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Michael Shaulis spends his spare time teaching group exercise classes and conjuring up plans for the swanky San Francisco nightclub he and some friends recently purchased. But during normal business hours he is up to his ears in conflict — and he couldn’t be happier. As an upper level case manager at Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services, better known as JAMS, Shaulis plays the middleman in some of the most complex civil cases around. Guiding a case to resolution via ongoing consultation with all involved parties as well as the chosen mediator — who may be a retired judge, attorney or trained specialist — can be quite a juggling act. Multiply that by the dozens of active cases that Shaulis keeps tabs on and it’s clear why case managers require vast reserves of energy. “Case management is managing a business within a business,” Shaulis says during an interview in JAMS’ sleek Embarcadero Center offices. “It’s a feel-good job,” he adds. It is also a hush-hush one. Strict confidentiality clauses at private judging outfits like JAMS attract everyone from Hollywood stars to Fortune 500 companies intent on avoiding the glare of media coverage and public scrutiny in conventional courtrooms. Alternative dispute resolution is a booming business, particularly in California. A decade ago, state legislators mandated that parties in every civil case attempt ADR before heading into court. “Other parts of the country haven’t evolved as much as California,” says former San Francisco Superior Court Judge William Cahill, who joined JAMS as a neutral two years ago. California, he says, was one of the first states to realize that “spending one day in mediation is so much better than 25 days in depositions.” For those legal professionals who aspire to become case managers, JAMS and the American Arbitration Association are the names to know. JAMS, which has been in business for more than two decades, operates 23 offices around the country, including five in the Bay Area. The San Francisco office alone employs 14 case managers, a number that Shaulis says is expanding. The nonprofit American Arbitration Association underwent a major organizational overhaul in 1996 by shifting its case management staff from 35 scattered regional offices to five major centers situated in key locations. Its West Coast center, in Fresno, now employs roughly 50 case managers. “Case managers didn’t even exist 10 years ago”, says Cahill, who adds that it was “a chore” for litigants to use ADR firms in the late 1980s. “The people who answered the phone were worthless,” he recalls. Today, however, case managers have helped bring order to the process. “They have their own clientele,” he says. “There are times when clients follow case managers.” Morgan Tovey, who chairs the intellectual property practice group at Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May, agrees that case managers have taken on increasingly valuable roles in the ADR process. “Case managers are the front-line individuals with whom you have most of your initial and pre-hearing contact,” says Tovey. “My experience is that they have perhaps taken a more active role lately, been a little more hands-on.” Tovey has participated in more than 50 mediations with JAMS, along with a handful at other ADR firms. Frank Zotto, AAA’s New York-based national vice president for case management, says that when he entered the field in 1972, AAA handled roughly 24,000 cases each year. Last year, the company’s docket sheet exceeded 200,000 cases. The organization’s internal reconfiguration, says Zotto, was part of an effort to “professionalize” the case management role by providing more training and placing a greater emphasis on retention. The ranks of case managers at AAA include recent college graduates as well as those seeking mid-career changes. “It’s a very interesting job for someone right out of college,” says Zotto. “A lot of people who come to work here go on to become lawyers.” Others, however, decide against law school as they gain more experience in case management. “I joined [JAMS] thinking of going to law school but I like this side of it,” says Sandra Chan, a practice group supervisor in the San Francisco office. “It’s a lot of fun to be on this end where we’re helping people.” Chan, an eight-year JAMS veteran with an undergraduate degree in international relations, likens her ADR role to that of a diplomat. “It’s all about diplomacy, getting along,” says Chan. Cahill offers some other suggestions for the traits needed in a good case manager. “You’ve got to read and write well and be really smart and conscientious,” he says. “You have to care about the law.” Most case managers at JAMS work in tandem with one to three neutrals depending on the nature of their practice. Shaulis, for example, works solely for former San Francisco Superior Court Judge Dan Weinstein, who commands upwards of $10,000 a day for his services. Jobs at JAMS and AAA are not the only options for legal professionals interested in ADR-related careers. Alternatives exist, though getting a foot in the door without prior experience can be a challenge. Diane Levinson-Fass founded San Rafael-based Resolution Remedies in 1994 after management stints at JAMS and Endispute convinced her that a smaller operation was needed. She says her “mom and pop operation,” which employs two other case managers and two dozen mediators, provides “an alternative to the alternative.” “There’s a big market out there,” she says. “Let [big firms] have the $10,000 a day kind of cases. There’s so much litigation out there that doesn’t require that kind of energy.” Levinson-Fass says she often turns away mediators who ask to join her panel. “In order to be effective and achieve what we want, we don’t want to get so big that we become a corporate structure,” she says. For non-attorney professionals interested in ADR work, one practical step involves training to become a mediator. Maureen Hochler, founder of Alliance for Mediation in Mill Valley and co-president of the Association for Conflict Resolution, says her current employment-focused practice grew out of a 25-year career in human resources – the last 10 of which she frequently mediated workplace disputes. “It was just an extension of the skills I was using,” says Hochler. “Mediation skills are totally separate from the law. It does help to have a good strong understanding of issues, but you don’t have to be trained as an attorney to be a good mediator.” Yet Hochler cautions that running a solo ADR practice is a challenge. “The field is growing,” she says, “but it’s not there yet.” Back at JAMS, Shaulis says he finds job satisfaction in the fact that most clients put in a good faith effort to settle their disputes. Ninety percent of the cases handled by JAMS are resolved – a result, he says, of the firm’s willingness to continually adapt as the industry becomes more sophisticated. “We’re expensive,” he says, “but you get what you pay for.” Lauren Gard is a freelance writer in San Francisco.

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