Last week I attended the wake of one of New York’s foremost mediators, Michael McAllister. Having been a private mediator with JAMS for the last six years, he had developed a reputation among all litigators in the negligence field as fair, honest, hardworking and a true gentleman. As I watched attorney after attorney and even insurance adjusters pass through the funeral home, I was reminded of the first time I had ever heard of the concept of mediation.
Almost fifteen years ago, I was asked, as a law student working at a prominent New York personal injury firm, to prepare a case for mediation. Having just completed three years of law school, I was kind of surprised that I had not heard of mediation. Furthermore, having worked for over ten years at this firm as a high school student, college student and law student, the concept of trying to settle the case using a private mediation service was something unheard of. We were weeks away from trial and it seemed like everything had been going as planned.
I walked into the managing partner’s office and asked, what is this private mediation and why are we trying this since we are so close to trial? The answers I was given, though strange at first, are so on point and correct in today’s litigation trial strategy.
Private mediation is essentially a mutual agreement by all sides to retain the services of a retired judge or former court attorney so that each side can present the strengths and weaknesses of their case in a forum that allows for open communication and dialogue. The goal is to begin settlement discussions and resolve the matter to the benefit of all parties, more often than not.
The mediation industry has continued to grow in New York and today there are several companies offering mediation services, each employing at least 15-20 mediators. The court system has been freed up from the unattainable task of trying to spend the necessary time that most cases warrant for proper resolution to be reached. It has allowed clients to see and hear the weaknesses of their case prior to trial and be given a fair opportunity to evaluate the risk of proceeding. It has allowed the insurance company adjusters to see the preparation and skill the trial attorney will bring to the upcoming trial. Finally, it allows both sides to listen to a skilled and experienced neutral party whose sole job is to bring opposing sides together.
I am reminded of something that Mike McAllister said to me over six years ago when he first started mediating cases. He told me that “if both sides walk away equally unhappy, then I probably have done a good job.”
Over the years, Leav & Steinberg, LLP has mediated many cases and secured millions of dollars in settlements for our clients. In addition, we have used mediation as a method of learning the strategies of our opponent, something that can be an invaluable asset to our clients.
In just the last six months, we resolved many cases with the use of mediation. The following are just a couple examples:
$2,450,000.00 for a laborer who fell three rungs off a ladder and injured his knee and back and required several surgeries. This was the last matter I mediated with Mike McAllister and when I spoke to the client this week and told him the sad news, he too had felt that over the three hours that he had met and come to know Mike, that Mike worked proficiently towards bringing the case to a successful conclusion.
$1,475,000.00 medical malpractice settlement for a woman who suffered from post-cataract surgery infection which went untreated and undiagnosed until it was too late and she lost the vision in one eye.