With a law degree from Duke University and more than 20 years experience with litigation, Stuart Ringel was already familiar with mediation when he enrolled in Northwestern’s Mediation Training Professional Development Program. What was left for him to learn? His answer: a new perspective.
“The zero-sum game approach doesn’t always work,” says Ringel, who is senior litigation counsel for global and specialty lines at CNA, a Chicagobased insurance company. “At Northwestern I learned to get beyond positions to find out what’s driving the other the party in a dispute and what’s important to them. What’s major to one party might be minor to another.” Such an approach is more cost effective, says Ringel, and allows both parties more control over the outcome.
At Northwestern Ringel’s class explored the process of facilitative mediation with instructors Jennifer Morrow, a conciliator for the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office of Conciliation, and SPS Dean Thomas Gibbons. “Both of them had the professional experience and academic backgrounds to maintain a good balance between the theoretical and the practical in class,” says Ringel. His classmates included other attorneys, human resources specialists, a judge, and a physician — a mix that Ringel says made for lively role-playing as they practiced the techniques they learned.
Ringel was immediately able to apply what he learned in the program to his work. “By sitting down with the opposing party and sharing our respective needs we can discover the areas where we really don’t have a dispute,” he says. “That makes for a more focused discussion, with the potential to avoid litigation.” Ringel is currently overseeing a pilot medical malpractice mediation program he helped develop for his company. “Mediation used to be a last resort,” says Ringel, “but now we’re trying to use it earlier, when alternative dispute resolution can be an especially powerful and valuable tool.”