the other hand,” he said, “the opportunities for disputes are exacerbated because you don’t have as much free-flowing communication, and the ability to address things face to face.” Outten added, “Disputes may fester.”

From the management-side perspective, Husch Blackwell’s A.J. Weissler noted that the HR model Outten mentioned “has changed quite a bit in this remote work environment.” If the employees are typically working remotely, then having difficult conversations over the Internet should be acceptable, he said.  

But if a human resources or corporate employee is working from home while the business has essential workers who have been going to the employer’s worksite, then, says Weissler, “there’s a real disconnect there” that can make the on-site workers feel and sense that the employer is not in touch with the employee.

Moderator Kimberley Lunetta then asked panelists whether CPR has resources that can help employers think through these issues if they are considering any of the dispute resolution options that were discussed.

Outten said that this was the reason for CPR to be founded decades ago, with the goal of helping companies figure out how to avoid and resolve disputes.

Outten announced that CPR and its Employment Disputes Committee will be publishing a new set of rules for administered employment dispute resolution.  Accompanying the rules will include “draft programs that companies can adopt and adapt for their own use, which have within them the various different stages that employers can consider […] including things . . . [like] informal dispute resolution and problem solving, . . . open-door policies that invite people to take their problems up the chain of command,” ombudspersons, peer review processes and “all the way up to mediation which . . . is perfectly suited for employment disputes of all kinds.”

The conversation then revolved around the pluses and minuses for an employer of establishing a mandatory arbitration program.

“In reaching the decision that our arbitration program was going to be mandatory,” responded Charter Communications’ Cheryl Manley, “one of the factors that went into play was either reducing the litigation costs, or perhaps not having to deal with court litigation.” She mentioned that her company’s program was built to resolve issues in a timely manner and on an individualized basis.

She further added that her organization has many steps before getting to the arbitration phase to resolve the employment issue. And “when it finally does get to arbitration, we believe that there’s some certainty,” said Manley, “We believe that both parties have some skin in the game, in terms of selecting the arbitrator and primarily, it’s cost effective and efficient.”

Outten then answered a question about CPR’s employment ADR program and how it can help employers not only set up, but also ensure long-term success.

Outten reiterated the program’s strength in early-stage problem solving and early dispute resolution, and added that the program offers room for flexibility and adaptability in different workplaces.

Mediation with a third-party facilitator, he said, “can be extremely valuable and beneficial. It gives the parties an opportunity to air their grievances.” When it comes to arbitration, he said, every successful workplace ADR program really needs to comply “at a minimum,” with due process protocols.”

He then presented several key features of the due process protections (which CPR has adopted here), which include:

  • “The employee isn’t required to pay more than they would pay if they were going to file in court.”
  • “The arbitrator has the authority and power to provide any remedy that a court can provide so that there’s no takeaway of remedies for the affected employee.”
  • “The employee has a fair opportunity to pick the decision maker–the arbitrator–especially given the binding power of the decision of this person to resolve the dispute.”
  • “The employee has to have a full and fair opportunity to gather information in order to present the case and . . . [any] defenses.”
  • “The employee needs to have an opportunity to have counsel of his or her choosing.”
  • “The hearing itself should be reasonably convenient . . .  so the employee doesn’t have to go a long distance to have his or her day in court.”
  • Finally, “the arbitration should end with a reasoned decision, so the parties know what the arbitrator took into account, what the findings were on the evidence, and what the legal conclusions were in determining” the decision.

A.J. Weissler added that “there are great legal reasons” not to “cram down” arbitration in a workplace disputes program, citing fairness. He said that arbitrator selection is an important factor in presenting a fair process, with a say for the employees.

Al Feliu noted that there is a dearth of diverse panelists, but major providers have made strides and continue to work on the problem to enhance and ensure fairness.

Cheryl Manley agreed with the comments, and emphasized that panelists need to reflect the workplace population.

Manley discussed Charter Communication’s Solution Channel, which she described as a 2017 program to compel arbitration use—a mandatory program for newly signed-on employees, with about 10% of the company’s 90,000 employees opting out when it was launched.  She reported that the complaints are restricted to legal claims—non-legal disputes are addressed in other ways–that are submitted through a third-party vendor which create a record over the claim. She said the American Arbitration Association is the provider.  The company absorbs the AAA filing fees and the arbitrator costs. If either side is unsatisfied with the panel, they return to the AAA for more choices.

Weissler says arbitration should be part of any dispute resolution system but if it’s made mandatory and employees are forced to use it, he said, it is counterproductive and it creates problems going forward due to the “asymmetrical” views.

Weissler said he encourages mediation as a best option. He said he is skeptical of programs that outline steps that do not allow a course of mediation to be developed.

Feliu says he has been mediating for 30 years and familiarity has grown during his period of practice after skepticism.  He agreed with Weissler’s points, but noted that mandatory mediation in New York federal court, where he said he would have expected resistance—mandatory is counterintuitive, said Feliu—it has been just as successful as voluntary mediation over about the past 10 years.

Feliu said sometimes there is grumbling but mostly, when parties get to the bargaining table, they try to settle. And he said that while joint sessions are fading, flexibility is needed.  “Every mediation is different,” he said.

Wayne Outten said that he shared Al Feliu’s experience.  In the mid-1980s, he said, the plaintiffs’ bar “viewed this newfangled process as a conspiracy to take away their rights, and I soon discovered that was not necessarily the case and became a big advocate.”

Over the past 35 years, said Outten, mediation “has become quite normal.” He echoed Feliu again,  noting that when parties attempt mediation in good faith, it is successful.

Even in situations with a lot of open issues, he said, mediation “has a very high success rate, . . .  and is always worth trying.”

Cheryl Manley said that pre-pandemic, her company didn’t want anything done virtually or remotely—all depositions, mediations and arbitration hearings were done in person, exclusively.  The change was swift, she said. “Fast forward seven, eight, nine months, . . . when we finally emerge from this pandemic, we aren’t going to go back to all depositions in person, all mediations in person or hearings,” said Manley, adding, “In fact, I think that there is no reason . . . to start putting people back on planes traveling all over the country.  It is expensive. It’s time consuming.  And it is not efficient. “ She said that the “only issues” are “the occasional technological” problems.

A.J. Weissler said he has participated in virtual matters frequently during the pandemic, and found “an incredible benefit.” Having the people resources ready on video, whether from home or for those back in their offices, has “been an incredible thing,” he said, adding that he strongly supports virtual mediations.

Wayne Outten said he always has had a concern whether real decision makers would be in the mediation room.  “Now with virtual mediations,” he said, “that problem can be more readily addressed.”

Al Feliu said he has only done virtual mediations since his first in March.  “All of the impediments, and all of the arguments against them, have been rebuffed, “ he said. For example, he explained, he can evaluate credibility better on close-up video than across a bargaining table.

Feliu conceded that there is a different feel in an in-person gathering where people have committed to the process.  That intensity, he said, isn’t present where people are sitting on their couches, are more relaxed, with their dogs nearby.  “It’s just a different process,” he said.  “I don’t have the shrieking episodes. I don’t have a lot of emotions.  Is it good or bad? It’s just different.”

The result, he said, has been that he isn’t settling cases on the first day as much as he did at in-person mediations.

Addressing audience questions, Al Feliu said he discusses confidentiality with the parties with heightened concerns, noting that a potentially serious issue could be where extra people are present, and not visible on screen, as well as individuals texting on the side. “These are all serious concerns we need to get equilibrium on” going into the mediation, he said.

* * *

The author, a second-year student at New York’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, is a CPR 2021 intern. Alternatives editor Russ Bleemer contributed writing and research to this report.

[END]

The Zoom in Arbitration: #CPRAM21 Practitioners Focus on Virtual ADR

By Claudia Diaz

Below are notes from the 2021 CPR Annual Meeting third-day panel, “Hot Topics In ADR And Year-End Wrap Up,” an hour-long Jan. 29 afternoon event.

  • Moderator Ana Reyes, a partner in Washington, D.C.’s Williams & Connolly, provided questions to three panels members, opening by noting that the effect of the pandemic on litigation and dispute resolution–including the adjustments the legal profession has taken, and which practices will be continuing–was the key hot topic that came up for the panel in preparing for the CPR Annual Meeting session.
  • Reyes’ first question for the panel was to comment on trends.  She said, “I have read that in this world of COVID that there are two recent trends in dispute resolution: more not less dispute resolution, and sooner not later.”  
  • Panelist Thomas J. Roberts, Chief Counsel, Litigation, Boeing Defense, Space & Security, in Arlington, Va., noted that he has seen a marginal increase toward more alternative dispute resolution. Initially there was hesitation to do mediation in a virtual setting, but he reported that his department has learned that virtual mediation works well. An in-house counsel, he said, should always think about resolution through mediation whenever a dispute arises. It is the best way to have a settlement conversation, he said, and the dispute will benefit from the guidance of a third-party neutral.
    • There are right and wrong reasons to mediate. Covid-19 has delayed dispute resolution, more so for courts than for arbitration. And he said you don’t want to mediate for the wrong reasons, focusing on entering and using the process solely because of the delays.
    • Still, with the delays, the windows for engaging in mediation are a little bit wider, which is lessening the hesitancy to mediate, giving people more time to consider it.
  • Question for Panelist Yvette Ostolaza, a Sidley Austin partner in the Dallas and Houston offices: Has the pandemic changed your clients’ desire to avoid a virtual hearing that they might not be able to delay? Are they trying to mediate where they would not before?
    • Ostolaza:
      • Virtual hearings are effective. Some clients said to wait, but the parties tried it “because there were bankruptcy issues.” After a securities class-action case mediation with 10 people, she said, “I found it way more effective to be by virtual and by a video than if I had been at an office.” So, efficiency was much better virtually than in person.
      • In virtual arbitration, there were differences in terms of the strengths of the party presentations, and more training is encouraged for participants.
      • There is something about video that makes it so obvious about who is not engaged. Participants need to behave as if they were in the courtroom. “We had one arbitrator that was clearly not paying attention and the client was pretty disappointed.”
      • “We need to remember this is a professional environment, . . . and not be too casual.”
      •  “I think there is a lot of cost-saving in the virtual world.”
  • Question on arbitrators pushing hearing forward virtually, even if that might not be best for the client.
    • Panelist J. Michael McNutt, senior litigation advisor and of counsel at the Paris law firm of Lazareff Le Bars:
      • ADR for his clients, who invest in multi-jurisdiction projects, virtual hearings adds a lot more complexity, said McNutt.
      • He said he has been working under new International Chamber of Commerce Court of Arbitration pandemic policies, which in certain circumstances pushes virtual hearings when the matter is not ready or too complex. For example, in one matter, among other logistical cross-border concerns, the parties needed translations for four languages. With due process considerations, the parties he is representing will proceed, but they will reserve their rights, noting also that there is a counterclaim.  “With international arbitration, it is a lot more complex.”
      • Moderator Reyes asked about cross-examination over video as opposed to in-person. McNutt replied, “It is very very difficult to have an effective cross examination because you can’t assume the other side is going to be honest or act properly.  You have to put another body in the room.” He says he is concerned about protecting the integrity of the proceeding.
  • Question: Are hearings different than mediations virtually?
    • Ostolaza:
      • “I wholeheartedly agree . . . that when it comes to depositions and . . . a hearing with live witnesses that you are cross examining it is very difficult.”
      • At a minimum, the attorney has a right to be with the client in person, and the other side should be socially distanced.    
      • Mediators can juggle multiple rooms better virtually than in person, knocking on doors and waiting.
  • Question to Tom Roberts of Boeing: What is one thing missing from the virtual mediation as opposed to the in-person mediation? Moderator Ana Reyes proposes that the key missing element is the mediator’s power to communicate with the individuals.  
    • Roberts:
      • “The best value that the mediator can bring” is to “credibly deliver the substance of . . . his or her view of the merits of the legal claims.”  He added, “that communicates pretty well virtually.”
      • On the downside, “there is a bit of easy-come, easy-go with virtual mediations.” No travel needed, just click in and click out, he said, concluding that it is easier now for parties to stop mediating.
      • A mediator that is committed to the process will have the people skills to stop today, but will catch up with the parties after—a mediator who wants to see it through.
    • Ostolaza:
      • She said her matters are starting earlier, with three or four calls before the actual mediation day, to go through the parameters and make the client feel comfortable so that the mediation will work.
      • For arbitration hearings, she advises practicing on exhibits and the process with the tribunal administrator
  • Question: Mediations don’t generally occur in international arbitrations—for example, the ICC does not require pre-mediations–perhaps because of a lack of availability of mediators that can work on the cross-cultural issues at play. Discuss these cultural factors.
    • J. Michael McNutt:
      • The reason the firm has offices in Dubai is for Chinese investors investing in Africa, who use arbitration in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, for those disputes.
      • The mentality and the civil law upon entering the contract is a fundamental issue when you have to interpret the contract in these international cases. In mediation it is difficult to find someone that “both parties would agree could accurately boil down” the essence of the dispute. He says that he cannot find qualified mediators– “Mediation is tough.”
      • For international mediation to become more relevant, it needs the ability to address these broad issues.
  • Question to Tom Roberts: Boeing is an international entity–Is that something Boeing has had to face, cross-cultural issues?
    • Roberts:
      • He agrees with McNutt, saying, “If you can find the right person then there is real value [to mediation].”
      • “The cultural differences, expectations, [and] legal understandings are very different in different parts of the world, so [finding the right person is] a big challenge.”
  • Question: Is there some loss in connecting in mediations virtually?
    • Ostolaza:
      • “There are differences in America” in negotiate style depending on the part of the country. “The art of being a great lawyer is understanding and embracing those differences and being good at it and being able to be a chameleon.”
      • She said she and her clients had discussions after virtual mediations by staying on the video for purposes of recapping client communications.
      • There can be a lack of buy-in without the travel and the commitment of an in-person mediation. But the counter is that it was “a little bit” friendlier not being in the same room with participants “hating” each other.  It counterbalanced.
  • Question: Often at the end of a mediation, noted Mediator Reyes, the mediator will ask parties to sign on to the terms of the mediation so the settlement will not unravel.  How have you addressed the technical request to sign on to the terms?
    • Ostolaza:
      • She had a term sheet at the outset for one pandemic mediation—she says she brings one to every mediation—and the parties were able to sign it two days after the conclusion of the session.
      • In another recent case, the mediation term sheet was signed with DocuSign—virtually–and no one left until it was done. That, she said, was the agreement about the deal going into the session, and it worked.
  • Question: Do you have a feeling that a couple years from now we will see a developing body of law about awards being enforced that were made in a virtual hearing?
    • McNutt:
      • If necessary, he says his firm will resist enforcement if it serves their clients.
      • He says he is a proponent of civil law issues, but in cross-border disputes, it is about the will of the parties and not the type of analysis of a common-law setting.
      • In a virtual hearing, he said, you do not know if the other lawyer is sitting across the table handing the answer to the witnesses. We have that problem even in in person hearings, said McNutt.
      • He said he looks forward to challenging the validity of awards where due process rights were abused, for example, in France, where process is fundamental to enforcement. Such challenges are “not good for arbitration,” he conceded, because finality of the award is the core reason clients turn to arbitration.
      • Tribunals need to render awards that can be enforced.
      • “The tribunal works for the parties, . . . and people need to hold tribunals accountable,” he said, for producing awards that can be enforced.
  • Question: A new issue developing, med-arb, in which you have a session with a single mediator and if a claim does not settle, then the mediator becomes the sole arbitrator, converting the matter to an arbitration from mediation. Comments?
    • Yvette Ostolaza:
      • She said she was not in a med-arb matter, but a client as part of the mediation agreed that if there is a dispute the neutral would arbitrate the mediation issues covered. She said she thought it would not work, because the mediator would think the entire time to protect himself. “I am not a fan,” she said, “Heck, I am not a fan of doing the federal magistrates’ [mediation] when they are mandatory and then going to the federal judge,” noting that she is skeptical that they will refrain from talking as the magistrate sheds the settlement role and the judge moves in to adjudicate.
    • Tom Roberts:
      • “I am generally down on the idea, but it also sort of depends on what the alternative is.” He agreed with Ostolaza’s concerns. It is impossible to not have the arbitrator contaminated by what they learned in the mediation process, said, adding he might be open to med-arb in a smaller case “where you really just want to get an answer.”
  • Moderator Reyes noted a 2021 CPR Annual Meeting chat comment advising that mediation is an old process with deep tribal roots that is common in most indigenous populations.
    • J. Michael McNutt:
      • “Mediation works when the community has already established who the mediator should be. That’s fundamentally different than a judge, of course.”
      • The skillset for arbitration: “We are hired to protect our clients and defend and win in the client’s interest. Prior to commencing arbitration there is a conversation of what is the client’s interests so that we know what they are and what to fight for.”
      • To mediate in arbitration is different, concluded McNutt, adding that the skillset is different.

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The author, a third-year student at New York’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, is a CPR 2021 intern. Videos from #CPRAM21 will be posted soon at www.cpradr.org.

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Love’s New Mediation Data: Whither the Joint Session?

By Temitope Akande

New York Law School’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Skills Program kicked off its first 2021 round of biweekly Wednesday lunch conversations yesterday featuring mediator Lela Porter Love, a law professor and director of the Kukin Program for Conflict Resolution at New York’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

Love opened by emphatically noting that dialogue is currently dying or impoverished, even on the political scene. Mediation, she said, “is the last bastion,” with mediators trained to promote dialogue. But even in mediation, there is “less and less mandate for mediators to bring parties together into joint sessions.”

Her discussion was mostly based on a 2019 survey of practicing mediators in a professional group, the International Academy of Mediators, to determine the use of joint and caucus sessions. Presenting a PowerPoint, “The Disappearing Joint Session,” based on 129 responses and anecdotal discussions, Love said that the data reflects the title: There is a lessening frequency of the use of joint sessions and more reliance on mediators conducting caucuses with individual parties.

Prof. Love moved to a 2017 survey by the American Bar Association Dispute Resolution Section Task Force on the Relation of Mediator Actions to Mediation Outcomes also on the use of caucus during mediation. The results, she said, were counterintuitive: caucusing had an increased settlement effect in labor-management disputes, but no effect, according to her presentation slide, “in other types of disputes regardless of [the] purpose of caucus (i.e., whether to establish trust or discuss settlement proposals).”

She said that the use of caucus has shown that parties are more likely to file an enforcement action based on their settlement—which indicates that increased caucusing didn’t reduce acrimony. As a result, caucus sessions, while they may increase labor-management case settlement, may have potential for negative effects on the parties’ perceptions and relationships.

Love discussed the caucusing results in a broad Maryland state judiciary ADR evaluation report. Based on the evaluation of caucus sessions, the greater the percentage of time participants spent in caucus, the less likely the parties were satisfied with the outcome, and the less likely the participants report that the issues “were resolved with a fair and implementable outcome.”

“On balance,” said Love, “you don’t see this real, ‘Wow, now I understand why there is this great move to caucusing.’”

The Maryland study showed that when the mediators controlled the sessions, limiting the issues instead of presenting a broad range, parties showed an increase in a desire to better understand the other party. The long-term aftereffects results show that the greater percentage of time participants spent in caucus, the more likely participants will return to court for an enforcement action after mediation, reflecting a lack of durability of those mediation results.

Love further discussed the values that influence mediation style and reasons why mediators use caucus sessions instead of joint sessions, returning to the IAM study. First, mediators who do not use joint sessions primarily do not do so because attorneys do not want joint sessions.

The second reason they lean toward caucus and away from joint sessions is that parties tend to decline joint sessions because they feel more comfortable participating in the mediation process by sharing their stories in caucus sessions with the mediator, rather than facing their adversary. “People in conflict are really angry at each other and they don’t want to see each other,” explained Love.

Love further noted that mediators were mostly trained to use joint sessions, though different schools of mediation also favored caucuses. A more important factor in constructing and conducting mediation sessions is that a significant purpose is to get people together to heal relationships—as opposed to the “war” of adjudication–which orients toward using joint sessions.

Prof. Love concluded by stressing that listening helps settle cases, and it is important in helping people tell their stories. The mediators who seek to identify the parties’ interests perhaps are doing only one aspect of the process, noted NYLS ADR Skills Program Director and moderator F. Peter Phillips, who added that mediation might be better handled if the emphasis was on all parties listening and working to understand one another. Love concurred, and, noting that mediators are witnesses to the participants’ stories, suggested that neutrals provide “respectful-person listening” that enhances the process.

Love’s Jan. 13 NYLS Conversations in Conflict Resolution session is available on YouTube at https://bit.ly/3nOluyK.

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The author, who received a Master of Laws in Alternative Dispute Resolution last May at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law in Los Angeles, is volunteering with the CPR Institute through Spring 2021.

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