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Lawyer Limelight: Judge Daniel Weinstein

By January 10, 2012Lawyer Limelights
Photo provided by JAMS

Judge Daniel Weinstein has long been recognized as a pioneer in the area of alternative dispute resolution and one of its leading practitioners, so it’s no surprise he has extended his influence to many corners of the world. The Weinstein International Fellowship Program, now in its third year, brings foreign legal professionals to the U.S. to learn about ADR practices and implement new programs in their home countries.

The program is funded by the JAMS Foundation, the non-profit organization established by JAMS (which Weinstein helped found as a former judge in California). Weinstein continues to handle an impressive array of complex disputes through JAMS and The Weinstein Group. He also established a new mediation center in Napa Valley, which he believes can assist in resolving disputes.

Lawdragon: What was the thinking or motivation behind starting the Weinstein International Fellowship program?

Daniel Weinstein: While I was the U.S. representative for Privatization of Bosnia in 1999-2001, I was frustrated by official efforts to mediate disputes between the Serbs, Muslims and Croatians. I was introduced to and marveled at a lower level Muslim Magistrate in Sarajevo, who had been successfully mediating matters for years between different cultures. It made me realize that these undiscovered heroes and heroines of dispute resolution existed all over the world. I made a pledge to myself that if I had the opportunity I would help identify, recruit, train and empower these potential stars of dispute resolution to prosper in their respective cultures and countries.

In 2008 I made a major grant to the JAMS Foundation, and the Weinstein Fellowship Program was born. Now in our third year we had 140 applications from 31 countries. Not only have we found hidden stars, but many potential superstars from countries as large as China and as tiny as Bhutan. Our Fellows mostly come from countries that do not have an established culture of using mediation for cases in litigation, even though they may have other dispute resolution mechanisms in their heritage. We now see our initial motivation materialize as the Fellows develop and design projects and institutional structures, which increases the availability of dispute resolution in their home countries and beyond.

LD: Can you mention some of the ADR activities that the fellows have implemented outside of the U.S.?

DW: One Fellow has worked to establish the first Judicial mediation program at the Amman (Jordan) Palace of Justice; another has participated in the cross border dispute resolution of claims involving indigenous people of Ecuador and the Amazon; another has used tools to help make monumental caseloads more manageable in India; still another has set up a full-blown mediation center for research and training in Moscow; another has written the ADR blueprint for the Courts of Ireland; another returned to Kathmandu to establish its first court-based mediation program; and other Fellows are working hard to tailor mediation techniques to the rapidly emerging economies of Brazil and China.

LD: Have the alumni stayed in touch and developed any type of international network for ADR professionals?

DW: The Weinstein International Fellowship alumni stay in touch with each other and continue to check-in and support one another in their own individual projects. Part of the reason for the fellowship was to create an engaged global network. Facebook helps with this cross-border communication. Newsletters and resource banks are also in the works.

LD: I also noticed that you began a $1M donation to the JAMS Foundation beginning in 2007. Have there been any specific grants/projects that you have been particularly interested in, in addition to the fellowship program?

DW: I will fulfill the pledge this year and have helped to create the CRETE program, which trains teachers in our inner-city schools in techniques to effectively resolve disputes and potential violence in the classroom.

LD: What other philanthropic activities have you been doing in recent years?

DW: I am also president and chairman of the board of 7 Tepees, an organization I co-founded for 80 disadvantaged inner-city youth. The program is one of the most successful academic-based, full service support programs for inner city youth in America.

I have started and am president of two other non-profit foundations: one is the Danny Weinstein Youth Foundation, which gives grants to worthy youth groups which would not otherwise qualify for funding.

The other is the Baja Coastal Institute, a scientific organization based in Baja dedicated to providing accurate scientific information on preservation of living reefs by providing scholars with residence and research grants.

LD: You have worked on every type of complex case across a vast range of industries. What unites them in terms of the skills it takes for a mediator to contribute to a successful resolution?

DW: Solid preparation and process design, good listening and mirroring skills, timing, tenacity, follow-up, and a sense of humor.

LD: Can you discuss some of the recent work you’ve done on cases related to the financial crisis?

DW: Through my work at JAMS and The Weinstein Group, I have been in the middle of most of the major financial crises in the past decade, starting with Enron, Adelphia, Qwest, IPO, arising out of the 1999-2001 period to Countrywide, Ameriquest, New Century, Wachovia and other mortgage-based disasters, to recent collapses involving Lehman bankruptcy and Madoff-related matters.

LD: What is the theory behind the group approach, with multiple mediators working on a dispute, that you employ with the Weinstein Group?

DW: Our team approach means that we not only prepare thoroughly, but team members can bounce process ideas and explore other options before the group session begins. Our preparation is no doubt an important component of the value clients see in our team approach. Additionally, many of our cases are very large in terms of the numbers of parties (and often insurance carriers) involved, the issues, and frequently the very large amounts at stake. It is not unusual in these cases for the parties not to expect to reach closure in a single day. Rather, they are settled over a period of discussions and negotiations guided by the mediating team.

Having more than one team member always available keeps it on track and allows us to stay actively involved at critical moments, all in the interest of achieving a resolution. Sometimes we have disputes where deep understanding of a substantive area of law is important, such as patent licensing, insurance practice, entertainment agreements, and investment policies. Our team approach allows at least one member of the team to be steeped in a specialized or especially complex area.

LD: What about the reason for creating the Weinstein Center for mediations in Napa? Has the location proven to be a major contributor to resolving cases?

DW: The Weinstein Mediation Center in Napa gives parties and their counsel an ideal environment for dispute resolution close to an urban center. The vineyard setting is awe-inspiring and peaceful, and while the Center is fully equipped technologically, it takes the parties outside their usual routine and the context of their contentions. The lawyers and their clients feel and appreciate the difference. This is what I had envisioned could happen in a Napa Valley setting and, while we still do much of our work in urban settings at JAMS, I am very pleased to see the positive results of mediations set in the Napa Center. And when we settle, the parties can retire to the tasting room to wash away the case and toast the future.

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