Ross W. Stoddard III
Two Dallas-Fort Worth area businesses opposing one another in a suit expected to have an arbitration panel hear their dispute. But before that could happen, they spent about 10 hours on Sept. 6 in a mediation with Ross W. Stoddard III.
Stoddard, an attorney-mediator, says the parties came up with a resolution themselves to avoid having to go through arbitration. “I love the idea of helping people get their dispute behind them,” he says.
According to Stoddard, it is common for parties in litigation to try mediating their differences before facing off in a courtroom. Stoddard says there is a clear trend in the major metropolitan areas of Texas — where courts have a limited amount of money to run the court system — for nearly all cases on the civil dockets to first go to mediation. He also says he sees more pre-suit mediations than in the past as people recognize it is more expedient to resolve their differences out of court. “If people can sit down in one day and avoid four or five days of trial, it makes sense to do that,” Stoddard says.
As a child, Stoddard knew he wanted to be a lawyer. His grandfather practiced law and was city attorney in Denison, where Stoddard grew up. “I can remember thinking when I was about 8 years old that was kind of cool, and I’d like to do that,” Stoddard says, noting that he has his grandfather’s old roll-top desk in his office.
Stoddard joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps while earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration at Southern Methodist University. He received a deferment from military service while he attended the University of Texas School of Law. After earning his law degree in 1975, Stoddard set up a solo practice in Dallas, but the Air Force soon called him. He served four years in the Air Force, working as a law clerk and then as a staff attorney. At the end of his service, Stoddard returned to Dallas to start his civil practice.
Stoddard began working as a mediator after he took a Dallas Bar Association-sponsored course on mediating in 1989. Mediation was a relatively new field in Texas then. In 1987, the Texas Legislature passed the Alternative Dispute Resolution Act that authorizes courts to order parties to mediation. Prior to that, there had been some “tinkering around” with mediation, typically in personal-injury suits, Stoddard says. Now, mediation is done in cases across the board, Stoddard says, adding that he mediates everything except family law.
Since 1989, Stoddard has handled about 4,500 mediations involving more than $25 billion. Stoddard says he handles from 160 to 170 mediations a year, sometimes working six days a week, and he trains other lawyers to be mediators. He says being a mediator is “a little like getting to play with puzzles every day, except it’s dynamic and it involves people and it’s moving constantly.”
John Allen Chalk
Whitaker Chalk Swindle & Schwartz
“He is always fair.”
“He is a man of tremendous wisdom and he’s a man of high character. That’s what you want in an arbitrator.”
“He loves facts and thus delves into the facts of a matter more than almost any other neutral. This talent is important in some of the specialized and highly technical work he does.”
“He’s the granddaddy of the mediation bar in Houston.”
“He’s smart, quick, savvy and has the right amount of pushiness. . . . If the case doesn’t settle, Chris will usually stay after you until it does.”
“He’s just really creative and really good at coming up with business solutions in complex litigation.”
Michael J. Schless
“Everybody has immense respect for him. When Mike talks, everybody listens.”
“He’s one of the three top mediators.”