Better to negotiate, says Allan Stitt, than litigate. Much better. Stitt is a committed advocate of alternative dispute resolution, also known as ADR, a growing field whose goal is to settle civil conflicts through negotiation and mediation rather than in the adversarial atmosphere of the courtroom. By sidestepping the courts, which are usually restricted to choosing winners and losers and granting
monetary awards, the alternative dispute settlement process uses more creative, conciliatory means to resolve conflicts. “After a successful mediation, people feel good about the outcome,” says Stitt, 35, a 1988 graduate of the University of Windsor, who went on to earn a master of law degree from Harvard University in 1992. “They don’t think they have been bullied or that the system has done them harm.” And by mastering ADR, lawyers are also arming themselves with the skills necessary to enter the mediation field. Along with a Toronto practice, Stitt has been spreading the word about
ADR to others in the profession: he teaches a class on the subject at the University of Toronto law school, and, in conjunction with Windsor law school, offers courses on mediation throughout the country to practising lawyers.
From his office in Winnipeg, businessman-turned-lawyer Harvey Secter argues that ADR is a particularly apt way to solve commercial disputes that involve family members or closely held partnerships. Secter, 52, former co-owner of the Winnipeg Jets hockey franchise, and onetime proprietor of Ricki’s, a national chain of women’s clothing stores,
earned his law degree from the University of Manitoba in 1992, before heading to Harvard for his master’s. In the courts, says Secter, who also teaches two classes in ADR at Manitoba, “problems get translated into legalese—you come out with a legal solution that you have to translate back into a business context with ongoing personal relationships. It seemed to me there had to be a better way.” And, say both Stitt and Secter, focusing on solutions that work for all sides can be rewarding not just for clients, but for lawyers. Says Stitt: “At the end of mediation, / feel good.”
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