Category Archives: General Observations

Justice

We’re on the way back from a wonderful vacation break in Washington’s San Juan Islands.  Note to self:  come back here soon!   A highlight was two sails on a very cool, 75 year-old, wooden boat  (an Alden) that our captain had restored. http://www.sanjanclassicdaysailing.com/ When he learned we were lawyers, and then we got to know each other a bit better we heard a story about his encounter with the legal system that left him soured. To make a long story short, he was taken advantage of in a business deal, hired a lawyer and brought a lawsuit.  A jury trial ended in a verdict for the bad guy – who lied on the witness stand.  I know we just heard our captain’s side, but after spending two days with him on the boat, I’m sure he was telling the truth. I know we know only a small piece of a long story, but it’s clear that an interesting, hard working, honest guy’s encounter with our legal system left him bitter.  So a guy who didn’t go to college, who built up a business and then ultimately lost his investment because of a greedy agent gets to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover the bad guy’s legal fees. Should getting a case to trial cost that much?  Might a mediation have helped?

Putting It All Into Perspective

I’ve been involved with Women’s Transitional Care Services – which operates Lawrence, Kansas’ only safe home for victims of domestic violence since January of this year.  Recently I was elected president of the board of directors.  I often feel as if I’m bouncing back and forth between two worlds.  Jobs are important, the types of disputes I’m mediating involve real issues.  But the women and children who come to the shelter because they have nowhere else to go, who are betrayed by a husband, father, who are hurt and scared.  Wow.  I heard Friday that the police dropped a woman and her children at the WTCS offices to be escorted to the safe home with only one suitcase.  Thank goodness there’s a place for them to go. I think about what a strange world the court system can seem like to employers or employees involved in litigation.  But generally they have legal counsel to explain it to them.  Not so for a woman who doesn’t even know where to start to get a protection order and can’t afford a lawyer.  Thank goodness there’s a place where they can get advice and support.  Our organization is in a fiscal crisis.  We can no longer survive with the majority of funding coming from grants.  Please help!  http://www.wtcskansas.org/

Crossroads

I opened my own shop – Kathy Perkins LLC Workplace Law & Mediation in early 2008.  Ever since I’ve felt I’m at a crossroads in my career with many directions I can go.  Sometimes I’m simply taken in one direction through opportunities presenting, other times I take that big first step.  A year into this venture and I’m in a good place.

A highlight of my time at Harvard Law School was the famed Negotiation Workshop where I had the privilege of studying under Professor Frank Sander.  “Getting to Yes” had just been published and it all just made such good sense to me.  Maybe that’s because my mother had spent years reinforcing the idea of putting yourself into another’s shoes.  This can be great advice for a litigator, but in my mother’s case it was topped off by the Golden Rule (“do unto others . . .”) which would be way too constraining for a litigator.   But when negotiating, it’s another story.  If I can just figure out where they’re coming from, what they need, and set a standard of decorum for the negotiation that gets them mirroring my respectful approach to their ideas I’ve made some real progress.

After starting to practice litigation with a large for Boise, Idaho firm in the 80s (20 lawyers) it seemed as if my negotiation training went by the wayside.   From the bottom of the letterhead perspective it seemed as if the partners were doing all the cool stuff, including negotiating settlements.   Looking back, I negotiated everyday:  with my secretary who worked for 3 other lawyers for her time; with the associate on the other side for more time to respond to discovery, with the partner over which issues mattered enough to go into the brief.  I could go on and on.  Maybe my negotiation training helped?

A couple of years into practice I participated in my first mediation.  It involved a product liability case with some serious personal injuries.  Our mediator was Susan Haldeman and she was amazing.  The partners in my firm representing the defense side (there were other defendants as well) held out pretty much zero hope of a settlement because everyone was so polarized.  To be honest, they were also a bit suspicious of a “girl” mediator (this was the 80s, this was Idaho).  She was calm, respectful of all parties, empathetic and a sponge for information.  She did what no man thought she could do – settle a contentious, emotion-laden case.  I decided I wanted to be her when I grew up.

And now, 25 years later, I’m growing up.  I tune out those who say how lucky they were to get into mediation back in the (fill in the blank 80s, 90s . . .) since it’s so hard to break in now.  The business side of breaking into the field of mediation requires more marketing discipline on my part than building an employment litigation practice ever did.  The “taking it to a new level” side of learning how to be a better mediator requires no discipline.  I’ve become engaged, intrigued, fascinated.  Life is good.