JAMS: "The Resolution Experts"

Tuesday, August 1, 2006 - 01:00

Editor: Mr. Price, you have had a varied and successful business background. How has it contributed to your leadership of JAMS since you came aboard in 1997?

Steve Price: Each step in my career provided me with very helpful insights. My experience at General Foods gave me an understanding and proficiency in marketing and branding. As publisher of Newsweek, I learned the importance of values, trust and credibility. During my 10 years at Citibank, I learned three things. First, I learned that in a service business, people are your single most important resource and not just a cost of doing business. Next is the importance of building the people into an effective team. Third is the need for creativity in what otherwise would be a commodity business.

As the CEO of JAMS, I've had the opportunity to apply all that I had previously learned to deliver a service that has great value to our clients and communities and can be rewarding to the panelists and others dedicated to its success.

Editor: Tell us about some of the things that have occurred since you joined JAMS.

Price: We set up a unique ownership structure that encourages us to be mission-oriented and values-driven and to pursue our business model and to execute it well. While growing and expanding our leadership position in the mediation arena, we have also increased our presence, number of cases and capability in the complex case arbitration world.

To establish ourselves as "The Resolution Experts," we recruited some of the top panelists in America, upgraded and expanded our offices and intensified our training programs. We have increased our efforts to demonstrate to general counsel and to law firms that JAMS has the best arbitrators and mediators in the country. We have become a truly national company and our business outside of California is now growing at twice the rate of our business in California.

Editor: To what do you attribute the increasing popularity of JAMS?

Robert Davidson: I am convinced that the accelerating rate at which people are arbitrating at JAMS is attributable to their fear of uncertainty in the process. Lawyers who try arbitrations are wary of drawing an arbitrator who might not fully understand the issues, might be too busy to resolve the dispute quickly, or might make an unpredictable ruling, i.e. one not consonant with the language of the parties' agreement or the customs or practices of the particular trade. The consistently high quality of our neutrals is the real reason for our success.

Editor: Explain what you mean when you say JAMS is "values- driven?"

Price: When we first set up the company, we said that we would be driven by our core values, not by profits. Neutrality is of course a core value. Other values are important as well. They include client focus, trust, mutual respect, collaboration and contributing to society. A very special value is our dedication to resolving the most complex and difficult cases - particularly those that are important to the parties and where the parties appear to be unyielding.

Editor: You spoke about the importance of teamwork in realizing an organization's business goals. How does the organization of JAMS assure teamwork?

Price: Our ownership is unique. I know of no other company with a similar structure. When a panelist becomes an owner, he or she gets a share of stock in the company. When a panelist leaves JAMS, for whatever reason, his or her share is dissolved and ceases to have value. There is no transfer of wealth to anyone else. This assures that the company will always be owned by active service providers.

This structure aligns JAMS values with the values of our panelists. It assures that JAMS is run to provide service to our clients and the community. It motivates JAMS and our panelists to work together as a team to be the best at what they do - to be "The Resolution Experts."

Michael Young: JAMS is not like other ADR organizations that have large numbers of neutrals in any given city. To maintain our level of quality, we are very selective when bringing new neutrals into JAMS. In some respects we function like a law firm - that is, as a group of individual practices with people working together to pool their efforts and resources to produce greater benefit for our clients, while recognizing that it is critical to maintain quality and the ability to work effectively together.

We are not scouring the country for lots and lots of people, but rather we are looking for a limited number of the top neutrals at any given time who can add to our practice and preserve the collegiality of the group.

Editor: Is being a JAMS panelist a full time commitment?

Price: All of our panelists are committed to being neutral and to being with JAMS on a full-time basis. Our philosophy is that if you want to be good at something you have to be committed to doing it full time - we believe that if you don't use it, you lose it.

All the cases handled by our panelists are administered by JAMS or, if they are being administered by another organization, JAMS keeps track of them. This enables us to know the details of all the cases our panelists handle so that we can be in control of such things as their calendars, be in a position to check for any conflicts and address any problems that may arise in the course of a proceeding.

Editor: How do you select panelists - and provide ongoing training?

Young: We have three principal criteria for selecting neutrals. One is having the skill set to be a good private mediator or arbitrator, including the ability to be neutral and be perceived in a neutral way. Second, the person must have demonstrated the potential to develop a practice (with our help of course, but the individual must also have that ability). Three, he or she must be someone with whom the other neutrals will feel comfortable - someone able to operate in, and foster, our collegial environment.

We get many applications. Although we are polite and answer all of them, only a very few of these unsolicited applications make it through our screening process.

Price: Another thing that distinguishes JAMS from other providers is that we are a learning environment. Everyone at JAMS has something more to learn and something more to teach. We offer frequent training seminars for our panelists. Recent seminars covered not only broad areas such as advanced mediation, international arbitration and employment issues, but also more narrowly focused subjects such as arbitration award writing, decision tree analysis, confidentiality and whistle blowing.

Margaret Shaw: There is a real richness in our training programs that permits us to offer a uniformly high level of performance throughout the company. I don't know of any other organization that is as systematic and thoughtful about training its neutrals - or that has its own institute dedicated to this purpose.

Editor: Describe the JAMS Institute.

Shaw: The JAMS Institute was created to provide a way for JAMS neutrals to be trained and to participate in continuing education. It helps us to hone our skills by learning from each other, and to take time to reflect on the effectiveness of what we do every day in the cases we handle. Neutrals new to JAMS participate in our basic mediation training program. All of the programs reinforce the importance of neutrality, ethical values and best practices learned by the most proficient neutrals at JAMS.

Each of our training programs is archived and made available on our private Intranet for use by those neutrals that may have been unable to attend or may wish to hear one again.

Editor: Tell us about the format and faculty of JAMS Institute Programs.

Shaw: There are a variety of program formats - some are more formal, others use the panel approach to promote informal discussions. The faculty of the JAMS Institute regularly includes Jay Folberg, the director of the JAMS Institute and former dean of the USF Law School. JAMS neutrals Linda Singer and Michael Lewis, nationally known ADR trainers, conduct the basic mediation training. Finally, our top neutrals regularly teach a number of our specialized programs.

Editor: Do you also offer CLE programs for outside lawyers and corporate counsel?

Price: Last year we did approximately 300 CLE programs for lawyers. We also offer in-house programs for law firms. We have an increasing number of panelists who have been corporate counsel and they are getting involved in programs for corporate law departments.

Editor: How do you explain the growing preference for the arbitration of international disputes?

Davidson: One of the original forces behind businesses insisting upon the arbitration of a potential dispute was the well-founded fear of bias in the local court system, what many lawyers call the "hometown effect." This is particularly true in the case of developing countries.

A powerful incentive to arbitrate these international disputes also arose with the advent of a multilateral treaty, commonly known as the New York Convention. The United States acceded to the treaty in 1970. There are now over 130 signatories including all of the major economic powers and many of the not-so-major ones. The New York Convention essentially provides that an arbitration award rendered in any signatory country will (with very limited exceptions) be enforced in any other signatory country in the same manner and to the same extent as a domestic arbitration award would be in that country.

Editor: Part of your mission is encouraging the involvement of JAMS in international arbitration.

Davidson: JAMS neutrals actually arbitrate and mediate a significant number of international cases. We sit not only on JAMS administered tribunals, but also on tribunals administered by other arbitral organizations around the world.

JAMS has firmly established its reputation abroad. I find myself invited to participate in many international events - a reflection of the growing status of JAMS outside of the United States. These include ICC task forces, the Fordham International Arbitration Summit, and the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre conference. When I began doing this, very few people abroad knew of JAMS. Today when I attend one of these events, people know the organization and its reputation.

Editor: Please tell us more about the ways that JAMS contributes to society.

Price: The nonprofit JAMS Foundation is funded exclusively by our panelists and associates. Many of them contribute one percent of their income to the Foundation, which equals about $350,000 a year.

Since its inception in 2002, the Foundation has distributed grants totaling more than $1 million. I believe that we are now the largest grant provider dedicated to advancing new and effective techniques for dispute resolution. Grants have ranged from expanding teenage peer mediation programs to piloting mediation as a tool to resolve special education disputes between parents and schools, etc.

The JAMS Foundation is an important part of our persona. We care about our clients and the broad community that we serve and we take this responsibility very seriously.

Steve Price is President and CEO of JAMS. Under his leadership, JAMS defined itself as "The Resolution Experts" and experienced significant growth nationwide.

Robert B. Davidson, Esq., a fulltime mediator and arbitrator with JAMS based in New York, is Executive Director of JAMS Arbitration Practice.

Margaret L. Shaw, Esq., is a fulltime mediator and arbitrator based in JAMS New York Resolution Center. She has more than 25 years of ADR experience.

Michael D. Young , Esq., a member of the JAMS Board of Managers, is a fulltime mediator and arbitrator with JAMS in the New York Resolution Center. He is Chair of JAMS professional standards and public policy committee.