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<xTITLE>So Who is Your Primary Care Legal Counsel?</xTITLE>

So Who is Your Primary Care Legal Counsel?

by Michael A. Zeytoonian
May 2013

Dispute Settlement Counsel by Michael Zeytoonian.

Michael A.  Zeytoonian

In our last blog, we suggested that people approach resolving legal disputes the way they approach making medical decisions. The starting point is to have a “primary care lawyer”, a true legal counselor, just as we have a primary care physician.

If clients have a legal counselor, there’s a better chance they will get good counsel early on about options for resolving the dispute. This primary care lawyer is probably not a litigator, just as most of us don’t have surgeons for our primary care physicians. Surgeons are trained and passionate about operating on patients; that is what they do. It is not their purpose to spend time considering the patient’s health history and all the factors that go into making health decisions. That is the realm of a doctor who is trained in internal medicine and who above all else, knows his patients, their histories, family life, job stress levels, habits and propensities. With that knowledge, the primary care physician is in a good position to quarterback his patients’ health care and make good recommendations.

I trust my primary care physician completely. He has taken the time to know me, my habits and what I can handle well enough to give me good options. He won’t be doing the procedure I need done. But he is invaluable because I need him to advise me and suggest the right next steps. He may not have the gifted hands of a top flight surgeon, but he is the most important doctor I have.

Likewise, when it comes to figuring out what to do when you are involved in a dispute, you need a primary care lawyer to advise you and suggest the best options. You need “dispute resolution counsel” to look at your unique circumstances, assess the situation, consider the kind of person you are, the speed at which the dispute needs to be resolved, your financial and emotional bandwidth. With that knowledge, he/she gives you a good recommendation on what to do, which dispute resolution process option to choose and tells you why. If you skip this step and go first to a legal surgeon (a litigator), the legal surgeon will likely go down the litigation road. That is what he wants to do; it is what he believes in. That is what he is trained for, passionate about and good at doing.

More often than not, “legal surgery” (litigation) is not the best procedure for the client’s situation. There might be a need for litigation in the future, if less risky, complicated and invasive options don’t achieve the desired results. But at the outset of the dispute, another option would likely be a better fit, given the circumstances of the parties involved in the dispute.

Here’s another major difference between resolving legal disputes and addressing medical issues: When you opt for surgery and start the prep, nine times out of ten you end up having the surgery, unless there a compelling reason why you shouldn’t But when you opt for litigation and start the road to trial, nine times out of ten you will not have your trial, unless there is some compelling reason why you should. The chances of that trial ever happening, despite the years of time, expense and emotional draining preparing for it? Less than 5%! Some time very close to the start of the trial (feeling like you are right outside the operating room, about to be wheeled in), you will start discussing your options to trial and 95% of the time, you will opt for another process.

You could have chosen that option much earlier on in your dispute, if you had first gotten some dispute resolution counsel from your primary care lawyer.

Like I said above, my primary care physician is my most important and valuable doctor. Your primary care legal counselor should be your most important and valuable lawyer. If you don’t have one, now is a good time to get one so that you can be proactive, well-advised and ready.


Michael A. Zeytoonian is the Founding Member and Director of Dispute Resolution Counsel, LLC and is a lawyer, mediator and ombudsman. He is formerly a partner and now Of Counsel at Hutchings, Barsamian, Mandelcorn & Zeytoonian, LLP, in Wellesley Hills, MA. He specializes in employment law, business law, special education law, mediation, collaborative law and administrative law. He is admitted to practice in the state and federal district courts of Massachusetts and New York (Southern District) and the state of Connecticut. He has served as a mediator on the MWI panel in the district courts and on the BBA panel in the Boston Municipal Court.

He is a member and Massachusetts Bar Association and is chair of the MBA’s ADR committee and a member of the labor/employment section. He is a Past President (2006-2007) and member of the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council, the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and the New England Association for Conflict Resolution. He writes frequently on collaborative law and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and has trained lawyers and presented in collaborative law and ADR around the U.S., Canada and Ireland. He has lectured at Northeastern University School of Law, Suffolk University School of Law, New England Law Boston, UMASS School of Law and Roger Williams University School of Law.

He served as Assistant Attorney General in the Office of the Attorney General of the State of New York, as a deputy overseeing litigation in the State Counsel Bureau in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam Counties and working on consumer advocacy cases. Prior to his work at the Attorney General’s Office, he was an Assistant County Attorney in the Westchester County (NY) Law Department, in the litigation and family court bureaus. His litigation work at both the County Law Department and the Attorney General’s office included cases in employment; labor; state, county and local municipal matters; environmental law; construction, administrative and tort law, and the prosecution of child abuse and neglect cases. His undergraduate education was at Boston College and Iona College, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree is history and education. He earned his J. D. from Pace University School of Law with a Certificate in Environmental Law in 1990.

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