Justin L. Kelsey, (left), chair
Timothy M. Linnehan (right), vice chair
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DR MEMBER SPOTLIGHT
DR Section Member Spotlight: Attorney, Mediator, and Ombudsman MICHAEL ZEYTOONIAN
“The processes I employ call for a different kind of lawyering – more the role of counselor than that of hired gun. We are problem solvers, collaborating with clients to achieve the best possible results.”
Focusing on resolution through collaboration, Michael Zeytoonian brings a specialized approach which includes a conflict assessment process designed to determine the most efficient methods by which to resolve disputes. Read on to learn more about Michael and his passion for educating clients about life beyond litigation.
What led you to DR work?
I have litigated all kinds of matters for over 25 years as a lawyer in the service of government and in private practice and loved trying cases. Three things led to shifting from litigation to using dispute resolution processes to help people solve legal disputes: 1. Very few cases filed with courts (less than 3%) go to trial; 2. The litigation process, especially discovery, is too long, too inefficient, too expensive and too draining for clients; 3. I recognized how critical it is for the client (and for the lawyer), to use the dispute resolution process that best matches the specific dispute situation presented. Frank Sander, a dispute resolution master, referred to this as “fitting the forum to the fuss.” That first step is vital to achieving the best kind of resolution possible.
What is unique about your style or approach to DR that provides value to parties in a dispute and distinguishes you from most others who do the same work?
My approach is always driven by the client’s situation and the goal of satisfying the client’s interests and needs the most efficient way possible. That led to my training in mediation, collaborative law, ombuds services and conciliation. A true counselor must know how each process works, and be proficient in their utilization. I focus on educating my clients on what options are available to them, how they work and when they should be used. All of these steps are important so the client can make informed choices of how to best work through their disputes.
What is a hobby, a passion of yours or community activity you do outside of your work as a neutral/lawyer?
I’ve been actively involved in my (Armenian) church and ethnic community activities – ministries, education, projects and causes – throughout my life. The spiritual/ethnic/cultural aspects add richness to life and provide opportunities to give of ourselves, connect with others, and to help those in need. These activities have added another dimension which help me balance worldly perspectives; these opportunities provide a certain “grounding” of our lives and in our work as lawyers.
Tell us what you would like people to know about your firm or practice.
My firm helps restore and when possible transform the workplace or small business situation and all those impacted by it to a healthier situation than the one that led to a dispute. We do this by either serving as a neutral mediator or as legal counselors for our clients. In either role, we use non-adversarial processes designed to help parties resolve their disputes efficiently and creatively, so that the outcome is tailored to meet their needs. We are problem solvers, collaborating with clients to achieve the best possible results.
What change would you like to see come about in the area of DR?
I would like to see more lawyers trained to represent their clients in problem-solving, non-adversarial processes like mediation and collaborative law, and other hybrids designed as interests-based or principled negotiation processes. There are clear differences between how we represent our clients in litigation vs. in these processes – differences in approach, strategy, mindset, goals and outcomes. These processes call for a different kind of lawyering – more the role of counselor than that of hired gun. This training will lead to a whole new niche for lawyers who want to be more responsive to the needs and preferences of our clients, and more efficiency and creativity in representing our clients.
Do you have an anecdotal story you’d like to share that is either humorous or provided you with a key teaching moment?
One of the most complex and interesting cases I ever worked on was as part of a team of four talented collaborative lawyers (who were also trained as mediators) representing eight clients. The dispute involved a myriad of legal issues and some that didn’t fit into any typical claim or cause of action. It called for a lot of flexibility in process and creativity in coming up with solutions. We used a collaborative process that morphed into a mediation and resulted in a wonderful and creative resolution. One collaborative session with the mediator was dedicated to the lawyers telling our clients’ stories in a controlled structure where the other side parties listened to the stories. After the case was resolved, our clients told us that while the resolution was wonderful, the most important thing to them was that opportunity to be heard – to have their stories told and heard by the other side without interruption or challenge. That alone made the process worth it. It was an important need that had to be met, and the process gave them the forum for that.
Please nominate colleagues (or yourself) for upcoming Member Spotlight recognition. To submit your nominations, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com and include the name of your nominee and a paragraph supporting your nomination.
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