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Affirmative Dispute Resolution Ben Thompson: ‘I Think It’s the Future’ 8/12/14  08/11/14 10:37:41 PM Printer Friendly VersionPrinter Friendly Version

Ben Thompson discusses dispute resolution strategies with ADR coordinator Hilarie DeGoei.
Affirmative Dispute Resolution
Ben Thompson: ‘I Think It’s the Future’

By Dennis Friend
The Daily Record

Ben Thompson believes strongly in affirmative dispute resolution. So much so, the 38-year-old attorney has decided to follow an old saying. He has chosen, both literally and figuratively, to put his money where his mouth is.
The self-identified “legal entrepreneur” has practiced law for 14 years and opened his own law office in 2007, but he started a new enterprise, Affirmative Dispute Resolution, next door to his law offices earlier this year.
“I’m real optimistic about its future,” he said, to the degree that he decided in mid-July to “take a sabbatical” from the practice of law to nurture his new company.
Thompson said the concept of affirmative dispute resolution is not new and “it’s not my invention, but I introduced this particular ADR business model to Nebraska and I think it’s the future.”
The practice of affirmative dispute resolution has been growing around the country for several decades. Thompson describes it on his ADR Facebook page:  “Affirmative Dispute Resolution empowers parties in conflict to settle their disputes on their own terms. ... We have an affirmative choice of how to respond to disputes. There are better choices than fighting for a win-lose outcome or avoiding a dispute that needs to be confronted.”
Thompson said commercial mediation and arbitration has “never been approached as a stand-alone business in Nebraska. I have an entrepreneurial spirit, and last year, I started thinking about it. I recognized it as a growth opportunity and I feel I’m well-positioned to do this.”
He describes the concept on the Affirmative Dispute Resolution web page (www.mediatewithadr.com):
“Affirmative Dispute Resolu-tion was born from the challenges faced by the public court system in effectively providing justice to parties in conflict. The challenges range from overburdened judges and inefficient case progression to cost-prohibitive justice in disputes involving significant value but where a cost-benefit analysis suggests lose-lose outcomes.
“Affirmative Dispute Resolution provides disputing parties and attorneys with third-party ‘neutrals’ who offer private ADR procedures that allow parties to regain some control over the dispute resolution process. Whether engaged to facilitate or decide a dispute or evaluate a position, a neutral third party can assist with a fresh perspective.  Neutrals may serve as mediators, arbitrators, conciliators, or even private judges.
“Affirmative Dispute Resolution can provide ADR services throughout Nebraska to assist with resolving a variety of disputes, such as contract, employment, real estate or business conflicts.”
Thompson said affirmative dispute resolution is exactly that – resolving disputes in a mutually-agreeable manner whenever possible before going to court.
“We facilitate the process” in a way that allows all parties to save both time and money, he said.
“In Nebraska, there is now a mature infrastructure for mediating family law cases and typically disputes that have not yet ripened into litigation. Once a lawsuit has been filed, though, the options for mediating or arbitrating the dispute have historically been limited to a local attorney that specializes in ADR or through a regional or national organization that provides neutrals for particular types of disputes.  When ADR is chosen as the method of dispute resolution in these types of cases, finding an appropriate professional with prompt availability and a neutral location for the service can be a challenge and distract from the objective of resolving the dispute.”
Thompson said his firm will be able to “work to accommodate the parties’ schedules” and he already has lined up a number of people who are knowledgeable and capable of assisting the mediation or arbitration process.
These “third-party neutrals” are the people Thompson calls “the real face of Affirmative Dispute Resolution. Currently there are six highly qualified neutrals available, including a retired judge, experienced mediators and arbitrators and a conflict specialist.”
The roster of qualified neutrals allows a quicker resolution to a dispute, Thompson said, because “when parties are ready to mediate a dispute, they’re ready now, not six or eight months from now. Longer delays are more likely to jeopardize dispute resolution.”
Thompson said his firm now can ease scheduling, communication and facility-availability issues,  so they “no longer burden the neutral or the attorneys that represent the parties in conflict. In addition, as the local roster grows, it becomes easier to find a qualified neutral with the experience sought.”
 Traditional dispute resolution through the courts is necessary sometimes, and Thompson said his firm can support the process there as well, with case evaluation, resolving discovery disputes, facilitating settlement conferences and mediation efforts.
A distinguishing feature of Affirmative Dispute Resolution is the focus on the variety of procedures possible beyond mediation or arbitration.  Neutrals can serve as discovery referees and try to informally resolve disputes over discovery. They can also provide case evaluation and settlement conference services to help in the litigation process before the case proceeds to trial.  
“Retired judges can be particularly useful for providing a glimpse into how the sitting judge might view the case from the bench,” Thompson pointed out.
Most of the focus so far in launching the service has been “ensuring that there is a balanced roster of neutrals” as well as “securing facilities to provide ADR procedures,” Thompson said.
“As more attorneys learn about the business model and how it can streamline conflict resolution, additional facilities will be made available,” he said.
Thompson said his optimism has been reinforced by “positive feedback” he has received from practicing attorneys, from current and retired judges and from mediators and arbitrators throughout Nebraska.
“The attorneys I’ve talked to see the value in the ADR approach ... The frustrating part as an attorney stems from the delays in getting resolution in a case. The idea behind ADR is to allow the parties to regain control. Mediation could mean resolving an issue in one day, not one year,” he said.
Thompson expects his dispute resolution service to work for individuals, for private parties “if they’re on the same page,” for human resource departments, for virtually anyone in need of mediators or arbitration and, “it’s relevant with or without attorneys.”
Thompson said people can ask their attorneys about this voluntary dispute resolution method.
“For a lot of people, it’s just a concept, but now we’re a service. As more attorneys representing parties in litigation learn about the convenience of the affirmative business model, I expect it will be a very popular source. Mediation and arbitration becomes a better way to control costs and time,” he said.
Thompson’s enthusiasm for his new venture appears to be shared by his spouse. He and Tiffanie Thompson have been married seven years, she’s a licensed clinical social worker and she has been self-employed as a mental-health practitioner the past five years.
“We’re familiar with the dispute landscape,” he said. “She knows I’m passionate about it and she also sees the benefits. She’s behind me on this.”
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