X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
SPOLTER LESS ABOUT THEORY THAN INTUITION AFFILIATION: JAMS BORN: March 27, 1945 LAW SCHOOL: McGeorge School of Law at University of the Pacific, 1974 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: None About 8:30 on a recent Thursday morning, Jerry Spolter bounced into a Holiday Inn Express in Mill Valley. He was besuited, with a kerchief in his chest pocket that matched his tie, and displaying the impeccable posture of an ex-Marine. He was there to speak at a mediation training course, and the backslapping began almost immediately — lawyers in the class who knew Spolter greeted him enthusiastically, as did Steven Rosenberg, the neutral running the class. That’s normal in the circles where Spolter travels. He seems to know everyone, and whether he’s teaching a class, sitting between two adversarial parties, or walking through the halls at JAMS jawing at his colleagues, his demeanor doesn’t really change. And it seems to work. Lawyers line up to pay the $7,000 a day that Spolter charges to mediate cases. (A look at his calendar shows he had mediations on 18 of January’s 21 business days.) They say his preparation before a session, and tenacity during it and in follow-up, mean that money isn’t an issue in bigger cases. Spolter told the mediation class last week that coming up with a settlement is like “pulling a rabbit out of a hat” — that is, he works on two adversarial parties for hours, and at the end of the day, to their surprise, they’ve reached a settlement. To him, the process is more magic than science. “I’m not an academician. I’ve established that for years by being nothing cum laude,” he told the group. “I’m more of a practice guy.” He means that literally. Spolter spent more than two decades at a private firm he started, trying civil cases for both plaintiffs and defendants, and likes to point out that he’s a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates. He says he has no specialty (“I’m not a subject-matter guy”), and is much less focused on dispute resolution theory than are many of his colleagues at JAMS. Instead, Spolter and the lawyers who seek him out say he uses a strategy that combines calculation, intuition and a fair amount of manipulation — manipulation parties willingly submit to — and that consistently works to settle prickly cases. “I’m cavalier,” he said in a recent interview. Spolter says his blunt attitude is part of the process that tends to lead to settlement — a process that, in nearly every case, generally takes most of a day before parties can agree on a number. In the end, he said, that number is really all a mediator is there for. “I’m not there to do a big kumbaya hug at the end of the day,” he told the mediation training group. “I’m there to end the case.” That attitude is why some of the more aggressive litigators in the Bay Area like to bring him into sensitive cases. “There’s no bullshit in Jerry,” said J. Gary Gwilliam, an Oakland plaintiff lawyer who said that he’s tried nearly 200 cases. Gwilliam hates the mediation process. “I’m a very difficult guy to mediate with,” said Gwilliam, a partner at Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso, Cavalli & Brewer. “I’m of the school that if you don’t want to settle, let’s try the case.” But in several big cases, he said, Spolter has managed to persuade him and defendants to reach settlements, sometimes on the eve of trial. He credits Spolter’s willingness to be honest with parties and to push them firmly without being rude. “He tends to keep me in control,” Gwilliam added. Gwilliam and others said that Spolter forces attorneys and their clients to focus on the weaknesses in their cases. “I’ve had him tell me he doesn’t think my witness will be very good, and I appreciate that,” said Michael Bruno, a partner at Gordon & Rees. He spent three days with Spolter in a tense mediation of an employment class action and credits the settlement to the mediator’s persistence. Over the last few years, Spolter said, he’s found it productive to meet with parties individually and coach them on their arguments before putting them in the same room. That way, he said, litigants express their strongest arguments to the other side before they split up to deliberate. Spolter has been mediating cases since 1985, when he was still litigating. He initially associated with the American Arbitration Association, which he left in 2002 after its director disparaged plaintiff lawyers in public. He was recruited by JAMS and has since left his former firm. “JAMS wants full-time neutrals,” he said. “They don’t want people who are out there suing their clients.” But Spolter first developed his reputation as a trial lawyer and still goes to trial lawyers’ association events. Spolter was raised in Haight Ashbury and then Lake Merced, and said he followed his older brothers first into the Marines, then to law school. Spolter said his role as president of the San Jose State University student body during a time of protest and general unrest forced him to question his decision to join the military. “I was just then getting my commission in the Marine Corps, and a huge dilemma I had was, do I resign my commission?” He didn’t, and ended up as a platoon leader in Vietnam, where he spent two years. When he got back, Spolter got a job flying planes for California, and took night classes at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, where U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy was his constitutional law professor. Afterward, he opened his firm with two childhood friends. After years of fighting, Spolter told the class, he feels good about leaving litigation. “We’re doing God’s work,” he said, only half joking. You can order past judicial profiles of more than 100 Bay Area judges here or by calling 415-749-5406.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 3 articles* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.