I have a confession to make. I am about to become embroiled in litigation. Though I preach the religion of negotiated resolution, I’ve nevertheless hired litigation counsel to assert my rights and pursue my remedies.
This is one of those moments when the rubber of our ideology meets the road of personal circumstance, the moment we are called upon to decide to walk our talk or take the more familiar road.
For more than 30 years – first as paralegal, then as a law student and finally as a commercial litigator – I’d been swimming in the waters of legal rights and remedies. The adversarial ocean had become so familiar a habitat that it rarely occurred to me that I was under the surface. One day toward the end of my first year of mediation practice, a much more experienced friend hooked me by the cheek and threw me on the deck of his ship, where I was gasping for air.
He’d asked me to co-mediate a will contest without the benefit on my clergy – lawyers with experience in the field. The “fish out of water” conversation that ensued went something like this:
Joe Mediator: “The family doesn’t want to hire a lawyer. They just want to mediate.”
Vickie: “But I know absolutely nothing about wills, trusts and estates. The parties need to talk to a lawyer first to learn their rights and remedies.”
Joe: “You still don’t get it, do you?”
Vickie: “Get what?”
Joe: “It’s not about rights and remedies. It’s about interests.”
Vickie: “But how can they evaluate their interests without knowing their rights and remedies?”
Joe: “Because they’re not interested in what the law says – they want to do what they believe is right for them as a family under the circumstances.”
These people wanted to resolve a legal dispute without knowing their legal rights? Were they nuts? I understood “interests” – they were all the rage in ADR circles – the desires, fears and needs of the parties that drove them to take legal positions. Sometimes those interests were non-economic – the need for revenge, the desire to be personally accountable, the fear of failure, the hope for forgiveness and reconciliation. Others, though economic, could not be remedied by way of damages – better access to foreign markets, for instance, or wider distribution chains; the acquisition of better manufacturing processes; or, the retention of executives with “pull” in Washington. But all of those matters were secondary to legal rights and remedies, weren’t they? You had to know what your rights were.
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Here’s a .pdf of the article taken from the “hard copy” of the paper.