Deborah Rothman, Mediator, Arbitrator, Abitration Consultant
How long have you been working for your current company?
I have been a full-time neutral (mediator & arbitrator) since 1991.
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
With a joint degree in law (JD, NYU School of Law) and Public Affairs (MPA, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University) and huge student loans, my first job was as a litigator with a law firm in Los Angeles. Unfulfilled as a litigator, I left the practice of law and, after a few years home with my young children, started Baby Fair Enterprises, which put on consumer shows for the pregnancy through preschool market in various cities in the U.S. Through a coincidence, I learned that mediation was being introduced in California. I took my certification training through the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s non-profit arm (now called “Center for Civic Mediation”), and began volunteering through the L. A. Superior Court’s Judicial Settlement Officer Program until I had built a reliable referral base. With sufficient experience and reputation, I was able to join the rosters of the American Arbitration Association, the CPR Institute and various local and specialized ADR providers.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
As I describe in my article “Gender Diversity in Arbitrator Selection,” in the Spring 2012 issue of Dispute Resolution Magazine (the journal of the Dispute Resolution Section of the ABA), becoming a successful commercial arbitrator is one of the most difficult challenges for a woman lawyer, because as a prerequisite, she must overcome the “double burden” of raising a family during the same time period that she is called upon to be everywhere, anytime, in the service of her firm’s clients. So being nominated to serve as the first woman President of the College of Commercial Arbitrators (www.thecca.net) in 2015 is undoubtedly my proudest professional achievement.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
While my children are grown now, being a mediator and arbitrator while they were growing up gave me a great deal of flexibility. I maintained a home office and did all of my brief-reading, award-writing, correspondence, bookkeeping, etc. from home. I scheduled around their school plays, soccer matches, school conferences, etc. However an unplanned concussion on a day I had a scheduled mediation presented a challenge that truly required our “village” to help with—fortunately my pediatrician was fluent in Spanish, and it was the day my housekeeper was at my house, so he communicated with her so that my daughter’s condition could be monitored until I returned home. My schedule was too erratic for carpools, so while I could schedule the start times of mediations and arbitrations to accommodate school drop-offs, I had to rely on a car service to pick up my younger child when I had a mediation or arbitration. She was thrilled, though, since the driver waited on the carpool line at her middle school in a Town Car.
Did you have a mentor or role model in your career or while you were studying law? Who were they and how did they help you?
I was in the first group of men and women to learn and practice mediation and arbitration, so we developed our skills, and our practices, at the same time, and at times, collaboratively.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
I think they are the most important tool in the diversification of the legal profession. It is the clients who must give permission to their law firms to reach beyond their “go-to” white males for both case staffing and neutrals to serve on their cases.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
I think that the realization that women have NOT made the strides that would have been expected ten and twenty years ago has galvanized women lawyers to re-think their strategies, which will hopefully result in more collaborative initiatives among women lawyers. A 2011 study by the National Association of Women Lawyers reveals that women represent a decreasing percentage of lawyers in big firms, with diminished opportunity for advancement or participation in firm leadership.