Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Oklahoma Mediation-Arbitration Experiences Growth

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Oklahoma Mediation-Arbitration Experiences Growth

Article excerpt

After two years of litigation, seven parties turned to the Oklahoma Mediation-Arbitration Service of Tulsa about a year ago with the idea of ending a complex and expensive legal suit.

A museum had sued five construction and maintenance companies plus a security firm after water had leaked onto a painting. The mediation included 28 persons, with representatives of each party in a separate room during negotiations.

"The dispute was settled in six hours at a fraction of the legal expense incurred by the seven parties over two years," said John Rothman, Tulsa attorney who heads the mediation and arbitration service as a five-year-old private corporation.

That kind of rapid settlement is a strong indication of why mediation is growing and why Oklahoma Mediation-Arbitration Service has become the largest Oklahoma firm specializing in mediating commercial and personal injury disputes.

"In 1988, we had five to 10 cases a month," said Rothman, who bought the service that year. "We are now receiving well in excess of 50 a month. We contract with six to eight panelists, all attorneys - half in Oklahoma City and half in Tulsa.

"We also receive cases from Dallas and Little Rock (Ark.), with parties flying our mediators to those cities at their expense."

The growth of Rothman's firm, which has reached an annual gross income "in the low to mid six figures," reflects a growth in mediation across the country as well as in Oklahoma. The Oklahoma County Bar Association has formed a roster of 25 available mediators, not all of them attorneys.

The Seventh Judicial Administrative District has adopted new rules, which will become effective Dec. 1 and are expected to encourage mediation to resolve disputes at an early stage.

Of the cases handled by Rothman's firm, about 60 percent have been in litigation and 40 percent in prelitigation. Most are in disputes for $2,500 and up. Administrative and hourly fees generally range from $500 to $15,000 as a total for both parties.

The biggest reason for the growth is the ability of the mediation firm to reach settlements quicker than they could be obtained otherwise, and that's the purpose.

"Mediation, as it was traditionally practiced, can lead to a proceeding of five to eight hours in a simple case," said Rothman. "Our average is two and a half to three hours for a relatively simple two-party commercial or personal injury case.

"In 80 percent of our cases, we have reached a signed and enforceable settlement contract the first day. Half of the remaining 20 percent have been settled within 30 days."

Actually, more than 95 percent of all cases involving legal representation are settled eventually out of court, said Rothman. There is a tendency for parties to retain attorneys when disputes reach about $2,500, he said.

"An earlier settlement can mean substantial `financial and emotional' savings," he said. Even when there is no settlement, parties learn a case "absolutely" must go to court.

The initial interest in mediation came from insurance companies, he said, because liability policies for homes, autos and businesses tended to be at risk in disputes. There is a trend, however, toward litigation without insurers involved.

"As more businesses, lawyers and individuals have become facilitators," he said, "other types of cases have grown. The increase in expense, motivation and proliferation of claims resolved without litigation has led to an increase in mediation."

Rothman, 35, a native of Boston with a bachelor's degree from Harvard University, came to Oklahoma in 1982 after graduation from the Boston University School of Law. He met Mike Turpin that year when Turpin was attorney general of Oklahoma.

He became an assistant attorney general and then deputy chief of the civil division before leaving in 1985 to join a private law firm in Tulsa. …

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