Academy of Distinguished Neutrals Michigan chapter gets underway

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

It may come as no surprise to people who know attorneys practicing mediation that most mediators are extremely passionate about their work, often regarding it as both a vocation and a cause.

The National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals (NADN) has identified five mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution practitioners in the state of Michigan who have that kind of intense commitment to their work and who excel at it.

In addition to West Michiganians Jon Muth of Miller Johnson and Amy Glass of Michigan Arbitration & Mediation Services in Kalamazoo, the other Distinguished Neutrals on the NADN roster are the Hon. Barry Howard (ret.), Law Offices of Barry L. Howard in Bloomfield Hills; Edward Pappas of Dickinson Wright’s Troy office, recent president of the State Bar of Michigan; and Alan Kanter, Vestevich, Mallender, DuBois & Dritsas, also in Bloomfield Hills.

NADN is a professional organization of attorneys “ distinguished by their hands-on experience in the field of civil and commercial conflict resolution.” The organization provides a roster of mediation and ADR practitioners that is available free on-line to interested members of the public, litigation attorneys and their staffs (at www.nadn.org/directory).

As NADN Executive Director Darren Lee puts it in the brochure NADN circulates to the legal profession, “I have spoken with hundreds of leading trial attorneys over the last few years and there has been a recurring theme - concern about the experience levels of selected mediators and arbitrators.” In 2008, NADN stepped into the void created by that demand for certainty. It now has over 750 members in 40 states.

Well-known local attorney Jon Muth says modestly,”I don’t have a clue about why I was contacted.” Amy Glass was already a member of NADN before the Michigan chapter began, and she stated, “When the organization was seeking to identify a charter group, they were looking for people with name recognition and those who already have a strong reputation. That  reinforces that the NADN has done their due diligence.”

Muth now devotes 70% of his time to a mediation practice, of which a small percentage is arbitration, and 30% to being General Counsel at Miller Johnson.

He explains that the General Counsel position entails dealing with “coaching and counseling the 100 plus lawyers at the firm.” He says that Miller Johnson encourages its attorneys to be very forthcoming if they have made a mistake and he assists them in proactively pursuing a solution. As General Counsel, he also handles a number of other duties for the firm, including resolving conflicts of interest and ethical dilemmas.

Muth brings the same commitment to his mediation practice he has brought to his litigation practice and to other causes over the years. As just one example, years ago he embarked on a cross-country bicycle ride to kickstart funding for creating the Legal Assistance Center.

  And  “distinguished” would be a good word to describe his legal career, for which he won many an award, including 2011 Michigan Lawyers Weekly “Lawyer of the Year.”

About mediation, Muth says, “It’s really as much an exercise in human dynamics and psychology than it is in the law. Although some of the cases are similar to those that I covered throughout my career, in the mediation process, you’re always starting out with the emotional elements of the dispute. Those are the hardest problems to solve.”

His delight in solving them, and in the process, is evident. “I started out mediating like a good litigator and ended up litigating like a mediator,” Muth says, at which point he stopped doing litigation altogether.

He continues, “You see these cases where the parties come to mediation and end up with a result that not only surprises everybody, but allows both parties to walk out very happy with the result.”

As one example, he recalls a case where two companies went head to head over unfair competition, and after careful questioning it became clear to him that the owner of the smaller company really wanted to get out of the business; he eventually facilitated the larger company buying out the smaller, and everyone’s actual goals were met. He refers to such processes as “fun.”

Muth feels that one tremendous benefit to NADN members is the ability to keep an online calendar, which those interested in using his service may access. “On their website, every mediator who’s a member has an opportunity to post his or her schedule, so it really contributes to ease of scheduling.” There is an icon on his Miller Johnson page which links to that schedule.

Amy Glass, who focuses on conducting statewide training and public policy/local government dispute resolution (as well as handling general civil and commercial cases),  clearly shares Muth’s intense commitment.

Glass started out advocating for  and practicing mediation “before there were places to do that,” she says. “I started serving in the capacity of a neutral back when it wasn’t even called mediation.”

She adds, “A lot of what I bring to mediation and to the training of mediators is a curiosity about the ways people solve problems and the reason they choose a particular set of terms to solve their cases. That’s incredibly fascinating to me.

“I’m a process expert — the skills I’m bringing to the table are skills that allow everyone to have a voice.”

According to NADN’s Darren Lee, “We'll likely invite a handful more members on later in 2013, once we have time to survey defense/plaintiff bar in the state and combine that feedback with positive peer votes from the charter members.” The stringent criteria for application are on the NADN website and include being in civil/commercial mediation practice or arbitration for a minimum of 5 years with at least 30% of the attorney’s time devoted to such practice, as well as sponsorship or seconding by two existing NADN members.

Meanwhile, mediators such as Muth and the others on the NADN Michigan roster continue to derive professional and personal rewards from their work as neutrals. As Amy Glass observes, “You really can get excited about human potential when you do this work.”

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