Juliana Stratton: Cook County Justice for Children

JStratton PhotoMy primary practice area is the field of alternative dispute resolution. I was trained as a mediator by the Center for Conflict Resolution (CCR) when I was a second year law student and continued to volunteer as a mediator for the center for many years after that. While I practiced with a law firm immediately out of law school, I remained interested in exploring how I could help clients reach a resolution to their legal disputes prior to trial, especially since so many cases settle. After a few years as an Associate, I decided to open my own firm, JDS Mediation Services, Inc., offering mediation, arbitration and negotiation services. I also served as an Administrative Law Judge for various governmental agencies and I teach a Negotiations Skills module for Loyola University’s Executive MBA program.

How has your practice evolved in the last few years?

After 18 years as President of my own alternative dispute resolution firm, I was asked to join the administration of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. For almost four years I served as the Executive Director of the Cook County Justice Advisory Council, helping to advance her criminal and juvenile justice reform agenda. It was interesting to me how my skills as a mediator and negotiator were put to use in that position, as my responsibilities included engaging numerous system- and community-based stakeholders in the reform effort. This required a great deal of outreach and relationship-building, and, as with any large-scale reform effort, it required strategic communication and processes to advance the agenda as effectively and as efficiently as possible. So I would say that more than my practice evolving, my own skill-set and professional capacity evolved from one-on-one negotiations and mediations to more large scale efforts to engage diverse stakeholders and, when possible, collaborate for the common good. Both roles require active listening, a keen understanding of the issues and the ability to challenge the status quo.

I now serve as the Executive Director of Cook County Justice for Children, a non-profit organization which seeks to promote transparency and accountability of the Cook County Juvenile Court. I’m excited to be in the non-profit world as it’s an opportunity to run a business while doing a great deal of good. I have also continued my consulting practice through JDS Mediation Services, Inc., and over the next several years I envision myself engaging with corporate, government and community leaders to implement collaborative processes to work on solutions to large scale urban issues.

If you could offer one piece of advice for young lawyers, what would it be?

I may be a bit biased in light of my background, but the piece of advice I would have for young lawyers is to take a mediation skills course. Whether in the courtroom, the board room, or the family room, knowing how to identify underlying needs and interests, to work toward mutually acceptable outcomes and to maintain neutrality in highly-charged disputes is an invaluable skill. Being a trained mediator is also a transferrable skill which can be used in several different disciplines and will be a real plus if litigation is not the chosen career path.

What is the one technological device you could not function without daily?

The technological device I could not function without on a daily basis would be my iPad with keyboard (though, my iPhone is an extremely close runner-up!). I learn better when I write things down, but having stacks of legal pads doesn’t work for me. The “Notes” application on my iPad allows me to capture the highlights of every meeting and I can search key words to find the notes, which helps tremendously with staying organized.

How has civility made a difference in your practice of law?

Civility has been of utmost importance in my practice, especially as one who has been in the role of helping parties move from conflict and little hope for agreement, to a place of productive communication and resolution. I would say, however, that my ability to exhibit professionalism and civility was most prevalent when pro se clients appeared before me as an Administrative Law Judge for the City of Chicago Office of Administrative Hearings. When a party appeared pro se, I realized I could not provide legal advice, but I wanted to ensure that they had an opportunity to be heard and left my hearing room believing that they had a fair hearing.

I was struck by how just my demeanor–being respectful, ensuring they the same opportunity to speak as had been given to Corporation Counsel, being patient in my explanation of the process–often made all the difference. Several times I had individuals who lost their case approach the bench to express that although they lost the case, they felt that the hearing was fair and that I made them feel at ease in an intimidating circumstance. For me, that only reinforced why professionalism and civility are not only critical with fellow members of the bar, but important with whomever we interact with as we represent the profession.

What do you do for fun?

While certainly the training doesn’t always feel very fun, I enjoy participating in endurance sports. I have run 5 Chicago Marathons, I’ve completed about 5 triathlons and I participate in other endurance races such as the Tough Mudder and Hustle Up the Hancock. I have studied dance for many years and I love live music and going to concerts. I also have three daughters, and it’s truly a lot of fun spending time with them…when they let me.

 

 

 

Juliana Stratton is the Executive Director of Cook County Justice for Children, an independent non-profit organization promoting transparency and accountability of the Cook County Juvenile Court. Juliana is an active member of a number of professional organizations and has served on numerous committees to advance criminal and juvenile justice reform.

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