The following Profile was published in ARIZONA WOMAN magazine, January 2007, p. 29.
"Recovering attorney" focuses on mediation
Jokingly, Susan Bulfinch describes herself as a "recovering attorney" who practices mediation or "ADR," an acronym for Alternative Dispute Resolution.
"I was always interested in studying law but when I learned about mediation, I knew then the process would change the future of the legal profession — not yet, but it is getting there," says Bulfinch, with a smile. "You can now fnd mediation clauses in many contracts."
Bulfinch recalls being drawn to the mediation feld as a visiting under-graduate at Harvard University. "I co-chaired the Small Claims Advisory Project at a local court in Boston and was introduced to mediation through one of the judges who taught at Harvard," she says. "I found it fascinating, so I became specifcally trained in mediation. It was the subject of my thesis and I have been in the feld ever since."
After five years in Boston and 15 years in the Los Angeles area, Bulfinch is bringing her diverse facilitative skills to Arizona. Her experience includes mediating earthquake claims through the California Department of Insurance, EEOC issues with the U.S. Postal Service and civil cases fled with the Los Angeles Superior Court and the California Court of Appeal. An accomplished trainer, Bulfinch has designed and taught courses on mediation and negotiation at many universities and colleges including the University of California, Irvine and U.C. Santa Barbara, as well as at corporations such as Washington Mutual.
What is mediation?
"Mediation, unlike litigation, is a collaborative process in which a neutral third party facilitates discussion between two or more parties to help them reach their own agreement," Bulfinch explains. "Some people confuse mediation with arbitration. The primary distinction is mediation is confidential and the parties decide how the issues should be resolved and on what terms."
In many state courts, litigants are assigned to mediation shortly after fling a lawsuit; others pro-actively choose it. The benefits of mediation are its cost (less expensive than trial), speed and control of the result, in addition to being confidential, private and voluntary.
"Mediation is a more satisfying process, particularly if young children are involved or the issues involve highly publicized or sensitive matters," says Bulfinch. "Whether it’s a landlord/tenant dispute, an HOA issue or a family or workplace concern, people who are emotionally distressed are relieved to have the opportunity to tell their side of the story and have the other party listen and try to reach an agreement."
Bulfinch has served in numerous leadership positions. In Arizona, she was recently elected vice president of the state chapter of the Association for Conflict Resolution. She is an active member of the Maricopa County Association of Family Mediators, the Arizona Women’s Lawyers Association, the Scottsdale Bar Association and the Metropolitan chapter of Business and Professional Women.
Her firm specializes in mediation, facilitation, negotiation and training. Areas of concentration include family and divorce with high conflict couples, workplace and employment, personal injury and general business matters.
"I also teach mediation as a life skill to individuals and provide training to companies to reduce legal costs and improve communication skills," she says. "Empowering people to solve difficult and complex problems in a respectful way is very satisfying."