Collaborative Law, PEN Focus of MBA ADR Panel

by Attorney Michael A. Zeytoonian

Most people who are in a dispute think about mediation or arbitration as alternatives to lawsuits and litigation. But there are several other process choices that people have for how to resolve their disputes. That critical choice of which process to use is often the most important choice people make in resolving their legal issue. Among these other choices are Collaborative Law, Case Evaluation and a general approach called Planned Early Negotiation or PEN.

Four talented and experienced practitioners teamed up for a lively and enlightening panel presentation and discussion on these other approaches to resolving disputes on May 17 at the MBA office in Boston. The program was the last in a 2016 series of “Best ADR Practices” presented by the Massachusetts Bar Association’s (MBA) Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)Committee. Brian Jerome, Esq. of Massachusetts Dispute Resolution Services in Boston and ADR Committee Chairman, along with MBA President Robert Harnais, Esq., welcomed a full and engaged audience to the program. Jerome also announced that the ADR Committee will be expanded and transformed into the new Dispute Resolution (DR) Section of the MBA starting in September, 2016 and welcomed people to join it.

Michael Zeytoonian, Esq. of Dispute Resolution Counsel, LLC in Wellesley, opened the panel discussion and served as its moderator. Zeytoonian set the tone for these “cutting edge” DR processes, suggesting a different approach to resolving disputes by designing the DR process to be responsive to the situation. He noted that processes like Collaborative Law offer parties the flexibility and agility to be shaped to the circumstances of each unique dispute, and intentionally designed for the goal of resolving the dispute efficiently and creatively.

Paul Faxon, Esq, a transactional attorney whose firm is in Waltham, explained the basic elements and components of Collaborative Law, specifically focusing on its application in small, closely-held or family business disputes. Faxon noted that this approach’s effectiveness when ongoing relationships are important to the parties, where the parties want to control their destinies and not turn the decision-making over to a third party, and where cost and time efficiency is valued. He highlighted some of the basic elements of Collaborative Law including the open and voluntary
sharing of all relevant information and the shared retaining of neutral experts that can freely and independently serve as a resource to the negotiation process.

David Consigli, a CPA and business valuation expert with the CPA firm of Alexander Aronson & Finning in Boston and Westborough, spoke about the advantages to using a neutral expert in a Collaborative case or a Mediation. He compared the role of an independent expert providing value to all parties as opposed to being hired by either the plaintiff or the defendant. He pointed out the value of having expert information available in business break-ups or partnership disputes, as well as the importance of valuation information in business succession planning.

John Fieldsteel, Esq., a lawyer, mediator, arbitrator and case evaluator whose specialty area of practice is complex construction cases, spoke about using case evaluation as a tool and an approach that can often be transitioned into mediation or used to assist a mediation. Case evaluation gives the parties a better sense of the strengths and weaknesses of their case as well as good indication of what the range of damages would be. Fieldsteel talked about the value to the parties of giving them good information, often confidentially, about the strength or viability of their positions and how useful this neutrally given information is in reaching a settlement.