Oyster Bar Man:
When I was 15 years-old my first job was to shuck oysters at a rib restaurant in suburban Chicago. Opening oysters is hard. The shells are brittle and if you don’t know what you are doing – and I definitely did not — you will cut your hands to shreds, which I did over and over again on the first day on the job. My first task on the second day was cutting hundreds of lemons. Very painful when you have lots of cuts on your hands!
- Lesson: Before diving in, stop and ask a few questions.
- Mediation Application: I urge the parties to send me meaningful pre-mediation submissions that describe your dispute from your perspective. I will always carefully review each parties’ papers and exhibits to be as prepared as possible.
I soon traded my shucker for a tennis racquet and during high school and college taught tennis to all ages, kids and adults.
- Lesson: A wide array of skills is often required to be successful. To develop a strong tennis program you need to be organized. To keep people coming back you need to be effective and enthusiastic.
- Mediation Application: Helping others achieve their goals does not always happen quickly and easily. As a mediator, it is important to be persistent, enthusiastic and flexible in providing suggestions and insights that assist the parties in reaching their goals.
Residence Advisor – College Dorm:
- Lesson: There is something magical about the first two or three weeks of college. People who would never have socialized in high school (maybe thesbians and athletes) are open to exploring their new surroundings together. Sadly, as students become more comfortable with their new friends and surroundings, new walls and boundaries are formed and the magical window closes forever.
- Mediation Application: Timing matters. Settlement offers that could be viewed as insulting at one point of the process might be accepted at another point. Helping parties reach the same level of openness at the same time is one of the most difficult challenges for a mediator.
Big Firm Lawyer:
After law school I worked at Lord, Bissell & Brook (now Locke Lord). It was there that I learned that good lawyers constantly improve their technical skills (i.e. research, writing and advocacy). Great lawyers can handle the minutia while still being able to focus on the big picture. As part of a national practice I learned that what is persuasive in New York might not be as effective in Michigan.
- Lesson: Learn from different people and different styles.
- Mediation Application: During a mediation attorneys employ different styles in representing their client’s interests. Some try to show that they are the smartest person in the room. Others try to convince the other side that their client is being reasonable. As the mediator, I do not favor any particular style or strategy. My role is to engender sufficient trust to facilitate productive negotiations by convincing all sides that I am neutral and will respect the confidential nature of frank conversations designed to resolve their dispute.
Lecturer at a Bulgarian Law School:
In college one of my majors was Russian and East European studies. My first career decision was to either apply my knowledge of the Soviet Union or go to law school. I chose the latter, but it was difficult to ignore that while I was starting my legal career, the Soviet Union had collapsed. As Bulgaria was transitioning to a free-market, democratic country, I took the opportunity to assist (in a very small way) in this process by teaching various courses at the University of Plovdiv’s Law School, including International Law, the Law of the European Union, Insurance Law and Alternative Dispute Resolution, including mediation.
- Lesson: Follow your passion and you will be successful. Teaching in Bulgaria was the most professionally satisfying experience I have had in my career.
- Mediation Application: After 25 years of litigation, I feel reenergized by the prospect of assisting parties in resolving their disputes rather than focusing on winning in court. I believe my enthusiasm and competence make me effective.
Founding and Managing Partner of a Boutique Litigation Firm:
I founded Michaels, Schulwolf & Salerno (“MSS”) fifteen years ago and was its managing partner. Now that I have moved to Austin and we ultimately decided to wind MSS down, it would be easy to dwell on the many mistakes I made and, believe me, I often do. However, keeping a law firm intact – during profitable years and during years where there is less revenue — is a difficult task. As the partner responsible for all salary recommendations for all types of employees, I learned how to manage expectations.
- Lesson: Constantly observe what motivates people and try help them grow in their roles. Happy employees make everything easier.
- Mediation Application: Everything is a negotiation. Remind people they have resolved prior disputes and convince them that the latest problem is no different.