Mediator Focus: John Cooper

By: Penny Gans, WAMS Staff

CooperJohn Cooper, a senior member of the WAMS mediation and arbitration panel, is best described by these words of a frequent WAMS client: “John Cooper is a ‘closer’. He evaluates cases well…gets to the point in negotiations and when he feels that a settlement can be had, he closes the case. If the parties are negotiable, John always gets it done.”

During his distinguished career, John has worn many hats. Not only has he been a member of the WAMS mediator panel since 1989, but he has also been a Washington State Court of Appeals law clerk, law firm partner, solo and swing arbitrator, private judge, seminar presenter and author. He has also earned high honors on the golf course and in the kitchen.

John grew up in Seattle and the San Francisco Bay area. He started college at Whitman and transferred to UC-Santa Barbara to take advantage of the very low in-state tuition while he worked his way toward a degree in Economics with high honors. He returned to Seattle and earned his law degree at the UW and spent a year clerking for the Honorable Jerome Farris at the Washington State Court of Appeals. He then joined the Seattle law firm that subsequently became Stafford Frey Cooper. As a practicing attorney, John represented plaintiffs and defendants in a wide range of cases, including negligence and product liability, insurance coverage, commercial, maritime, fidelity and surety law. Because of his experience on both sides of the legal fence, he is often asked to be the neutral or “swing” member of an arbitration panel. In 1989, John represented a client in a WAMS mediation and was subsequently invited to a mediation training session. After joining the WAMS mediation and arbitration panel, his activities as a WAMS neutral soon accounted for nearly 70% of his practice. John changed his relationship with his law firm to “Of Counsel” and became a full-time WAMS mediator/arbitrator.

John’s continued success is based on thorough preparation and his ability to listen carefully to all parties and let them know that he understands their positions. He particularly enjoys the psychology of mediation: reading the participants and “reframing” and delivering messages between them so that progress in the negotiations can continue. John welcomes challenging medical negligence and employment cases because of the interesting legal issues and high caliber of counsel. He thrives on hearing that “You’ll have your work cut out for you on this one!”. As a former trial lawyer, he feels strongly that a successful mediation can be especially therapeutic for the plaintiff, ending the necessity of reliving an unpleasant experience many times to attorneys, doctors and a jury. In John’s words, “I doubt any trial lawyer has ever had a client describe the trial experience as ‘a lot of fun’”. His goal is for all parties to be able to look back at the results of the chosen resolution process and say “that was a good thing.”

Away from WAMS, John and his wife Barbara enjoy traveling to Palm Springs and Hawaii in the winter, as well as taking trips with their eleven-year-old grandson Zach (who has accompanied them to Italy and the East Coast). John’s golf handicap is in the lower double digits, so when the WAMS calendar shows him as “N/A”, it likely means he’s on a golf course somewhere warm (although he also has an annual January golf outing at Bandon Dunes in Oregon.)

To recuperate from the stresses of work and golf, John enjoys spending time in his Bainbridge Island garden and creating delicious meals with his harvest and other local delicacies. A quick and tasty recipe ala John Cooper: Sauté a bit of diced pancetta and finely chopped shallots briefly in olive oil, then add bay scallops for 2-3 minutes; remove, reduce the pan juices with a bit of white wine, and serve with John’s garlic rosemary foccacia bread (recipe provided elsewhere in the newsletter).

John Cooper is truly a multi-faceted man for all seasons and cases and a highly valued asset to WAMS and our clients.

A Question of Style

By: Diane McGaha | Attorney Director

& Tamara Roberts | Mediation Director

WAMS Case Administrators are often asked by prospective clients and new staff members to distinguish one mediator’s “style” from another – and it has nothing to do with anyone’s choice of tie, watch or footwear. Particularly when a client is unfamiliar with one or more mediators under consideration, it can be helpful to know which mediator style might work best for a particular client or case.

It’s fairly well agreed within the “old school” ADR community that there are three main style categories used to describe how mediators may approach a given case: facilitative, evaluative and transformative. Of course, it’s important to understand from the outset that an experienced and well-trained mediator can’t be categorized by any single, universal definition. But it’s also undeniable that the dynamics of each case can be greatly influenced by the style employed by a mediator in his/her approach to resolution, whether by choice or direction. If a specific style/approach is specifically needed or requested by the parties to a prospective mediation, it’s helpful to share that request with the WAMS Case Administrator at the time of scheduling.

The first mediator style category is facilitative, which is generally regarded as the most common and traditional style of mediating. A facilitative mediator helps parties explore options for settlement by listening to all sides and helping them analyze the issues involved. The facilitative mediator does not typically offer specific settlement recommendations or voice an opinion about possible outcomes. He does, however, facilitate resolution by helping the parties come to an agreement based on information exchanges and compromise. When asked about mediators within WAMS who might be considered to be facilitative in their approaches to any given case, the usual WAMS response is that most mediators are trained to be facilitative. It’s the basic training model used by WAMS and most mediation training organizations for many years.

An evaluative mediator is generally known and expected to offer opinions and make specific recommendations about settlement values and outcomes should the case go to trial. The evaluative mediator is often retained precisely because the parties want an outside, neutral opinion about various aspects of a case that are pivotal and hotly contested. While both the evaluative and facilitative mediator will point out the strengths and weaknesses of the case to help parties understand the costs and risks of going to trial, the evaluative mediator will be much more directive and opinionated in her approach. Most retired judges who work as mediators are evaluative in style, as the authoritative judicial role is not easily

left behind. Obviously, there is an inherent risk that the evaluative mediator will express an opinion that isn’t received well by one or more mediation participants, even if the mediator is specifically asked and expected to opine. As soon as an evaluative mediator expresses an opinion, the risk is that the mediation will be ended by a party who doesn’t like the opinion. The use of an evaluative mediator should be by specific request, with a clear understanding by all involved of the expectations and obligations of the mediator and parties to be involved in an evaluative mediation. Some mediators are more comfortable with the evaluative mediation style than others, so be sure to convey any request for an evaluative mediator to the WAMS Case Administrator at the start of the mediator selection process – avoid asking the mediator during the mediation to be evaluative, as he may decline if not forewarned.

The last category of mediator style is transformative, wherein the objective is to transform the relationships between the parties through improved communication and guided interaction. The transformative mediator helps parties appreciate each other’s viewpoints and works to empower them to deal with future conflict in a healthier, more productive manner. Transformative mediators tend to handle many cases involving relationships between the parties beyond the dispute(s) at issue. Whether the relationships pertain to a family-owned business, partnership or organizational conflict, the transformative mediator lets the parties control the process. With guidance throughout to help each party see the other’s perspective and establish a framework for future conflict avoidance, transformative mediation goes beyond the objective of ending a specific conflict to bring some semblance of reconciliation to the relationships involved.

The reality is that WAMS mediators have been extensively trained to employ all three mediation styles when the case calls for creativity and adaptability. No WAMS mediator is interested in being typecast with a particular style that might preclude her consideration for a case. It is, however, undeniable that there are stylistic differences between mediators that can assist in the neutral selection process. At the end of the day, WAMS strives to match the mediator to the case in order to maximize the opportunity of settlement. In one recent case, the plaintiff related well to Tom Harris because of their shared interest in eclectic watches. In another case, Margo Keller’s golfing hobby landed her an appointment to mediate for an unknown client. The reality is that choosing a mediator is certainly not an exact science – but knowing more about mediator styles and what might best suit a particular client or case can only be beneficial. One size definitely does not fit all!

John Cooper’s Garlic Rosemary Focaccia

CooperMakes one 11x 17-inch focaccia

Ingredients:

  • 5 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. warm water
  • 1 envelope active dry yeast
  • 2 tbs. chopped fresh or dried rosemary
  • 8 garlic cloves, diced
  • 8 tbs. olive oil, divided
  • 1 tsp. Kosher or coarse salt
  • 1 c. whole milk
  • 11 x 17 inch jelly roll pan

Directions:

  1. In a mixing bowl combine flour, salt, garlic & rosemary
  2. Pour two c. tepid (110 degrees approx) water into another bowl and whisk in the yeast and 3 tbs. oil. With rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir yeast mixture and milk into the flour mixture until all the flour is evenly moistened, then beat vigorously (or knead) for 1 minute. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about one hour.
  3. Oil the jelly roll pan with remaining olive oil or use an olive oil spray. Scrape dough out of bowl and press it into the pan to fill it completely. If dough resists, wait a few minutes and continue. Poke holes in the dough with fingertips and drizzle with about 2 tbs olive oil. Sprinkle with Kosher salt and scatter rosemary sprigs about the same density as the fingertip holes.
  4. Allow the dough to rise again until doubled in bulk. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees and set a rack in the lower third.
  5. When dough has risen, bake until deep golden, (about 25 minutes). Check the bottom about halfway through the baking time by lifting the side of the focaccia with a spatula. If it is coloring deeply, slide the original pan onto another pan to insulate the bottom.
  6.  Slide the focaccia off the pan onto a rack to cool. Serve in narrow slices, squares, or split horizontally for sandwiches.

Focus: WAMS Technology

By: WAMS Staff

Website: The WAMS website is a great resource for our clients. It offers a plethora of information about mediator bios, fee schedules, mediation and arbitration rules, useful links and contact information. The most popular feature, however, is our online calendar for short notice scheduling. This feature allows clients to see mediator availability for the next two weeks. As a reminder, there is no cancellation fee when you schedule a hearing within 2 weeks of the hearing date and need to cancel for any reason.

Mobile Website: Created in 2010, the WAMS Mobile Website provides users with a streamlined experience for viewing content from the WAMS website.

To view the mobile site from your Iphone, go to www.usamwa.com  in the internet browser. In the left hand column, select the link to view the WAMS mobile site. To save the mobile site as an application (app) to your phone, click on the forwarding arrow of your internet browser bar, and select “Add to Home Screen”. From your Droid’s internet browser, follow the same directions above to the mobile site. To save the mobile site as an application (app) to your phone, long press your home screen, go to shortcuts and bookmark the page. From your Blackberry internet browser, follow the same directions to access the mobile site. To save it as an application (app) to your phone, press on the Menu button and select “Add to Home Screen.” (With the new site the mobile site is already created.)

Email: WAMS Case Administrators utilize email in a variety of ways to help the scheduling process run smoothly and efficiently for our clients. Not only do we use email to coordinate scheduling, but we do the following as well:

  • Email referral templates for case information when a new case is being submitted.
  • Email calendar availability quickly.
  • Email confirmation documents to the parties once a hearing is set. We’ve found this to not only be “green”, but preferred by clients who can then forward the information to their respective clients and reduce the time and expense of typical mailing.

Submissions: With most attorneys now using email, WAMS encourages submitting mediation materials via email. Mediators prefer that materials submitted electronically be limited to 10 pages, so they are not required to print lengthy documents. Attorneys usually submit mediation briefs via email referencing their exhibits, then bring the actual exhibits to the mediation. Don Kelley prefers all submissions in electronic format, as he carries his iPad during mediations and references materials online as needed.

WAMS now sends invoices almost exclusively in electronic format. WAMS Arbitration Rules permit Electronic Filing of submissions subject to a 10 page limit without prior authorization. All submissions over 10 pages (inclusive of exhibits) must be submitted in hard copy. The Witness/Exhibit list is often less than 10 pages. The arbitration Award is provided in electronic format via email to counsel unless otherwise requested. WAMS continues to evolve with technology, but has not yet embraced e-filing in arbitration.

Technology & Mediation

By: Donald E. Kelley | WAMS Mediator | Since 1989

DonKellyRTMediation has always been about communication. The parties exchange their respective points of view through the mediator and present evidence supporting their positions in a highly focused and time constrained setting. Today, thanks to technology, the ability to “communicate” in this fashion has never been better.

In the last few years, the evolution of devices used for everyday communication has been astounding. Whether text messaging or emailing on cell phones, the advanced features of “smart phones” and other devices have changed our ability to communicate over great distances in real time with a multitude of resources.

With the advent of mobile devices, information has never been more readily accessible. Nowadays, when a bored mediation client ponders who wrote the poem, “Oh Captain, My Captain  ” (as used by Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society  ”), the answer is just a Google search away. In seconds, Google and Wikipedia can provide the name of the poet (Walt Whitman), the theme of the poem (metaphorical eulogy of Abraham Lincoln) and additional trivia, including the complete lyrics, life and times of the author or details about the Robin Williams movie (including box office gross). Just as we used to say, “I’ll get a Xerox of that”, now we just “Google it.”

Whether in a restaurant, on a bus or in a mediation caucus room, the answers to such obscure questions are now as close as the nearest tech device.

Tools of the Trade. When I first began as a mediator some 23 years ago, the “tools of the trade” in mediation consisted of loads of paper. The Plaintiff’s group would bring its banker’s box full of medical records, pleadings, reports and pictures. Likewise, the defense attorneys and insurance representatives came loaded down with “the claim file,” containing their copies of medical records, billing statements, treatment calendars, deposition transcripts, expert reports and every other potentially needed document. Of course, there was a huge amount of duplication between the two groups, but each side needed to be prepared to access some part of this sea of paperwork to address the issues that could come up at the mediation. I can’t even guess at the number of binders and pages of documents I’ve received, then recycled or shredded, over my career as a mediator.

Now when I enter a caucus room, I’m likely to see participants with one or more laptop, smart phone and iPad. These are now viewed as essential tools in mediation. Mediators and parties who are slow to adapt to the use of these new resources in mediation are in danger of being left behind.

Let’s take a look at some of these devices and how they can be used to great advantage in mediation, whether by the mediator or by the participants. I’ll focus on the use of my two favorites, the iPad and the smart phone. Of course, WAMS provides free wi-fi access to accommodate such devices during its proceedings.

iPad. This handy device from Apple (and its cousins produced by a number of competitors) is not a personal computer. But it certainly is well suited to handling an immense variety of tasks for the mediation client. Because it doesn’t have a hard drive or complex software of a personal computer, it effortlessly processes information for easy viewing, boots up quickly, and (almost) never crashes or freezes.

Over 75% of the materials submitted to me as a mediator are now sent electronically (and I love it!!) Typically, mediation materials now arrive by e-mail to the WAMS mailbox and are logged in (for delivery receipt purposes) then forwarded within minutes to my e-mail account. I then transfer the submissions to one of my iPad applications and I’m good to go. No more printing of hundreds of pages of documents, no more waiting for deliveries by legal messengers and no more heavy briefcases full of submissions to carry back and forth between the office and mediation venue. Documents can even be printed wirelessly as needed.

E-mail, calendaring, and contact information is right at the user’s fingertips at all times and can be easily updated and automatically synchronized with the home or office computer. Mediators and counsel can continue their negotiations electronically, if necessary, after the mediation session is concluded. It is much easier to keep track of ongoing discussions that may extend over many months if there’s an email trail to follow.

Documents of all kinds can be transferred electronically to the iPad and then viewed, scrolled through, highlighted or zoomed in or out without the need for a mouse.

Photos are easy to view on an iPad (with great resolution) and can be manipulated to zoom in to demonstrate particular points of interest.

Web-based content is readily accessible using the iPad browser. Examples I have recently used include WebMD descriptions of medical conditions, court decisions, sample pattern jury instructions, maps, graphs and other illustrative materials.

Native applications (Apps) number in the thousands. These are typically developed by third parties to simplify access to specialized information by creating user-friendly screens with intuitive radio buttons and other guides to help the user move though the available resources. They are easily downloaded to the iPad (or smart phone in some cases) in a matter of seconds, and are generally free or available for very low cost (2-10 dollars). I regularly use two anatomical Apps (Spine Decide  and Skeletal 3D  ) to help parties understand and see the parts of the body being described in the medical records. Now, when a doctor describes a spondylolisthesis in a medical record, I can show the parties detailed (even animated) anatomical drawings, medical definitions, symptoms, treatment, etc. – just like on the Discovery Channel! My colleague Larry Levy at WAMS has recently discovered the Picture It Settled  application developed by a mediator for use by mediation clients to track their negotiations.

iPhones, Droid Phones and other Smart Phones. Smart phones have become so much more popular with our mediation clients in recent years because they are so versatile.

The #1 use of a smart phone at mediation is still clearly e-mail. Participants at mediation are able to keep in touch with their offices or key participants who otherwise are not in attendance. In a recent mediation, one participant was able to get an immediate e-mail clarification from an expert witness to an issue that was being discussed based on his written report. Defense attorneys use e-mail, rather than voice connections, to communicate with their out-of-state insurance representatives. While this may sound less satisfactory, often the opposite is true, as e-mail commentary is faster and more efficient than “phone tag”.

Video Conferencing. This is not yet common in mediation, but is certainly on the immediate horizon. More than half of the smart phones (and iPad) sold today are capable of two-way video conferencing. With both forward and rear-facing cameras, there is no reason why key parties cannot “participate” meaningfully in mediation regardless of physical distance. WAMS offices in Seattle and Tacoma are equipped to provide video conferencing (via Skype) for parties who request that capability.

Social Networking. The implications of social networking throughout our society have been nothing short of a phenomenon. Since Facebook can be easily accessed via various mobile devices, it is very topical at some mediations. I find that each side has looked to see what information has been publicly displayed by the parties to a lawsuit and by their witnesses, including experts and lay witnesses.

Conclusions. What conclusions can we draw from this influx of new technologies into the mediation process? Well, here are a few thoughts:

  •  Mobile devices can be infinitely more efficient than paper.
  • Mobile technology is here to stay and getting better.
  • Allows multi-tasking, making mediation more attractive for participants to attend without forsaking access to other matters.
  • Professionals who are slow to adapt to these new technologies will be left behind.

Great Job! Mac Shelton

shelton“I recently completed a mediation with Mac Shelton at your office. The subject matter was beyond Mr. Shelton’s experience, and the opposing counsel was very difficult. This case had all the indications of a long and hostile battle. I don’t have any idea how Mr. Shelton accomplished resolution. I have recommended Mr. Shelton a dozen times to my colleagues, and will continue to recommend and use WAMS when possible. Mr. Shelton belongs in the Mediator’s Hall of Fame.”

– WAMS Client

The Buzz for 1/12

At the end of 2011, the WAMS staff celebrated the holidays by shopping to fulfill the needs of various local charities. Some of our favorite worthy causes in 2011 were:

  • Mary’s Place Homeless Women’s Shelter, (www.churchofmarymagdalene.com)
  • St. Charles Borromeo Community Food Bank, (www.stcharlesb.org)
  • Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, (www.toysfortots.org)
  • Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Foundation, (www.tpcba.org)

So, You Want To Be a Mediator?

By: WAMS Staff

Every year since 1981, WAMS has received inquiries from “want to be mediators”, attorneys (and non-attorneys) interested in joining the WAMS panel of neutrals. It’s one thing to have the paper resume for becoming a professional mediator, but it’s quite another to be professionally successful in the very competitive market for mediation services. Before venturing into a new career in ADR, WAMS advises a period of serious self-reflection and networking to help determine if mediation will be a good fit for you.

First comes the self-assessment part: do you have the reputation and personality to attract mediation clients and allow them to feel comfortable with you and willing to share personal details and insights? Is your law practice one that has left a trail of bitter adversaries behind or are you known for your professionalism and collegiality in advocacy? Are you in a practice niche that can attract mediation clients through networking with colleagues and former adversaries? The most obvious way to garner a good reputation as a mediator is to first be known as a reasonable, experienced trial attorney with integrity, tenacity and dedication to the legal profession. “Prospective mediators should have some degree of subject-matter expertise, litigation experience and familiarity with both sides of advocacy,” says Diane McGaha, Attorney Director of Washington Arbitration and Mediation Service (WAMS). “Ideally, a mediator will be someone who has been a plaintiff’s attorney and  a defense attorney at some point in his or her career. A mediator should genuinely appreciate what it means to be a litigator in the trenches and have a scheduled trial bumped from the court calendar after a three year wait.”

If, after conferring with colleagues and current mediators, you decide to pursue mediation training, WAMS recommends that you attend the right training for you. It’s easy to assume that becoming a professional mediator is just a matter of attending any convenient 40-hour training program, but McGaha says one crucial step is often skipped at the outset. “Too often, lawyers pay big bucks to attend mediation training, and then ask for advice from others in the profession”. What’s often discovered, belatedly, is that the training attended by the prospective mediator was inappropriate for his/her future area of practice. Before signing up for mediation training, investigate the trainers and training content. If your interest is in commercial mediation, don’t attend a divorce-oriented training conducted by mediators with degrees in social work. While their training format and content may be appropriate for non-attorney mediators interested in child custody disputes, a very different training is needed for commercial dispute resolution. Check out the training links and resources available at http://law.pepperdine.edu/straus/ as well as at www.mediate.com. Once trained, try to gain experience with one or more of the volunteer mediation programs available in Washington, including the various Dispute Resolution Centers, opportunities through the courts, EEOC, Settlement Now or Better Business Bureau, just to name a few.

So, what happens next after the training and volunteer work have convinced you that a career in ADR is still in your future? Consider whether you have the administrative and networking capabilities to allow you to be a successful sole practitioner neutral. If you don’t want the responsibilities of scheduling, billing and overhead for hearing rooms, affiliation with a mediation service may be your best option. Most trial attorneys in the Pacific NW are familiar with WAMS, JDR, JAMS and the AAA. Each organization has its own panel requirements, fee structure and administrative policies. At WAMS, for example, a mediator prospect is typically a current WAMS client who has been identified as a potential mediator based on personality and advocacy skills demonstrated over several years of interaction with current WAMS mediators. Mediation advocacy can be indicative of a lawyer’s attitude and aptitude for the practice. For instance, WAMS will evaluate how the prospective mediator prepared both mediator and client for their mediation. When considering whether to add an applicant to the WAMS mediator panel, McGaha mentioned that “One of the considerations I have as the Attorney Director of WAMS is about the prospect’s reputation as a person. Has this lawyer been able to maintain good relationships with opposing counsel despite being a zealous advocate? Has this prospect pursued a ‘win at all costs’ approach to litigation and ruined his or her reputation for integrity and fair dealing in the process? Does this person provide pro bono service or volunteer his or her time to a charitable cause? Is this potential mediator well regarded within the local and legal community?”

While the aforementioned guidelines may provide some assistance to prospective mediators, keep in mind that mediation as a career is an ongoing learning experience. Each member of the WAMS panel has come to the career by a unique path that may not be applicable for anyone else. Bill Joyce was told that he was far too young to be a mediator just four years out of law school. Pat Duffy’s solo practice in Sumner made him an unlikely candidate compared to more high-profile firm attorneys. But both Bill and Pat were determined to have mediation careers in addition to their law practices – and both have been resoundingly successful in that endeavor.

If mediation is your desired future vocation, consider the advice offered above and find a way to make it happen.

Think you have what it takes to become a professional mediator?

For advice or inquiries about WAMS panel opportunities, contact Diane McGaha, WAMS Attorney Director, via email to dmcgaha@usamwa.com.

Mediator Focus: Michele Sales

By: Penny Gans | WAMS Staff

salesIn her 20+ years as a mediator and arbitrator with WAMS, Michele Sales has earned the respect of plaintiff and defense counsel alike for her understanding of legal issues, her ability to put injured parties at ease in highly stressful situations, and her diligence in following through after the mediation to resolve any remaining issues. As one of her long-time clients puts it, “Michele does more to get a case settled than any other mediator I have ever worked with.”

Michele believes that “most cases should settle, and sooner than a week before the trial.” She values the mediation process for “forcing people to talk to each other sooner than they otherwise might and for helping attorneys settle cases without risking being seen as weak.” She believes successful mediation requires the mediator to have experience in the subject area and come to the table thoroughly prepared. Michele says that although the mediator can’t know everything about the case, it is important to demonstrate to both client and attorney that she is engaged and actively listening. Settlement may depend on the financial situation of the parties, the influence of another similar case, relationships, desire for confidentiality, or other issues that are not initially evident to the mediator. Michele is known for her persistence and encouragement of clients to keep working toward settlement if the case doesn’t resolve at mediation. As the complexity of her mediation practice has grown in recent years, Michele has often found herself without enough time to fully resolve all issues requiring attention. As a result, she decided in 2011 to require clients scheduling with her to devote a full day to the mediation. Michele understands that some of her clients may not require a full day for all of their cases, but she is confident that most of the cases she mediates will benefit from having the additional time allocated.

Michele grew up in El Paso, Texas, polished her “convincing” skills in high school debate, and completed undergraduate and law school at Duke University. An active Duke alumna (particularly during college basketball season, when she “bleeds Duke Blue”), she has served as president of the Alumni Association Board of Directors and as a member of the University Board of Trustees. Duke Law School has asked her to serve as Referee and mediator for major medical product liability class action suits, as well as gender discrimination and sexual harassment class actions against national firms. On a lighter note, it was at Duke that Michele took her first golf lesson, beginning a lifetime of joy and frustration. Michele met Chris, her future husband, while he was a Naval officer stationed in California. His transfer to Italy during her last two years of law school meant summers and Christmas in Italy and an opportunity to spend time in the Navy’s Legal Service Office, assisting with courts-martial. After a move to Seattle in 1981, Michele joined the Oles Morrison firm and spent the next few years handling personal injury, insurance, and employment defense matters, plus “any case that needed a woman”. She became a partner in 1989, then left to establish Steele and Sales with Katherine Steele in 1990, specializing in asbestos litigation. Although Michele had been a WAMS neutral since 1988, it was in 2001 that she became a full-time mediator, focusing on employment, product liability, personal injury, and other areas involving complex legal issues.

Among the many community activities she has enjoyed, Michele singles out her involvement as a member of the Navy League committee to commission ships accepted into the Navy, a ceremony known as “bringing the ship alive”. In addition to working locally on the commissioning of the USS Shoup in 2002, Michele attended the commissioning of the USS Ronald Reagan in Norfolk, VA in 2003, watching Nancy Reagan formally bring the ship into the U.S. Navy. Through her association with the Navy League, Michele became involved with Seafair and served on its Board of Directors from 2002-2009. As Chairman of the Board in 2009, she delighted the friends and colleagues watching her waving graciously to the Seafair Parade crowds from the back of a bright yellow Corvette convertible.

Chris and Michele enjoy cruising in the San Juans and have recently traveled in Spain, Argentina, and New Zealand, sharing their highly entertaining travel blogs with friends and associates. They also try to attend the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas as often as possible – Michele is a Texas gal, after all!