Richard Millen Memorial: Mediator as a Way of Life

“Years ago, as a young idealistic lawyer in private practice, I took a case that seemed hopeless, but pulled at my heartstrings. Unfortunately, it was also the kind of case that couldn’t go the distance because of the lack of resources and other unrepresented parties. I truly have no recollection how this case ended up at the mediation table in Richard Millen’s pool house, but it was the answer to my client’s prayers. During those sessions, he gently guided my client and the other parties through an emotional minefield, not only listening to what they were saying, but hearing what they were not and sharing with them his impressions of the underlying reasons for their conflict, in a way that I, as an advocate could not do. He moved them from their intractable positions of distrust to a point where they could accept the reality of the situation and choose to take the necessary steps to put it behind them.

What Richard Millen did in that pool house was exactly what I had thought I would be able to do for my clients as an attorney. What I had come to learn instead, in those early years, was that as a lawyer, the trust my clients placed in me would be met with an equal measure of distrust by those with whom they were in conflict. In addition to helping me to provide my client a resolution that she has been comfortably living with for over two decades now, in showing me that my professional goal in working collaboratively with parties in dispute was effectively accomplished through a neutral relationship, rather than a representative relationship, Richard Millen changed the course of my professional life.”
Laurel G. Kaufer, Esq., Kaufer Mediation Services

Half lawyer, half entrepreneur, and always, dedicated family man, Millen was admitted to the California bar in June 1949. After a few years as a research and litigation associate, government lawyer and house counsel for a corporation, he started his career as a transactional lawyer and operating officer for a group of Wall Street investment bankers. During this time, while involved in their varied ventures, he also became “of Counsel” to the law firm of Schwartz & Alschuler and remained there for 17 years. Always a dealmaker, Millen finally found a “home” in the practice of mediation in 1986.

Millen found his place in the mediation field by accident and through an evolution of thought, rather than a conscious career decision. Not a man who would ever contemplate retirement, after many years in business and the practice of law, he was looking for a new direction that would both satisfy his entrepreneurial spirit and soulful nature. Quite by luck, a pamphlet for a mediation course came across his desk. Rather than toss it aside as he had done in the past with the usual bar courses, this time it struck him with interest, as a way to deal with conflict on a personal level and in a professional manner, particularly in business matters.

Millen had evolved in his own personal and professional maturity into a man who understood that every conflict with others contains an element of deep personal conflict and incongruity within for those engaged, and through his own self-awareness, had become comfortable reaching into that vulnerability in himself and others. Always the philosopher, as well as “radical empiricist” (his term for himself), he believed that true conflict emanates from within and that therefore, the first step in resolution is accepting and understanding that inner conflict. When the conflict within resolves, individuals are then prepared to “deal with differences in an authentic, creative and generative way.” He called this, “living with opposites and acceptance of others”.

Echoing the observations of Lewis Carroll’s “March Hare”, Millen believed that meaning what we say is very different from saying what we mean and that conflict arises when we don’t say what we mean or do what we say. He reflected that, “when we are engaged in conflict, we are filled with incongruence. This lack of personal congruity causes a disintegration of the human soul, which can only be resolved when you look through windows, rather than in mirrors.” Understanding that, and resolving the conflict allows for physical and spiritual health.

In both his own personal life and his mediation practice, he employed the use of active listening, “I” messages and neutralizing language, as well as an insistence that those involved in conflict talk through their differences until they reach a tacit understanding. Rather than a means to an end, mediation is the end and for Millen, a very personal and practical way of life.

Millen saw the mediator’s job as the responsibility to get into the human soul of conflict. Once the mediator guides parties to the point where they can start to admit their own weaknesses to each other, their vulnerability becomes an ark for both of them. The energy will change between them to a feeling of ineffable connection, and they will do for themselves, what they expected from their mediator. This, he saw as the true gift of mediation. It is an opportunity to bring people in conflict safely to a place where they recognize and understand that they no longer want to bear the discomfort borne of conflict and are then free to let go.

In addition to his practice as a professional mediator, which included his service on a number of federal and state mediation panels, he always provided significant services to the community on a pro bono basis, through the Neighborhood Justice Center and its successor, Dispute Resolution Services (“DRS”), as well as many other non-profit and court panels. He was a private and volunteer trainer/workshop leader who, like Johnny Appleseed, planted the seeds of mediation wherever possible, speaking on conciliation, mediation and authentic communication to any group that will listen. He had also been an adjunct professor of mediation at Cal State Dominguez Hills and at the Straus Institute of Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine, and a guest lecturer for numerous other mediation courses. Millen also co-chaired the first conference of mediators in Southern California, which led to a second conference at which the SCMA was born. As a founding member and former board member/officer of the Southern California Mediation Association, he chaired and co-chaired several of SCMA’s subsequent conferences.

Richard Millen received substantial recognition as a leader in the mediation field. He received the Southern California Mediation Association, Peacemaker of the Year Award and an award for continued support and service to the SCMA. As a volunteer and member of the Board of DRS, he received many awards, including the Hon. Benjamin A. Aranda, III Outstanding Public Service Award from the Los Angeles County Bar Association and the Lifetime Achievement Award from DRS. In 2002, he was presented with the Distinguished Service Award by Randy Lowry at The Masters Forum, a colloquium of top mediators held at the Straus Institute of Dispute Resolution and in 2004 was honored again by the SCMA by being asked to lend his name for the annual Cloke-Millen Peacemaker of the Year Award.

Millen cautioned us that in our zeal to turn mediation into a profession with all the institutional trimmings, we be careful not to remove the tree from its roots. Mediation has now been formally recognized by the legislature and judiciary as a new way to resolve old disputes, with lawyers as both consumers and practitioners. Because of this, he feared that it was in imminent danger of becoming legalistic in form and substance, undermining the true nature of the process that started here in 1976 as an alternative to the legal and judicial systems. He saw it as the charge of the future mediators to keep themselves and the user public focused on the facilitative, interactive and “transcending” model that was the basis of early mediations, providing “whole-brain solutions to half-brain problems”.

Richard Millen was a visionary and guiding-light in the field of Conflict Resolution whose dreams, hopes and visions will not be lost with his passing, but carried forth, as the seeds he sowed long ago have now blossomed into a new generation of visionaries who will continue to sow seeds of their own.

                        author

Laurel Kaufer

Laurel KauferAfter years of mediating part-time while practicing law, Laurel Kaufer transitioned to full-time neutral practice in 1995. Mediating disputes successfully through panels across Southern California, Kaufer was quickly able to gain strong credibility, serving as a neutral in over 1000 disputes. After a decade resolving litigated cases, Kaufer makes… MORE >

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