Via Settle It Now,

Gini Nelson of Engaging Conflicts ran a six-part series recently on “Adding Cooperative Practice to the ADR Toolkit.”  Her final part in this series — linked supra — is the final entry of Guest Blogger Law Professor John Lande’s posts.  Linked here is his article The Promise and Perils of Collaborative Law — which is also linked in Gini’s blog with her comments here.

Before you run over to Gini’s site to read Lande’s excellent post or his great article, I’d like to simply bullet-point some observations based upon my four-years of full-time mediation and arbitration practice.

  • when I co-arbitrate with some of the best commercial arbitrators in the business — these are Ivy League lawyers with many decades of experience representing Fortune 50 Companies in AmLaw 100 Law Firms, the ultimate decision changes many times during the course of deliberations and almost always could go either way.
  • having spent a considerable time in the Los Angeles Complex Court as an experienced commercial litigator “externing” for credit to earn my LL.M in ’06, I can tell you that the deliberations in chambers of these highly respected jurists is not much different that those in which I have engaged when sitting on an arbitration panel

The take away? No matter who is hearing your case, your chances of winning are 50-50.  Flip a coin.  Think this doesn’t apply to you?  I have arbitrated cases being handled by the top ten law firms in the country.  I have seen those same type of firms litigate and try cases in the Complex Court.  It’s 50-50 friends.

Here’s from Lande’s series:

In mediation, an impartial third party helps parties to negotiate an agreement. In Collaborative Law, at the beginning of a case, lawyers and parties sign a “participation agreement” to negotiate in good faith and disclose all relevant facts. The participation agreement includes a “disqualification” clause which provides that if any party decides to litigate, the Collaborative lawyers are disqualified from representing the parties, who must hire new lawyers if they want representation in litigation. The formal difference between Cooperative Practice and Collaborative Practice is that Cooperative Practice participation agreement does not include the disqualification provision.

Since a Cooperative process does not include a disqualification clause as in Collaborative cases, some people wonder if Cooperative process is any different from negotiation in litigated cases.

Although many lawyers negotiate cooperatively at times, a Cooperative process can provide greater predictability and confidence than in litigation. DCI members say that a Cooperative process creates a legal culture where cooperation is the norm. Traditional litigation-oriented practice normally does not involve an explicit process agreement. In litigation, lawyers often are not sure about the other side’s intentions and each side may feel that it needs to take tough positions to protect themselves. This sometimes creates a cycle of adversarial behavior that is hard to break out of.

I appreciate new approaches to the practice of law, I really do. But I both (1) don’t agree all litigation is 50-50 and (2) fail to see how any of the above is different from good legal practice.

Regarding the first, I’m always suspicious of anything meant to be more persuasive by the inclusion of such terms as “Ivy League” and “top ten.” You can see my post about the real motivations of General Counsel for some of the reasons I’m suspicious, given how none of them are immune from completely dropping the ball, obliterating their client’s interests.

More importantly, I refuse to believe that any case is 50-50, much less all of them. It is absolutely true that anything could happen at trial and that slamdunk cases lose every day. It is also true that a rational argument can be made for almost anything, and that a factfinder, judge, mediator, arbitrator, or any other neutral would be derelict in their duty if they did not give serious consideration to the arguments made before them.

That said, in the real world people are innocent or guilty. People make mistakes or don’t make mistakes. What they did was outrageous or it was not. Are there gray areas? Sure. That’s why the law includes explicit burdens of proof and persuasion. In a criminal case, if a factfinder has a doubt about guilt that is founded in reason, they should return an innocent verdict. In a civil case, if a plaintiff has proven their claims are more likely true than not, the jury or judge should return a verdict in the plaintiff’s favor.

Have you ever seen a situation in life in which, after complete consideration, you were still totally unable to reach any conclusion? Were you really Buridan’s donkey? Spinoza doubted any rational person could find themselves in such a situation and I agree. If you can see a wide array of evidence and argument, which it is your sworn duty to evaluate, and yet you remain totally unmoved, then the problem lies with you, not with the inherent unknowability of the world.

Regarding the second, any plaintiff or defense attorney who truly has their eye on the client’s interest will always keep in mind the possibility of resolving the matter. Just like I said above, slamdunk cases lose every single day of the week. I’m sure defense attorneys can chime in that completely frivolous cases can return extraordinary verdicts.

A good lawyer always has that in mind, as well as the financial and emotional cost of litigation. If referring to that process of continual re-evaluation and resolution as “cooperative law” makes it more likely to happen, then that is certainly a benefit to the profession, but litigators and trial lawyers shouldn’t be told they’re doing it wrong just because they don’t use the name.

Same with “collaborative law.” If the clients are willing to disclose everything upfront, then by all means we should take all steps to facilitate their resolution. Yet, I have to believe that such openness can only come from the clients, and then only for reasons external to the litigation itself. Disputes simply don’t up and resolve themselves by changing the name of the process.