January 01, 2015

The Chair's Corner: Alternative Dispute Resolution

Amy Lin Meyerson

The courts of this country should not be the places where resolution of disputes begins. They should be the places where the disputes end after alternative methods of resolving disputes have been considered and tried.—Sandra Day O’Connor

The use of alternative dispute resolution has a long history in the United States. In 1750 Benjamin Franklin, serving as the Pennsylvania Indian Commissioner, learned about persuasion, compromise, and consensus building from Native Americans and printed some of their peace documents. In 1888 the United States enacted the Arbitration Act, one of our first, if not the first, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) statute, providing voluntary arbitration and ad hoc commissions to investigate the cause of specific railway disputes. More recently, the Administrative Dispute Resolution Act of 1996 authorized the federal government to use ADR to resolve disputes.

Today, many solo and small firm attorneys resolve their matters through arbitration, mediation, collaborative law, or other forms of ADR that allow us to serve our clients in a less formal setting, in a more cost-effective manner, and without going to trial.

The theme for this issue is “Dispute Resolution,” and it features articles on mediation from the viewpoints of both the mediator and the advocates; arbitration from the viewpoints of the arbitrator and the advocates; collaborative law and other forms of dispute resolution; labor arbitration; drafting ADR provisions; and the use of technology in arbitrations and mediations.

Fall Meeting Wrap-Up

I am pleased to report that from October 23 to 25, 2014, the Division successfully hosted the Ninth Annual GPSolo National Solo & Small Firm Conference in San Antonio, Texas. The conference theme was “Building a Texas-Sized Practice on a Lone Star Budget” with a focus on providing programs and tools for lawyers to learn to build or expand their practice without spending a fortune. Attendees were invited to Reexamine their current status, Outfit themselves with skills and tools, and Initiate something new in their life and law practice to maximize their ROI.

We had an exciting start to the conference with a program at St. Mary’s University Law School for law students on how to find a job in a small law firm, a National Dialogue for Bar Leaders session, and the engaging Rainmaking Forum moderated by Judge Jennifer A. Rymell, the Immediate Past GPSolo Chair. The conference closed with a naturalization ceremony and an especially moving keynote address by Paul Chavez, son of Cesar Chavez and president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation. The ABA Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities graciously sponsored a complimentary private screening of Cesar Chavez, the movie released last year that chronicled the life of the famed civil rights leader and labor organizer; the Commission also presented a CLE program on representing Spanish-speaking clients.

As GPSolo is the home for the military lawyer in the ABA, we offered Veterans Affairs (VA) accreditation for attorneys to represent veterans in their claims process before the VA in collaboration with the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel (LAMP). LAMP and the State Bar of Texas Military and Veterans Law Section also provided a full day of CLE programming on military and veterans’ legal assistance issues. GPSolo was pleased to recognize Colonel Will A. Gunn, Retired, with the 2014 Difference Makers Award for Making a Difference Through Service to the Profession.

Also, new this year, GPSolo Technology Committee Chair Peggy Gruenke and other GPSolo members hosted the “Green Room,” which provided one-on-one, hands-on learning on a variety of technological topics including PDF for lawyers, Google, LinkedIn, and Dropbox; mock interview and résumé review sessions for law students; and discussions with GPSolo authors, who autographed their books on topics such as The Lawyer’s Guide to Financial Planning, Run Your Firm Like a Business, and The Debt Collector’s Handbook. The GPSolo Publications Board presented and video recorded a session on the “FUNdamentals of Being an ABA Author.”

GPSolo is the ABA home for immigration attorneys. Together with the ABA Commission on Immigration, the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, and the GPSolo Juvenile Law Committee, GPSolo presented immigration law programming that included a mock immigration hearing presided over by Hon. Anibal D. Martinez. We also presented Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) training, co-hosted by the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA), that was video recorded and added to the GPSolo training resources. At the 2014 Difference Makers Awards Luncheon, the Award for Making a Difference Through Pro Bono Work was given to the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) of San Antonio, Texas, and its executive director, Jonathan Ryan.

We were thrilled to honor two other Texas attorneys at the Awards Luncheon. Former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson received the 2014 Difference Makers Award for Making a Difference by Breaking Barriers. Justice Jefferson was the first African American justice on the Supreme Court of Texas and its first African American chief justice. The recipient of the 2014 Difference Maker Award, Harry Gee Jr., was one of the first attorneys to be qualified as a Texas Board Certified Specialists in Immigration and Nationality Law in 1969, is a past president of NAPABA, and is a minority owner of the Houston Texans since 2002.

For this conference GPSolo also collaborated with ABA entities including the Center for Professional Development; the Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law; and the Standing Committee on Group and Prepaid Legal Services; and other participating entities including the State Bar of Texas and the Group Legal Services Association.

We thank our Division’s Corporate Sponsors for their generous year-long support: our Premier Sponsor, Thomson Reuters; Wolters Kluwer; ABA Retirement Funds; ARAG; Avvo; Tabs3 PracticeMaster; Clio; American Bar Endowment; and our meeting sponsors and exhibitors for their support of this conference, including the ABA Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law; AGL Resources; Group Legal Services Association; LawPay; LexisNexis; PracBuilder; the State Bar of Texas; and Texas Legal.

A special thank-you goes out to the GPSolo National Solo & Small Firm Conference Committee for all of their hard work: Stephen Beam and Noah Davis, Co-Chairs; Peggy Gruenke, Vice Chair; members Stephen Curley, Vicki Levy Eskin, Ashley Hallene, Lynn Howell, Alan Klevan, Marc Matheny, and Derrick Wilson; Special Advisor Jennifer Willner; and our San Antonio Meeting Host Committee Co-Chairs, Christine Albano and Gary Anderson.

Our awesome GPSolo staff made sure that things ran smoothly in San Antonio: Division Director Kimberly Kocian, Program Specialist Dee C. Lee, Meeting Planner Kathlyn Ferdinand, Membership and Marketing Associate Susan Delhey-Thomas, Technology Associate Stephen Falvo, Program Assistant Steve Wildi, GPSolo eReport Staff Editor Tom Campbell, GPSolo magazine Staff Editor Rob Salkin, Entity Book Publishing Director Richard Paszkiet, Product Marketing Manager Amanda Wilander, and former ABA GPSolo Meetings Services and CLE Coordinator Laura Ramirez, who kindly volunteered her time to support our conference.

In San Antonio I was especially pleased to partner with my sorority, Kappa Delta, and the Kappa Delta Alumnae Chapter of San Antonio on our public service project to support Dress for Success, which promotes “the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life” (dressforsuccess.org). One of Kappa Delta’s philanthropies is the Girl Scouts of the USA. The Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas masterfully conducted the presentation of the flag at the Opening Session. Through the Girl Scouts, girls learn about and have opportunities to practice the keys to leadership. Many female leaders in the legal profession joined us for the Conference, including Patricia Refo, Chair of the ABA House of Delegates; Linda Klein, the unopposed 2015 nominee for President-Elect of the ABA; and Lisa M. Tatum, an attorney from San Antonio, Texas, who recently completed her term as President of the State Bar of Texas. We honored her with the 2014 Difference Makers Award for Making a Difference Through Community Service.

We welcome your thoughts about GPSolo and how to assist solo, small firms, and general practitioners in the legal profession. Join us at one of our upcoming meetings to take advantage of the GPSolo member benefits. The ABA Midyear Meeting will be in Houston, Texas (February 5 to 8, 2015) at the Hyatt Regency; the Joint Spring Meeting presented by GPSolo and NAPABA Western Regional Conference will be in Honolulu, Hawaii (April 16 to 18, 2015) at the Moana Surfrider, a Westin Resort and Spa; and GPSolo will be celebrating the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta in London, United Kingdom (June 11 to 15, 2015). For more information about our meetings and resources, visit GPSolo’s website at americanbar.org/gpsolo and the ABA Solo and Small Firm Resource Center at ambar.org/soloandsmallfirms. E-mail us your suggestions and comments to gpsolo@americanbar.org.

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Amy Lin Meyerson

Amy Lin Meyerson is 2014–2015 Chair of the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division. She is a sole practitioner in Weston, Connecticut, practicing business and general corporate law.