This month's ABA Magazine suggests that an ADR practice might provide attorneys with a recession-proof (or downturn-friendly) practice:
On ABAJournal.com, readers were asked to name some of the lesser-mentioned practices where an attorney might find refuge from this recessionary storm. Here are some of your suggestions.
ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTIONCash-strapped corporations of all sizes, private individuals and others are seeking to avoid litigation costs and procure the services of neutral parties to resolve business-to-business, consumer and family conflicts. That’s been a boon to third-party negotiators in the areas of arbitration, mediation, negotiation, collaborative law and other practices that fall under the broad umbrella of alternative dispute resolution.
Cartoon by the brilliant Charles Fincher whose blog you can read here.
Now anyone who knows me just the littlest tiny bit knows that I'll recommend mediation as a career to anyone, anytime who is on fire to mediate. As a fall-back, however, let me give a word to the wise: it's 70% marketing and 30% paying work during a good year. If you don't have a book of business already or very strong ties in your own legal community, don't go imagining that you'll be welcomed by open-armed attorneys looking to hire you to help them settle their cases right out of the box. And even if you are well- and highly-place in the community, your former colleagues look for places to hide after you hang out your ADR-shingle.
"Oh no! That's Bob! Now that he's a mediator, he's always bugging me to hire him and I've got 20 other old friends who are in just the same boat."
First of all, you have to disappear for a little while, learn your trade, re-create yourself as someone other than a fellow lawyer to begin getting steady work as a mediator. And you prove yourself case by case, day by day, lawyer by lawyer, client by client for a year or two before any really decent word of mouth begins to spread about your talent, your persistence, your dedication, your ability to inspire trust and your patient unraveling of the strings of discord in which all parties are entangled when they arrive at your door expecting you to get three to ten years of litigation straightened out on a single sunny summer afternoon.
And though arbitration is a great field for dedicated and hard-working lawyers going gray, it too has a long start-up period while you learn the field and garner sufficient trust in the community that you're now an even-handed neutral rather than a fire-breathing advocate for your clients. In fact, being an aggressive litigator in a specialty all but disqualifies you in the minds of many to serve as an arbitrator because, the thinking goes, you must be biased in favor of the industries that used to pay you your living. I know. I am about as neutral as a former "bet the company" insurance coverage attorney can be -- seeing as how I'm married to the loyal opposition. Still, many coverage lawyers worry that I'll naturally be inclined toward the insurance industry whose interests I represented in (primarily) environmental insurance coverage cases.
Were I entering the ADR field today (which is crowded in Southern California but there is always room for another star) I would both arbitrate and mediate for a couple of years while I continued practicing law and then make the jump (because you must cut the cord on practice to be truly successful) when I felt I had a good enough stream of ADR income to support myself without going into debt.
That's my two cents worth. Anyone else in the ADR blog posse want to chime in?