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Is This the Best Dispute Resolution We Can Do?

Dispute Settlement Counsel by Michael Zeytoonian.

A few weeks ago, there was a picture in Time magazine’s “LightBox” section (2/16/2015 issue), depicting the city of Kobani, Syria, days after Kurdish forces had recaptured the city from ISIS. In the picture were the remains of dozens of bombed out buildings in ruin, as far as the lens could reach. There were only two people in the picture, a man walking down a deserted street filled with rubble from the destroyed buildings, and another man in uniform with rifles strapped around him, standing on top of what was left of a rooftop.

I suppose somewhere, some group celebrated the “win” of recapturing this city as a strategic victory. The problem was that there was nothing left to recapture. Whatever had once been there was gone. The people were either dead, injured or gone. There was no other movement.

Recently, I read an article in the Christian Science Monitor (3/2/2015 issue) about the Texas federal court blocking President Obama’s executive action immigration initiative. The initiative, which was announced in November, 2014, could affect the lives and status of 4.3 million people. Texas was joined by 25 other states in this effort to block the program from being implemented. Republicans consider the unilateral executive action to be unconstitutional and illegal. The White House has pledged to appeal District Court Judge Andrew Hanen’s injunction.

Neither side has celebrated a win on this matter yet, but one group that has no reason to celebrate is the group of 4.3 million people whose status is in abeyance.

Obama_PentagonThe article didn’t mention it, but I was wondering about the cost of the legal fees in this matter and who is paying for them. I suppose that these 25 states as well as the White House have hired lots of attorneys, and/or are taking up hundreds of hours of time of any state or federal lawyers that are working on this matter. I’m guessing there are some pretty high priced law firms that the state and federal governments are paying to work on this matter. With an appeal coming, these fees are probably in the 6 and maybe 7 figure range, I would think. I don’t recall any government officials asking its taxpayers if they are OK with shelling out these fees from their state and federal tax dollars, or from budgets that are already depleted.

As a mediator and dispute resolution advocate, I can’t help but ask: Is this the best we can do in our efforts to resolve disputes and conflict? Or simply put, is this the best dispute resolution?

Totally destroy cities for years and displace thousands, maybe millions of people? Talk about millions of people’s lives, properties, hopes and dreams as the “collateral damage” necessary to “take back” now demolished land?

Pay lifetime politicians large amounts of money, and incredible perks, like lifetime health insurance, etc. to do a job that they have not done – represent people’s interests and resolve disputes? We pay them to be in office far, far too long (not to mention the ridiculous amounts of moneys spent on all their campaigns), only to have them be so partisan, ineffective, unproductive and gridlocked that we then have to pay more lawyers and tie up the courts to help them sort out how to basically do their jobs? How can we respect a President and a Congress that have both failed so badly at working together that they have essentially violated the people’s trust they are required to honor by their oaths and actions?

We have to do better than this in resolving disputes. A few years ago at an international gathering of collaborative lawyers who are dedicated to resolving conflicts without litigation, the keynote speaker reminded us: We are the successful result of 40 billion years of evolution. Let’s act like it!

The correction has already begun. It started small, like most movements, on the most basic of levels, with one lawyer in Minnesota deciding to do things differently because the present methods of resolving disputes clearly weren’t working. It’s growing slowly but steadily here and there (in 21 countries and by thousands of lawyers), with much resistance from a litigious minded American society and lawyers who resist a necessary shift and adjustment. It’s not clear when it will reach a tipping point and turn the tide of how we resolve disputes, but common sense dictates that it is only a matter of time.

But until we do this better, we will continue to see lifeless pictures of mass destruction and hear about legions of lawyers hired to sue somebody, for any kind of reason, including by governments that cannot accomplish anything, primarily because people are more intent on winning legal and political battles than sitting down and working together to solve problems.


Michael A. Zeytoonian

Michael A. Zeytoonian is the Founding Member and Director of Dispute Resolution Counsel, LLC and is a lawyer, mediator and ombudsman. He is formerly a partner and now Of Counsel at Hutchings, Barsamian, Mandelcorn & Zeytoonian, LLP, in Wellesley Hills, MA. He specializes in employment law, business law, special education… MORE >

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