Dispute Settlement Counselby Michael Zeytoonian.
Collaborate. Collaboration. Collaborative.
In the business world, in medicine, high technology, healthcare, engineering, education, aeronautics, manufacturing, public service, first responders, military defense, invention – in just about every field of endeavor, we see this word popping up over and over again.
Pick up a copy of Fast Company magazine and browse it and you will see that word in some form used dozens of times. Recently I read an article entitled “When Collaboration has ruled the roost” in the Christian Science Monitor about how several levels and types of government agencies and non-profits worked well – in collaboration – on an issue focused on a bird – the male greater sage grouse, to successfully address issues relating to our ecosystem and energy.
The idea of people working together, integrating their talents and resources, to accomplish something new and special or to solve problems is central to our lives. The Irish have a wonderful Gaelic word for this concept – the “Meitheal”. We collaborate every day – in our homes, schools, work, recreation, faith communities and charitable work; even in sports competition. Open source is the watchword in the IT community. Everywhere, people work together, help each other, build on what someone else is doing and move forward.
Yet when people have legal disputes, they don’t typically collaborate; they are not even willing to consider the notion of working with the other side. They choose to fight instead. Or they resign themselves to a sad conclusion that there is nothing that can be done about the problem so they walk away. Even though nine times out of ten, their dispute is a fixable situation and a problem that can be solved, they choose not to go the route of problem solving and collaboration. They move backwards. They escalate the fight instead of working the problem. Their emotions get in the way of approaching a dispute rationally with logic and efficiency. There is this resistance to collaborating, even though we do just that in every other aspect of our lives!
Here’s the sad irony of this emotional choice to fight, to sue, to take it to court, to beat the other side, to win. In those disputes in which people choose to fight instead of collaborating with each other and the professional problem solvers that can help them, 97% of them settle. They almost never go to trial. No one gets their “day in court”. And those who nominally “won” those fights have done so after years of fighting, after spending thousands on legal fees, after draining their resources, energies and emotions, and after destroying what was once a healthy and important relationship. Abraham Lincoln noted that when parties choose the court route, “the nominal winner is the real loser”.
They settle. They both end up with less and worse than what they could have ended up with if they had collaborated with each other at the outset of the dispute. They didn’t achieve their best possible resolution. There is a big difference between collaborating – utilizing all the professional resources, intelligence and expertise available – working together to resolve a dispute and beating each other up until either one side “wins” or both sides just get exhausted and tired of fighting. In the first approach, everyone is doing their best work to achieve a great outcome, something that satisfies as many interests and needs as is possible, and often a result that is better than what existed before the dispute. In the latter approach, there is a lot of collateral damage, an ending that no one is really proud of, and no one is happy.
Here’s another sad irony. Using the path of collaboration in resolving disputes has a better chance of satisfying the emotional needs that parties in a dispute than going to court does. In fact, identifying and satisfying the interests and needs of the parties – including their emotional needs – is built right into the Collaborative Law process. The intentional focus on meeting the needs of the parties is both the compass that guides the collaborative process and the measuring stick for its ability to achieve a great result.
Collaboration, as opposed to fighting or walking away, is also the reflection of our highest good. Working together with people that we have differences with in order to come up with a great solution is a testament to our individual and collective character and integrity.
Michael A. Zeytoonian is the Founding Member and Director of Dispute Resolution Counsel, LLC and is a lawyer, mediator and ombudsman. He is formerly a partner and now Of Counsel at Hutchings, Barsamian, Mandelcorn & Zeytoonian, LLP, in Wellesley Hills, MA. He specializes in employment law, business law, special education law, mediation, collaborative law and administrative law. He is admitted to practice in the state and federal district courts of Massachusetts and New York (Southern District) and the state of Connecticut. He has served as a mediator on the MWI panel in the district courts and on the BBA panel in the Boston Municipal Court.
He is a member and Massachusetts Bar Association and is chair of the MBA’s ADR committee and a member of the labor/employment section. He is a Past President (2006-2007) and member of the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council, the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and the New England Association for Conflict Resolution. He writes frequently on collaborative law and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and has trained lawyers and presented in collaborative law and ADR around the U.S., Canada and Ireland. He has lectured at Northeastern University School of Law, Suffolk University School of Law, New England Law Boston, UMASS School of Law and Roger Williams University School of Law.
He served as Assistant Attorney General in the Office of the Attorney General of the State of New York, as a deputy overseeing litigation in the State Counsel Bureau in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam Counties and working on consumer advocacy cases. Prior to his work at the Attorney General’s Office, he was an Assistant County Attorney in the Westchester County (NY) Law Department, in the litigation and family court bureaus. His litigation work at both the County Law Department and the Attorney General’s office included cases in employment; labor; state, county and local municipal matters; environmental law; construction, administrative and tort law, and the prosecution of child abuse and neglect cases. His undergraduate education was at Boston College and Iona College, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree is history and education. He earned his J. D. from Pace University School of Law with a Certificate in Environmental Law in 1990.