Inside Guest Editor’s Column, February 2014

Mills_Nicole_webWelcome to our February issue of The Contra Costa Lawyer. This month, we are focusing on Alternative Dispute Resolution—a topic that is relevant to almost all areas in the practice of law. It doesn’t matter if you are corporate or litigation, whether you focus on family law, personal injury or business litigation, ADR is something that is a part of your practice. It might be in the form of a settlement conference, a mediation or an arbitration, but it is there.

This month we bring you the latest and greatest as it pertains to ADR. The landscape of ADR may be changing, and Peter Mankin brings us up to date on the latest developments on a legislative effort to decrease the confidentiality of mediation. This is an important topic and one that affects everyone who takes part in mediation, both as parties and as attorneys, and is something we hope you read and consider.

It has been about a year and a half since we at the Lawyer last undertook an ADR issue, and in that time, there have been some significant developments in the case law. John Warnlof and Leslie Fales bring us up to date on these case law developments, while Tom Cain takes a look at communication and speech and the role it plays in conflict.

Another way in which the development (and increasing popularity) of ADR has affected everyone’s practice (whether they use ADR or not) is in the way that ADR has changed the development of reported case law. In our spotlight article, Justice Marchiano examines some unintended consequences of the increased use of mediation and ADR, including the way in which it has slowed down the development of case law by settling out cases that would otherwise have resulted in published case law.

Many people think that mediation and ADR are a little “soft” and the focus too much on emotions or resolution as opposed to settlements and agreements. Ken Strongman introduces us to a man who shows us what the real benefits of conflict resolution can be: peace. Doug Noll, together with his partner, Laurel Kaufer, runs Prison of Peace, a nonprofit “group” (if Doug and Laurel can be called a group) that goes into some of California’s most dangerous and notorious prisons and trains inmates who are imprisoned for life to be peacemakers. These inmates become mediators within the prison population and the transformations they have made, both within themselves and within their prison community, are nothing short of inspiring. If you want to see the true potential of mediation, this is the article to read.

In the spirit of peacemaking and giving back within our own community, we highlight an organization that has partnered with our own courts to provide volunteer mediation services right here in Contra Costa County. The Center for Human Development operates different panels of volunteer mediators: The main panel, which handles community mediations; the elder mediation panel, which is specially trained to handle mediations with an elder present and which has worked closely with our own Elder Court; the guardianship panel, which mediates guardianship cases with the courts; and finally the family reunification panel, which works with inmates and their families to help with the transition back to civilian life after incarceration. The work they do benefits everyone in this county.

As you are all aware, it is that time of year again—time to renew your bar membership. For one-third of you, that means mandatory MCLE reporting as well. In this month’s ethics column, Carol Langford warns us about the California Bar’s new program of auditing, which aims to audit up to 10 percent of the reporting attorneys this year, so if your last name starts with N-Z, this is definitely something you will want to pay attention to!

The financial crisis in the courts is something that we have discussed in many issues. This month, we look at one specific area of impact: court reporters. Wendy Graves gives us the court reporter’s perspective on BYOCR—Bring Your Own Court Reporter—and some tips to help make that transition smoothly.

I hope that you enjoy this issue of the Contra Costa Lawyer.

Nicole Mills is a mediator in Walnut Creek, is a past Chair of the ADR Section of the Contra Costa County Bar Association, and is the Co-Editor of the Contra Costa Lawyer. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Conflict Resolution. Nicole Mills can be reached at

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