COVID-19 has disrupted the workflow of law firms and the courts, making it more difficult for litigation associates to obtain the hands-on-experience they need to develop professionally, and advance their careers. But alternative dispute resolution is one way to help an associate’s continued growth and development, rather than preventing their skills from atrophying. Here’s how!
Associates can hone their negotiation and advocacy skills by attending, observing and participating directly in on-line mediations. With so many on-line platforms at our disposal today, remote conferencing is most likely second nature to a young lawyer. That being said, there is a big difference between a Zoom chat with friends or family, and a Zoom meeting with a judge or mediator. Even the US Supreme Court has had to learn how to hear cases remotely, and the most seasoned lawyers have had to adjust to how they argue their cases.
Given COVID-19’s staying power and the need to handle cases remotely, it is important for associates to get used to what could become a standard method for conducting alternate dispute resolutions. Accordingly, associates should gain experience advocating and negotiating on behalf of their clients, through the use of on-line platforms such as Zoom, Skype for Business, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams, to name a few. As things ease up, associates can continue to work on their negotiation skills at in-person mediations, in a socially distant and safe manner.
One big advantage of mediation over litigation is that an associate can engage in negotiations on behalf of the client, without fear of irreversible penalty. If things start to go sideways, the supervising partner can step in and steer the case back on course; in the process, the associate can improve her/his negotiation skills through trial and error, with supportive guidance from the firm’s more seasoned professionals.
Another advantage of bringing your associate to a mediation - either virtually or in-person, is the valuable tips and advice they can get from the judge during the session. Retired judges are often willing to discuss mediation strategies and show what may work best, depending upon the situation, to assist in settling the case. Think of it as a non-credited, but very valuable personal CLE. In a recent mediation, I had the pleasure of engaging with an associate to discuss effective advocacy on behalf of a client, including the risks and rewards of maintaining a certain stance that might assist in settling the dispute, or carrying the case on to trial. Ultimately, the matter settled.
As a Supreme Court Justice, I enjoyed meeting new associates, welcoming them to the Bar and making sure my doors were always open to them. As a retired judge and mediator, I’m proud to say that hasn’t changed. I always make myself available to speak with new or seasoned associates, whether or not they participate in a mediation with me. Times are challenging enough, for new members of the Bar with or without COVID-19. Mediators should do their part in furthering associates along in their careers to help pave the way for the next generation of excellent trial lawyers.
~ Hon. Matthew Rosenbaum (ret.), is a retired NYS Supreme Court Justice and founder of Rosenbaum Mediations, PLLC. He has resolved thousands of cases, both small and highly complex. For more information, go to www.RosenbaumMediations.com.
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