Feinberg Delivers Mediation Message despite Conference Postponement
By Csaba Sukosd | March 12, 2020
The world's most famous mediator has made a career out of being resourceful. As the keynote speaker for the Ohio Supreme Court's Dispute Resolution Conference, he showed his improvisational skills after the event's last-minute postponement.
Acclaimed attorney Ken Feinberg followed through with his presentation to approximately 20 people in a small theatre at Ohio State University after the seminar was shelved due to growing concerns over the coronavirus. The limited attendees were participants - like the New York-based Feinberg - who were slated to take part in the day's programs. Approximately 550 people were expected prior to the postponement.
Feinberg has been a fervent advocate for mediation since his first high-profile settlement in 1984 between the makers of the defoliant Agent Orange and Vietnam War veterans.
"The opportunity to be heard - whatever they want to talk about - that's the heart and soul of these programs," Feinberg said.
His most recognized role was as the compensation facilitator for the victims and survivors of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He also managed funds designated for those impacted by the Sandy Hook, Aurora, and Virginia Tech shootings, in addition to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the Boston Marathon bombing.
During his speech, Feinberg described some of the challenges that come with allocating money to people impacted by tragedy. The main difficulty is dealing with people's emotions.
"You may think you're ready for this," Feinberg said. "Your law school degree isn't going to help."
He shared a few stories from the hundreds of personal encounters he's had with claimants, many of which he still "hasn't recovered from."
One case involved the widow of firefighter killed at the World Trade Center, who insisted that she needed her claim resolved within a month. The process was lengthy and involved thousands of people. He didn't know the reason for her deadline.
"I have terminal cancer. I have 10 weeks to live," Feinberg quoted her. "My husband was going to survive me, and take care of our two little ones. Now, they're going to be orphans. I have got to get this money while I still have my faculties."
Feinberg helped expedite the claim within that 30-day request. He said the woman died two months later.
For those in attendance, Feinberg expressed the importance of empathy. It's a sentiment paired - with his experiences - that has inspired peers on how to help beyond a legal capacity.
"It was a Jewish plaintiff's lawyer. She was Christian, and she said, 'I just need somebody to pray with me.' And he said, 'I'm not going to pray with you.' So, I did," said Hon. Peggy Foley, a mediator and member of the Commission on Dispute Resolutions.
While Feinberg has largely been left to his practice as a private mediator, he acknowledged the advantages of a court-sponsored program that can expedite the process, and give the parties more control over the final outcome.
"If you're dogged, determined, and creative, you can find a way to get to yes," Feinberg said.