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Mediator Proflie: Howard Bellman

by Howard Bellman

This article originally appeared in the April 1999 issue of Consensus, a newspaper published jointly by the Consensus Building Institute and the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program.

Howard Bellman
How did you get into the field of dispute resolution?

As a federal and state government labor attorney at the beginning of my career, I found that I generally preferred the mediator, arbitrator, and hearing examiner roles. When I entered private practice, I intended to continue in those roles, as well as to engage in some dispute resolution research. Fortuitously, I was invited into environmental disputes, and I came to believe that the mediation process could succeed in those matters as it does in labor disputes. This led me to speculate that still broader applications were not only possible but potentially very beneficial. I have had a very broad practice, involving many types of cases, ever since.

Do you concentrate on particular issues or clients?

In fact, I very much enjoy working in a variety of conflicts. The only self-imposed limitation is that I refuse family disputes. Of course, most of my cases are in the labor/employment, environment and complex litigation areas, but I believe that is more a matter of reputation than expressed preference. My technique, such as it is, seems more attuned to those cases as well. My years of government service, including as the head of two state agencies in Wisconsin, also suggest some grounding in public policy processes.

What projects are you currently working on?

As usual, I am currently mediating in a few very large, long-term cases, and a number of shorter-term matters. The greater involvements include settlement negotiations over remediation and redevelopment at a large contamination site in New England; a negotiated rulemaking for the US Department of Education; the reconstruction of an industrial collective bargaining relationship in Florida that was undermined by a strike; and the development of constructive dialogue between a state agency in the northwest and a union representing its employees.

My cases also include settlement of civil suits alleging wrongful discharge and breach of contract, and I am arbitrating and mediating a few labor-management grievance and bargaining disputes.

What are your general views on the state of public dispute resolution today?

I am, at the same time, both optimistic and concerned about the general state of public dispute resolution. It seems " a mile wide and an inch deep" in terms of its general acceptance by many governmental entities. It lacks a clear and unambiguous vocabulary that might support both better discussion within the field and better communication within the marketplace. A certain nebulousness about the field inhibits its professionalism, in my view.

Still, there seems to be an ever-increasing amount of important work, and even where the support seems shallow, it is a beginning. If you distinguish public dispute resolution from the much faster growing field of ADR, which is more focused upon litigation settlement, you might worry about whether the public matters are benefiting from generalizations that do not apply well to the public sector.

Experienced practitioners might spend more time on the design of dispute resolution processes so that those processes will have the advantage of their "real life: experience. We have opportunities to make suggestions to courts, legislative bodies and government agencies as they adopt new procedures and risk repeating mistakes already make elsewhere.

Increasingly, we are also called upon by the private sector as businesses in corporate mediation and arbitration into their contracts and internal procedures. Here too, insights gained in day-to-day mediation should reinforce these efforts to control costs and protect relationships. It is very gratifying to assist in these projects, which promise that in the future, while some disputes are bound to occur, they will proceed efficiently and in the best interests of all concerned.

How do you feel personally about your work? Is it as satisfying as you'd hoped? In what professional direction is your work evolving?

I absolutely love this work. It requires developed skills as well as intuition and some risk taking. We work with individuals and organizations who are important to our society, and we contribute to the civility of our culture. We are in a position to help demonstrate that a diverse society can respect and consider conflicting philosophies without coming apart.

When agreements are achieved, and mediation seems to have helped, or when better dispute processing resolutions are adopted, one has the satisfaction of being a contributor to an important success. I only want to do more, to continue.

Biography


Howard Bellman received his law degree from the University of Cincinnati and an L.L.M. in labor law from New York University. He served as Secretary to Wisconsin's Department of Industry, Labor and Human Relations under Governor Tony Earl's administration. He has extensive national and international mediation experience. He has mediated complex multi-party disputes for the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Park Service, the States of Wisconsin, New York, New Jersey, Washington, and Florida. He has served as guest lecturer at Cornell, Minnesota, Oberlin, Harvard, Yale, and the University of Wisconsin. He is on the Advisory committee of the American Arbitration Association Global Center for Dispute Resolution Research and was one of twelve mediators featured in the 1994 volume When Talk Works. He is a member of the National Academy of Arbitrators, the Association for Conflict Resolution, and Wisconsin and Ohio Bar Associations.

 

 



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