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How we resolve our disputes

Entries in compromise (2)


Happy President's Day

Today is President’s Day—a day off of work for some, a day to reflect on our 44 Commanders-in-Chief for all.  If nothing else, it helps give us some perspective when we think back on decisions that our Presidents have had to make.  Economic policy, judicial appointments, and whether or not to go to war make the problems most other people face in their daily lives pale in comparison.  So it is fitting that we set aside a day to appreciate the 44 men who have made those difficult decisions for 222 years. 

For me, the wisest President was the one who faced the most serious crisis in our nation’s history.  Abraham Lincoln had to decide how to preserve the Constitution and the union it established.  Before he was President, Lincoln was a lawyer.  Next to the Gettysburg Address, perhaps his most famous dictum was this, from his days practicing law:

Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker, the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.

In Lincoln’s day, lawyers were held in high esteem. Today, we are more often the butt of derisive jokes.  If more lawyers paid heed to Honest Abe’s advice, we might regain the respect that our learned profession formerly deserved.


New Year, New Marriages

Looking back over the past year and ahead to the new one, what I see most frequently are weddings. Yesterday, I attended my ninth wedding in the past 13 months. That’s 2 nieces, a nephew, 3 of our friends’ children, 2 of our children’s friends, and one of my wife’s co-workers. There were also a few weddings we were invited to but were unable to attend. And we recently learned that two more nieces are engaged to be married in the next year or so, and we will be invited to a friend’s son’s wedding next summer. Many of these weddings have been, or will be, out of town. So it has been and will continue to be a hectic but joyous social schedule for my wife and me. 

A pessimist might look at this and wonder what all these people are thinking — getting married in the worst economy in a generation? Cynical mediators and lawyers might think this is a good sign — so many potential divorces to mediate or litigate. Not me. I’m an optimist, and I think all of these weddings are a good sign for a more positive reason. Marriage can be difficult. It takes work and commitment and communication. But it can also be the most rewarding thing a person can do. To start a family and raise children, and to have a life partner who will share the good times and work through the bad times with you. It sometimes requires negotiation and compromises, just like the rest of life’s activities. Your education, your job, major purchases. It’s all negotiable. And that takes effort, research and communication. As a lawyer, I know that reasonable people can come to different conclusions given the same facts and circumstances. As a mediator, I know that reconciling these differing conclusions causes conflict, stress and sometimes legal disputes or litigation. But the fact that so many people that I know are still entering into marriages, getting educations, entering the job market, starting new businesses, and making major purchases is a sign that they are still hopeful. I think that is a very good sign. It shows they care about the future and are willing to think about the problems and potential solutions. And, maybe, it shows a mature realization that the alternative — retreating into isolation — can lead only to a collapse of the economy and, worse, loneliness.

So keep those wedding invitations coming! And have a happy and healthy New Year.