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Name and title: Eric P. Tuchmann, general counsel Age: 38 ADR advocate: The not-for-profit American Arbitration Association (AAA) is the world’s largest conflict management and dispute resolution organization. Founded in 1926, it evolved from the need, then as now, to have a method for settling commercial conflicts outside of the courtroom. It resolves disputes for a range of industries using arbitration, mediation, elections, mini-trial and other out-of-court settlement procedures. The association also designs alternative dispute resolution (ADR) systems for corporations, unions, government agencies, law firms and courts. The AAA, based in New York City, administers 35 regional offices and case management centers and operates an office in Dublin, Ireland. Its Library and Information Center for the Resolution of Disputes is the single-largest repository of ADR materials. The association has approximately 775 employees, and maintains a panel of nearly 8,000 arbitrators and mediators worldwide. In 2003, it handled 174,000 cases, among the 2 million disputes it has managed since its inception. Tuchmann’s tasks: “The nature of the work performed by the GC’s office has slowly, but steadily, changed in the past 10 years,” said Tuchmann. The office has grown, undertakes more far-reaching activities and handles more cases framed by evolving issues. It continually reviews legislation and court decisions to modify its protocol. As chief legal officer, Tuchmann defends the organization or its arbitrators in litigation-related matters, drafts the AAA’s amicus curiae briefs and analyzes legislation affecting the field. He also acts as liaison to the committee to revise the Uniform Arbitration Act, and negotiates contracts and leases for the association’s offices. Legal team: Four lawyers, including Tuchmann, comprise the AAA’s legal team. Tuchmann works with two staff attorneys and an associate GC, and the quartet tries to perform as much work as possible in-house. Tuchmann is responsible for hiring outside counsel, if needed. “We retain individuals . . . .[T]he firm, in many ways, is secondary,” he explained. His ideal candidates are located in the city where the matter has arisen, and he “looks for people with appropriate experience, mindset and understanding of what AAA does, and who support the process.” Tuchmann, who reports to President Bill Slate, has long-standing relationships with many of the attorneys, some of whom the association has used for decades. AAA maintains a national roster of arbitrators and mediators, known as neutrals, to hear disputes. Neutrals are experts in their fields, and are recognized for their integrity and dispute resolution skills. The AAA’s Code of Ethics for Arbitrators in Commercial Disputes (on which Tuchmann’s predecessor, Florence Peterson, did “the lion’s share of the work”) and the Model Standard of Conduct for Mediators guide the conduct of neutrals. The process: Disputing parties, with an arbitration agreement that names the AAA as sponsor, file their demands, which “gets the administrative machinery going.” The association serves as an intermediary and will administer the case. It appoints arbitrators or suggests mediation if appropriate, and will devise a mutually agreeable time frame and schedule. The “normal and expected course” is that there will be an arbitration award, although sometimes the parties settle out, as they might otherwise do in litigation. The fundamental issues are the same in international dispute resolution, according to Tuchmann, although in the international context, “arbitration is more the preferred way rather than an alternative way to resolve disputes.” The AAA maintains cooperative agreements with foreign providers of ADR services. In Tuchmann’s opinion, “arbitration works in many ways because of the support we receive from the courts.” The Federal Arbitration Act, a key piece of legislation about to mark its 80th anniversary, ensures that arbitration agreements are to be treated the same as contracts generally. If parties have an agreement to arbitrate, the courts are going to enforce it, and an arbitration award is “really of the same effect as a court judgment.” State laws under the Uniform Arbitration Act also provide a statutory framework. Tuchmann said that the U.S. Supreme Court has deferred to the arbitration process and supported it at every opportunity, and that this positive approach has sifted down to other courts. Last year, the high court decided Green Tree Financial Corp. v. Bazzle, 539 U.S. 444 (2003), in which it ruled implicitly that arbitrators can even decide class actions. AAA-arbitrated cases have influenced legal issues, Tuchmann said, mentioning changes wrought in rules governing class action and employment arbitrations and consumer laws. Cross v. Costello, No. BC313366 (Los Angeles Co., Calif., Super. Ct.), spotlights the issue of arbitral immunity. On Oct. 5, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Judith Chirlin allowed a fraud suit by partners of defunct law firm O’Flaherty & Belgum against the AAA and one of its arbitrators, Edward J. Costello, to proceed. When the firm dissolved in 1997, a dispute between them and their ex-managing partner, Stephen Belgum, went to arbitration. The partners allege that Costello concealed that his background paralleled Belgum’s and he had sued his own former law firm partners. [NLJ, Oct. 11.] While declining to discuss the specifics of the case, Tuchmann cited the body of case law stating that organizations sponsoring arbitration are immune from suits arising out of activities related to the process. He likened it to the doctrine that “you can’t sue the judge if you don’t like the decision.” Route to the top: Tuchmann graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1988 and received a law degree in 1994 from New York Law School. Not long after graduation, he joined the AAA, where he has spent most of his 10-year career. He started as director of the commercial department of the New York regional office. Next, he directed the association’s International Center for Dispute Resolution. Associate general counsel was his next post and he was named GC, “a tremendous honor,” at the beginning of 2004. Personal: Tuchmann and his wife, Cheri Fancsali, are the parents of two daughters: Isabel, 4, and Amelia, 2. He enjoys skiing, scuba diving and “spending time with my girls.” Last book and movie: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, by Erik Larson, and In America.

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