Do you believe in magic?
Simeon Baum does – in the kind of magic, that is, that enters the room when two parties in a dispute sit down in the presence of a mediator.
Baum, president of Resolve Mediation services in New York City, was the featured speaker at a Sept. 28 forum at the School of Law. His appearance, titled “Confessions of a Mediator,” was sponsored by the Alternative Dispute Resolution division of the law school’s Advocacy Institute and by the student ADR Association.
Baum has successfully mediated more than 1,000 disputes in seemingly every arena, from business disputes to personal injury to fraud. Today mediation is an increasingly in-demand area of legal practice, but the speaker – who entered ADR practice in 1992 – was drawn early to mediation as an alternative to the traditional confrontational model of resolving disputes in the courtroom.
He practiced litigation for a decade, he said, and loved the excitement of it. But he began to question whether it was indeed the best way. “We have this idea that facts are objective, but facts and people are interrelated,” Baum told those in attendance in the Cellino & Barnes Conference Center. “We’re in a bigger world, but we’re in that world together. I thought, there’s got to be a way to look at the people, to be a little more humanistic.”
And so he came to mediation, in which a “neutral” facilitates discussion among disputants with the goal of achieving a resolution that everyone can live with.
“Mediation,” he said, “is beautiful. What’s beautiful about it is that it’s whole people in a room encountering one another. You don’t come into the room just as a case. As mediators, we operate on multiple levels. We do have the benefit of doing the legal analytic thing, but we also look at emotions and the relationships between people.”
Baum said the practice appeals to him both on a philosophical level and as a mode of legal practice.
“The model of the mediator is the person I want to be,” he said. “The mediator is a neutral who is on everybody’s side. They’re supportive, they’re compassionate, they bring empathy and flexibility into the room. I love mediation because it is a forum where we can integrate the norms of justice and harmony. And by the way, people are nice to mediators, by and large.”
But also, he said, mediation can be a broad and intellectually challenging pursuit, in an era of ever-increasing specialization of legal practice. “The thing that used to appeal to people who came into the law was the diversity of the practice,” Baum said. “That’s less and less true today. But I’ve mediated across the board in a wide range of areas. I’ve had the chance to mediate a biomedical engineering patent dispute. I’m no engineer, so I went to Wikipedia. I tried to learn a little bit about light so I could sound a little more confident if it came up. It’s helpful to be conversant, but actually it could be a mental block to creativity to think you’re the expert in that field.”
And as for the magic: Baum invoked the Taoist principle of wu wei, the concept of non-doing as appropriate action.
“The most fundamental thing a mediator does is not a technique,” he said. “The most fundamental thing a mediator does is bring the mediator’s presence as a genuine connective, listening presence into the room and to help people be together. There’s a message the mediator sends: We’re all in this together. We are people of goodwill, capable people. And we can work it out.”