Young Lawyer Chair Messages
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October/November 2014: Alternative Dispute Resolution: The New Norm for Young Lawyers
When I first began practicing law, we had few mediators in the Lake Charles area, and the now-large mediation and arbitration groups in the state were in their infancy. The concept of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) through mediation and arbitration was just gaining ground. Now, mediation and arbitration have become commonplace and a part of every litigator’s practice. Some mediation groups in our state have become larger than most law firms, and the need for experienced mediators is only growing.
As a young lawyer, mediation is not a foreign concept. We have been grounded in it since beginning the practice of law. You do your discovery and then enter into mediation to see if you can settle the case without going to court. For the sake of judicial efficiency, it is fortunate that mediation oftentimes results in settlement. However, does the option of mediation lessen the younger lawyer’s ability to just go to court and try his or her case? Does mediation’s success prevent a younger lawyer from gaining trial experience? The answer to these questions is often a mixed bag.
In my first year as a litigator, my then-boss told me that mediation was so foreign to him that he really thought it to be a waste of time. His motto was to play the role in the event, but rarely settle because all he knew was to give the defense his number and go to trial if the defense did not accept it. This is the way most seasoned litigators felt. Why? Because ADR was not ingrained in their practices.
Now, ADR has long roots in every young lawyer, and its seed is planted in law school with classes specific to ADR. Young lawyers often build their case to try in mediation rather than court. The benefit is quick resolution to cases. The downside is not gaining valuable courtroom experience. Indeed, I know some young litigation lawyers who have been practicing for 10 years and have never tried a jury trial. The availability of a quick settlement is often too tempting to resist and is detrimental to gaining courtroom experience.
As lawyers, we have to realize that the goal in every case is to get the best result for our client. Many times, ADR proves to be a better option than a risky trial. Additionally, ADR allows clients to have more involvement and control in the ultimate outcome of a mediation proceeding, rather than leaving their fate to a judge or 12 strangers. However, as young lawyers, we must keep in mind that our skills in the courtroom should be built early on in our practice. ADR is certainly a worthwhile and valuable tool for our profession, and its success prevents a backlog of cases waiting to go to trial. But never forget that sometimes you have to get in the trenches of the courtroom to do battle. The more you do it, the more times you will leave the battlefield victorious.