By Dan Heilman and Jane Pribek
When it comes to ADR, one size does not fit all.
The term “alternative dispute resolution,” in and of itself, implies being different.
But within the varied offerings, one thing many clients are looking for is efficiency, a fact two Midwestern legal providers have zeroed in on when creating their unique ADR offerings.
The Wisconsin Collaborative Divorce Community in Middleton offers its clients a one-stop shop for mediation. In Minneapolis, ValueSolve ADR expedites the resolution process at a flat-fee rate.
Both companies are furthering the concept of alternative dispute resolution, with a practical eye on the clients’ bottom line and the clock.
Combined office offers one-stop shop for collaborative divorce
Middleton attorneys Diane Mader and Janice Wexler were sharing office space and practicing collaborative divorce for several years before they decided to make the alliance official about a year ago.
Mader, Wexler and Marlin and Cathryn Kriss, a pair of clinical social workers in the same office, now make up the Wisconsin Collaborative Divorce Community, the only group of its kind in Wisconsin. The independent practitioners work together to minimize the inherent conflict associated with divorce.
The way it works, explained Mader, is she and Wexler first meet individually with the parties to determine if the collaborative model will work for them. They explain that although they share space, they do not share staff or equipment, to avoid any conflicts of interests and preserve client confidences.
Both attorneys additionally discuss the pros and cons of using collaborative coaches. Clients are given a roster from which to choose, including the Krisses just down the hall, as well as coaches outside the building.
The attorneys provide legal advice, while the coaches help guide the parties through the emotional issues.
For example, while the attorneys might discuss the division of valuable assets, the social workers help clients divide the items within their home that typically have more emotional attachments than monetary value.
If the parties agree to the collaboration, they then begin the process of problem-solving as a team, rather than individually mobilizing for court.
“The team works in a way that’s transparent, so there’s no position-taking or strategic withholding of information. There’s no ‘hiding the ball,’” Mader said. “It’s a wonderful thing. But it requires a lot of communication and coordination.”
Working under the same roof facilitates that collaboration, she said. The four professionals have an established working rapport that helps streamline the process, which saves the parties’ money. It’s also more convenient.
But it’s not for everyone, Wexler cautioned. Collaboration spooks some people because they, or perhaps their extended family and friends, simply cannot accept anything but the traditional litigation model with aggressive, antagonistic lawyers, she said.
But for the approximately two dozen couples that have used the Wisconsin Collaborative Divorce Community’s services since it opened its doors on Jan. 1, 2010, the process has worked well, Mader said.
Looking ahead, Wexler and Mader are not ruling out the possibility that some day professionals from other disciplines such as financial planners or accountants might join the Community. But for now, their space isn’t large enough to accommodate that.
Time will tell which direction it takes, they said, and if other collaborative divorce providers follow their lead.
Flat-fee mediation expedites process
Patrick Burns knew his company, Minneapolis-based ValueSolve ADR, had arrived when a Minnesota judge specifically named the company in a court order.
“(The judge) recommended that the parties use Minneapolis-based ValueSolve to work out their differences,” Burns recalled. “The bar and bench both seem to be taking notice of what we’re doing.”
What Burns and his three partners at ValueSolve are doing is offering mediation on a flat-fee basis, rather than charging by the hour, for parties within the metro Twin Cities area and western Wisconsin.
Mediators have been compensated in lump-sums before – often it is done when resolving disputes for government agencies, for example, Burns said. But no other private-sector entity in the Midwest, or anywhere to the best of Burns’ knowledge, has made flat-fee mediation the centerpiece of its business model.
Launched last December, ValueSolve was conceived as a way to expedite the ADR process and offer a less expensive option. Instead of an hourly rate, the company charges a flat fee of $1,800 for any case involving two parties and up to $250,000 in controversy.
That price buys the parties up to eight hours of pre-mediation and mediation work for far less than the $300-$400 per hour charged by many mediators in the Twin Cities area and some of the better-known Wisconsin-based mediators.
The upfront fee paid by parties additionally covers the mediator’s services in drafting a memo of understanding regarding the settlements they reach.
“But we’re trying to highlight our process as much or more than our rate,” said Burns.
To expedite the process, ValueSolve requires certain tasks be done in advance of a session. Before the first sit-down, offers and pre-mediation letters must be exchanged so both parties know each other’s position before the mediation.
“Most mediators, for better or worse, start their work the morning of the mediation, and they simply run out of time or don’t get it done because they start out flat-footed,” Burns said. “The more time you spend beforehand trying to figure out where each party’s coming from, the less time you’re spending figuring out a settlement on the day of the mediation session.”
Burns and his partners, Leo Stern, David Allgeyer and Joseph Daly, are all established Twin Cities litigators with either a separate law practice or a day job teaching law.
Burns said they got the idea for ValueSolve while doing pro bono ADR work. They found that, because they were working for free, disputes were being resolved more efficiently.
“We’re borrowing ideas from that,” he said. “What was effective, what wasn’t.”
Dan Heilman of Minnesota Lawyer contributed to this report.
Jane Pribek can be reached at [email protected].
Attorneys Diane Mader, left, and Janice Wexler share a Madison office at which they meet with divorce clients to resolve legal issues.