Richard Lutringer, a “recovering lawyer” by his own description, is an IMI, MC3, CEDR certified mediator. He focuses on helping small to large family-owned and other closely-held businesses. Formerly a law firm partner doing international corporate and commercial transactions, he now does mediation exclusively. After completing a B.A. in Philosophy from the College of William and Mary, he studied law first at Cornell Law School, receiving his J.D. with Specialization in International Affairs and later received an M.C.L. from the University of Chicago Law School.
An International Road
The University of Chicago program included a Ford Foundation fellowship for legal studies in Germany. Afterward, he clerked with a German law firm in Munich and later in London with Clifford-Chance before returning to New York. His knowledge of civil law helped him later in his career to represent European clients. Richard notes that in Germany, “it is not unusual for a judge to act as a mediator in his own case. In the U.S., judges are careful not to have ex parte contact and, although many don’t hesitate to participate with lawyers in a settlement conference, they would not act as a mediator with the parties. Although there are world-class mediators in Europe, many of whom I know through my participation as a judge in the annual ICC Mediation Competition in Paris, the mediation process in Continental Europe is still developing”, Richard explains.
He began working as a corporate lawyer at a law firm in New York then known as Whitman & Ransom focusing on international commercial and corporate transactions, primarily for international companies from Europe and Japan. When a client was confronted with a serious dispute with a business partner, he described his first reaction was to ask the client what their real interests were and if they wanted to creatively settle it. Without realizing it, Richard had begun using the principles of facilitative mediation, admitting, “it was something I was naturally drawn to”. Many times, Richard reports, “German and Asian clients who had been sued and were afraid of U.S. litigation were ecstatic to find out that something like a mediation process existed”.
Road to Mediation
Richard took his first mediation training at Quinnipiac in Connecticut and went on to train as a community mediator at the NY Peace Institute and at CMS in Jamaica, NY where, after a rigorous hands-on mentoring process, he was able to mediate numerous neighbor to neighbor cases. He worked as a “lawyer during the day and mediator by night”. Gradually gaining more experience, Richard took advanced commercial mediation trainings, joined the rosters of Federal District Courts and the NY State Supreme Court Commercial Division. Having found a niche he loved and starting to be paid as a mediator, he decided to give up a law practice and assume a career in mediation without adding arbitration. “I don’t have the mindset of a judge. I like being the person who is able to talk to both sides and get behind their legal positions”. Whereas the arbitrator is ethically restrained from mediating her cases, the mediator can legally discuss the underlying causes of the dispute. Richard explains that an arbitrator, “is put in a difficult position, seeing the interests that could be developed, but unable to intervene”.
Currently, Richard is the chair of the Mediation Study Group of the Family Firm Institute, a globally recognized association of family business advisors. The Study Group consists of 25 family business mediators from around the world who meet monthly on Zoom to discuss dealing with internal disputes within families.
“Having more people use mediation is important”, Richard says. He explains that around 20% of mediators get 80% of the compensated mediations, and mediators do not receive enough from fee-paying disputes to be able to give up their day jobs, a major reason why court rosters are heavily weighted in favor of professionals who have the luxury of controlling their own work schedules, have an independent source of income or are retired from their previous occupation. “Less than 3-5% of cases brought to litigation actually reach the trial stage, often getting settled in the last few weeks before trial is scheduled. If parties were better informed about their choices, that window could be moved up to get things settled much faster”, he explains. Mediation works best when the parties have had an ongoing relationship and will be in contact with one another afterward, because “the litigation alternative, in a search for “justice”, is simply a destructive game with no real winner. In mediation, we ask what is your end goal”, which is something that does not get formulated through litigation.
Richard, one of the founding members of MBBI, found the organization through the NY mediator listserve maintained by Professor Maria Volpe at John Jay College. Richard explains, “It’s a caring and living organization, inspired by Ken Cloke’s article about bringing mediators to hostile situations, Bob Creo’s groundwork in building the fledgling organization, and the dedication and stamina of people like Alan Gross, Mark Kleiman which inspired me to get involved”. Richard recalls memorable projects such as the revisions to court mediation rules for Nepal and preparing a report to the board with respect to guidelines for volunteers on overseas projects.
Richard admits that the toughest challenge of mediation as an institution is as simple as attracting enough cases. Most mediation is done through lawyers, who prioritize “winning” over “balancing interests”. “We know that mediation usually ends with a better result”, but one of the reasons the work is challenging is the initial skeptical attitude of most parties. In mediation, “we say ‘ok that’s fine, we accept that you dislike them, but let’s see if we can still get you out of this in a way that is satisfying to you, then, we go to work”.
Article by Emily Shultis, MBBI Writer