As a child my friends and family always told me I should be a lawyer. There must have been something in my personality that led people to believe this would be the direction my life would take. In fact, when I played the board game “Life” I always wanted to be “the lawyer” even though they made less money than “the doctor”. I guess I always thought that being a lawyer would allow me to help people.
After I graduated from Albany Law School in 1980 I accepted a position with a Schenectady law firm. As an associate I was assigned to handle anything that the partners did not want to handle and often found myself representing someone in a divorce. While most of the other lawyers in the firm did not like family law, I found that I enjoyed helping people get through what was often one of the most difficult times in their lives!
In 1982 I decided to open my own law firm and spent the next 13 years representing people going through a divorce. And while I enjoyed helping my clients, I also found myself becoming more and more disenchanted with the expensive and often counterproductive court battles that were part of the legal system.
Beginning in 1995, two events occurred that changed my life. The first was that both of my parents died of cancer in their mid-sixties within a year of each other and the second was that I was elected Town Justice in Niskayuna where I saw first hand the damage caused when people were not able to resolve their disputes in a peaceful manner.
As a result of these two events, I decided that I would not spend any more of my life engaged in what I felt was a hurtful process and resolved to look for a better way to serve others that was consistent with my desire to become a peacemaker.
During this time I also happened to be representing a woman going through a divorce and was in court listening to my client and her husband argue back and forth about the dining room set when it occurred to me that the dining room set wasn’t really what they were arguing about. In reality, it was something else, something deeper that had to do with their relationship and the difficulties each of them was having in letting go.
My search for what was really behind their dispute led me to a book by a lawyer named Gary Friedman entitled “A Guide to Divorce Mediation” which I purchased and which I still have on my bookshelf. In his book Gary outlined how he had converted his divorce litigation practice to a divorce mediation practice by focusing on the real issue that most couples face, the inability to communicate with each other.
He also conducted divorce mediation trainings and I signed up for the next program that he offered. At this training, which consisted of a five day program, he and his team explained in detail how he used mediation to help couples communicate better and I became even more convinced that this was the right way for me to serve people.
While converting my own divorce litigation practice into a divorce mediation practice, I was cautioned by nearly everyone that I was not going to be able to make this transition easily, that I could not make a living as a mediator and that I should maintain my litigation practice until I was able to successfully establish a mediation business. But it was too late; I was hooked. I found that I could not be a peacemaker in the morning and spend my afternoons fighting in court!
So I left the law firm I had founded and spent a full year studying divorce mediation. I also began mediating, first with friends who were willing to allow me to “practice” on them, and then with clients who began to hear about me from the work I was doing.
Since all of the couples I was working with also wanted me to prepare their legal documents, I requested an opinion from the Bar Association confirming that it was ethical for me to do so. When I secured an ethics opinion that allowed me to prepare legal documents on behalf of a couple who successfully concluded an agreement in mediation, I found that it was the first opinion in the state that allowed this.
Partly because of the statewide notoriety that I gained when I secured this ethics opinion, I was asked to speak about my practice and this opinion throughout the state. I also joined the board of directors of New York State Council on Divorce Mediation and, after serving several years on the board, was elected president in 2009.
Today, 15 years after beginning my journey as a divorce mediator, I remain as committed as ever to helping couples end their marriage without a court battle. Simply put, I believe divorce mediation significantly reduces the level of conflict and animosity that I saw all too often when the legal system became involved in a family dispute.
On a personal note, I am still married to my high school sweetheart and we have two grown daughters and four grandchildren. When I am not mediating I enjoy reading, golfing, yoga, walking, hiking in the mountains and going out to dinner with my wife.