I am an arbitrator and mediator, facilitator and a trainer in those fields. I was a Plaintiff’s lawyer for the majority of my career, but have focus primarily on the ADR area for the past 10 years.
How has your practice evolved in the last few years?
My practice has developed to include a more global focus. I spend a good deal of time training law students and lawyers in mediation, internationally. As a result, I am able to meet and interact with people gaining insight on the views of lawyers and legal professionals from various parts of the world.
If you could offer one piece of advice for young lawyers, what would it be?
Members of the public, today, often have a view of the legal profession that is based on an inaccurate portrayal of lawyers learned through the media. Lawyers no longer enjoy an automatic role of respect by members of the public. So many times, we suffer from a label or reputation attributed to us by those that have preceded us, or who have gotten attention. This has been the result of some very appropriate and expected response to lawyers who say or write things that get published in social media and that drag the profession down. I think young lawyers, who are, perhaps, more skilled in social media than their older colleagues, can do a lot to bring the profession its due respect by sharing stories of the many acts of kindness and extraordinary volunteer efforts that lawyers throughout the world perform, both law related and non law related, that often go unrecognized. So I encourage young lawyers to engage in public service and pro bono projects, and to highlight the work being performed by their peers in these areas.
What’s one technological device you could not function without?
My smartphone. As I travel, it is important for me to be able to be in contact with my office as well as with clients and others. Modern technology allows me to work internationally and still be accessible wherever I may be. In today’s world, immediacy has become the norm. As a result clients, lawyers, and others are expecting prompt responses to the issues they feel the need to address. While, we, as members of the bar, may feel that the question at hand has no urgency, to a client it is the most important thing to them at that moment. Modern technology has allowed us to meet those needs in an efficient and prompt manner.
How has civility made a difference in your practice of law?
I can acknowledge that at times, I have not been all that I aspire to be in the area of civility. However, as I grew in the profession, I learned that one can disagree with an opponent, and do so in a way that better serves clients. Lawyers can often fall into the trap that “zealously” representing a client justifies certain behaviors. Incivility can stem from the way lawyers are portrayed on TV and film, the increased stress of practice, and competition for clients, all of which blurs the line between advocacy and disrespect or incivility. There is a way to disagree, to argue a position, in a way that serves the client and that respects and protects our profession at the same time. And yes, it is true the rise of digital communication has increased incivility. We seem to feel that email allows us to treat others in a way that we would not in a face-to-face conversation, or even by phone.
So what can each of us do to check these behaviors in ourselves as we practice our profession. One simple tool is to think – how would I want my son, daughter, spouse, mother, father (whatever works for you) if she were my opponent in this situation. This creates an interesting self- examination because it forces you to think of yourself as being observed by that family member, while at the same time forces you to consider that family member as an adversary at the same time. So it is really a double-check. It is also useful to self-evaluate when we are in a difficult conversation, thinking about what went well, what did not, and assess how to improve what did not.
I should point out that this technique is “borrowed” in a sense from tools we teach in mediation trainings, where we step in the other’s shoes. In addition it is a version of something I learned from a flight attendant who recounted a story of a traveler who was struggling with an elderly passenger in the seat in front of him over the seat position. The flight attendant shared with me that she said to the disgruntled passenger – “think of how you would like her treated if she were your mother.” That one thought caused an immediate change in the “unhappy” passenger.
What do you do for fun?
I enjoy travel, cooking, reading, music and also a relaxing time on a beach when I can.
Thomas Valenti is a Chicago based conflict resolution specialist offering mediation, arbitration, and facilitation services and training, globally. A certified mediator, Tom has conducted numerous mediations involving civil, commercial, interpersonal and workplace matters. He has mediated and trained extensively, both nationally and internationally, in jurisdictions all over the world.