How to end disputes before they spill into court


Q&A: Raising the Bar recipient Leah Weil
The year in Hollywood law

Top showbiz mediators explain how to end disputes before they spill into court.

"I start by asking: What's the endgame? Set their expectations somewhere in reality. In entertainment cases, instead of starting out with a mediation session (of both sides together), I have an early session with individuals. I do that to make initial contact with the principals and hopefully build up some capital that I can tap back into. We settle a lot of these cases by putting principals together at the end. When the goal posts get closer, real businesspeople want to end it." -- Daniel Weinstein, JAMS

"In Hollywood, these are not one-off disputes. The parties have either been in business for a long time or they're going to be in business in the future. In one case, the two sides were actually sitting at the table negotiating their next deal while they were resolving the current dispute." -- James Mulholland, Entertainment Mediation Institute

"Can we combine the settlement with some other venture we want to do together? Like, if it's an actor, let's not just decide how much money to pay him, let's come up with another project that the two sides might want to do together. 'OK, this is a settlement, but it's also an investment.' " -- Joel Grossman, JAMS

"There are some huge personalities in Hollywood, so it's key to have a mediator who understands the community and knows who's who. If you are familiar with the relationships and the history, you have a far better shot of settling the dispute." -- Diane Wayne, JAMS

"On an employment case between a network and a high-level manager involving allegations of age discrimination, a highly charged issue was whether the manager was 'out of touch' with current tastes. The only way to settle the case was to change the focus of the dispute to more mundane matters such as contractual interpretation, reasonable severance pay, etc. By making it a business dispute rather than a question of competence, we were able to settle." -- Hon. Robert Altman, ADR Services

"I explain to them what a trial means: You're not going to have people in the entertainment industry deciding the outcome. Why would you want to have 12 total strangers who have no interest being there deciding your fate? A trial is like a mediation, except you have no input in the outcome. -- Enrique Romero, ADR Services

"In a copyright case, a concession of infringement was obtained early in the morning, allowing most of the day to focus on debatable damage issues." -- Hon. John Zebrowski, ADR Services