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.