Daily Journal Feature: Lee Jay Berman
By Kelly A. Lofstrom
(Published by the Daily Journal, February 28, 2001)

Lee Jay Berman has been in mediation full time since 1994, successfully mediating over 500 civil disputes in fields ranging from real estate, construction and land use to employment issues and general business litigation. His vast experience has made him an expert in mediation and he possesses an essential quality necessary for success in the field: passion.

"Lee Jay is a 'client-proven' mediator," explains Mike Powell, Regional Vice President of the American Arbitration Association (AAA). "His success can be attributed to his passion for the process and a sincere desire to help people reach resolution to their problems."

Unlike most mediators, Berman is a non-attorney with an extensive background as a businessman. He enjoyed a lengthy career in the real estate development industry, giving him substantial first-hand experience with complex issues in real estate transactions, land use, development, and construction matters. His business career also included land acquisition, management, and development and he has worked as a consultant facilitating negotiations with governmental entities for entitlements of condominium conversion and new construction projects.

Berman believes that he is able to approach cases as problems that need a solution rather than simply as legal cases that need to be disposed of. His services are therefore often utilized because of his ability to view a conflict from a different perspective. "He brings to the mediation the sensibility of the parties and not the lawyers," explains Gregg Martin of Hamburg, Hanover, Edwards & Martin in Los Angeles. "He speaks to everyone in those terms and he is effective in communicating the issues, concerns and uncertainty inherent in the litigation process in a way that is inclusive, non-threatening and understandable."

Berman's expertise is on display in Santa Barbara County where he was instrumental in the implementation of the county's ADR system. In 1999, Berman was selected from a nationwide search to head the Court Administered Dispute Resolution (CADRe) Program for the Santa Barbara Superior Courts. From its unveiling in July of 1999, until mid-2000, Berman served as CADRe's Inaugural Director, trusted by the judges to counsel attorneys on the application of ADR to their cases. Under Berman's direction, the program became the most progressive multi-door courthouse of its kind, acting as a model to other courts worldwide. Berman supervised the administration of over 300 cases through the court's CADRe Program, and left the program with a resolution rate that was multiple times that of other court ADR programs.

James F. Rigali, Partner of Kirk & Simas in Santa Maria, has experienced the success of the program first-hand. "In Santa Barbara County where I practice and where Mr. Berman implemented the county's mediation system, I can already see a powerful voluntary movement by the strongest litigants to the mediation alternative," he says. "I think that [Berman] is more correct than even he believes when he hints that mediation will ultimately change the landscape of litigation as we know it."

Berman does believe that mediation is changing the landscape of litigation and he is proud to be part of that process. "We are shaping and defining the mediation field right now," he explains. "We are reshaping the court system and we each have a voice in how our primary conflict resolution system, our courts, are shaped. I am honored to be part of those discussions, and to have had the opportunity in Santa Barbara to build one such system with the support of Santa Barbara's bench and bar."

For the past five years, Berman has served on the Board of Directors of the California Dispute Resolution Council (CDRC), the statewide professional organization of mediators and arbitrators. He has also served for two years on the State Bar of California's ADR Ethics Subcommittee and on the Judicial Council's ADR Ethics Subcommittee. He currently mediates cases for AAA and he has been selected for AAA's distinguished Construction Industry, Business & Commercial and Employment mediation panels.

Berman has served for five years now as chair of the statewide Qualifications & Standards Committee for CDRC, which published the Standards of Practice for California Mediators. These standards have been officially adopted by the First District Court of Appeal and the Santa Barbara Superior Court, as well as other counties' superior courts. Many law schools have been using the standards to teach good mediation practice and from the day they were published, copies of the standards have been requested throughout the world.

As the consensus builder for the standards, Berman, along with members from his committee, traveled the state of California for two years and met with mediators, law professors, trial attorneys, and other stakeholders in an attempt to build a single set of mediator standards that would work for everyone. "Someone needed to attempt to find a consensus among the mediators," Berman explains. "When the standards were published, it represented the first time we had reached consensus in the mediation community about what represented good practice."

In addition to Berman's current mediation work for AAA, he also teaches mediation skills and runs a video workshop for advanced mediators. He has educated and coached leading mediators, as well as those entering the field. Berman founded The Institute for Mediation Studies which provides courses, seminars and workshops for individuals, businesses and public entities teaching conflict management, negotiation, cultural and gender diversity, and advanced communication skills. Rigali recently attended a mediation seminar taught by Berman. "While I am not prone to hyperbole," he says, "it is safe to say that the mediation course was the single most enlightening continuing education class in my life. The bottom line is that Mr. Berman knows how to unlock the promise of mediation and when he does I doubt that anyone can see it as anything but good business."

Leslie Cole of Gray, York & Duffy in Encino is in agreement and says when Berman is working on a case he is "extremely helpful and hardworking, going above and beyond in addressing needs of various parties and putting together a settlement."

Berman believes that the biggest challenge in what he does lies in helping people to understand the benefits that mediation can provide. He also sees a challenge in "successfully shifting the mindsets of people from past tense problems to present and future tense solutions," he says. According to Robert S. Mann of The Mann Law Firm in Los Angeles, Berman is successful in doing so. "He is simply the best mediator that I know," Mann explains. "He brings to the table an incredible combination of business experience, passion for the mediation process, empathy, and the skills necessary to close even the most difficult case. You just can't do any better."

Berman enjoys mediating cases that appear to be impossible to resolve. He says, "My favorite kind of case is one where the attorneys all approach me separately before we begin and tell me, 'It's going to take a miracle to settle this case.' Those are the most challenging and most rewarding when they are resolved." He prides himself on his tenacity, expertise, and above all: his passion. "I tend to get caught up in the passion about what I do," he explains. "Being a mediator isn't just my livelihood, it's how I try to live my life."

ADR group: American Arbitration Association
Types of cases: Real estate, construction, land use, employment, and General business litigation
Service area: Nationwide
Career highlights: Neutral, AAA, 2000-present;
chair, CDRC Qualifications and Standards Committee, 1995-present;
founder and director, Institute for Mediation Studies, 1994-present;
founder, president, and mediator, The Mediation Alliance, 1994-2000;
inaugural director, CADRe program for Santa Barbara Superior Courts, 1999

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