Welcome to RSI’s Board Member Profile series! Each profile will feature a different member of RSI’s talented and dedicated Board of Directors. This month we focus on Board Secretary Mitchell L. Marinello.
Mitchell L. Marinello has been a member of RSI’s Board of Directors since 2013 and has been Board Secretary since 2015. He is a partner at Novack and Macey, where he handles complex commercial cases through litigation, arbitration and mediation. Mitch also serves as a commercial arbitrator for numerous organizations including the American Arbitration Association, the International Center for Dispute Resolution, the International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution (CPR), and others. We asked him to tell us about how alternative dispute resolution fits into his work, what he likes about the RSI Board, and more.
Can you share a little about your law practice and how you use ADR in your practice?
My practice is complex commercial arbitration. It involves contracts, real estate, employment, some intellectual property, and partnership law including break-ups in law firms and other businesses. Over the years, I have gotten a wide variety of cases. It’s fun in that you often learn about types of business or industries that are new to you, you litigate the issues involving those matters and then, when the case is over, you go on to something else. Of course, I also do counseling.
These days, ADR is an integral part of a commercial litigation practice, and I often represent clients in ADR settings. Arbitrations are a forum where trials are much more common than they are in court and you get to the merits of the case much faster. That has advantages for clients and for lawyers who usually find trials to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of litigation. I also serve as a mediator and arbitrator myself. To date, I have served as a mediator in about 20 cases and as an arbitrator in more than 240. As a mediator, I have had good success in settling cases, and my mediation practice has been picking up.
Mediations generally don’t work unless both sides are genuinely interested in them and enough information has been shared so that both sides can calculate the benefits and risks of going to a judgment on the merits. An extremely high percentage of commercial lawsuits eventually settle, so once enough information is on the table, there is a reasonably good chance of settling the case. I recommend mediation in appropriate settings. There are several factors to consider.
What led you to join the RSI Board?
I met (RSI Board member) Hon. Morton Denlow (ret.) years ago through the Chicago Bar Association and knew him from his time on the bench. He also knew other people in my firm very well. And then I had a mediation in front of him that was settled as a result of his efforts. He knew that I was interested in ADR, and some time after that he asked if I would be interested in joining the RSI Board. He gave a positive review of the organization, and I thought it would be interesting to learn about the organization and get to know the other Board members who at that time were mostly retired judges. I was and still am primarily focused on arbitration, while RSI is focused exclusively on mediation, but I thought RSI’s mediation programs would be interesting to learn about.
What’s your favorite thing about being on the RSI Board?
The people who work at RSI are very good at the services they provide. They are intelligent, dedicated and easy to get along with; getting to work with them is one benefit of being on the Board. Another benefit is that the Board members are a varied and interesting group of people.
When/where were you first introduced to alternative dispute resolution?
I started off as an attorney in New York City. We had some clients in the textile business, a client in the steel business, and a client in the paint supply business. They all had arbitration clauses in their agreements, and they ended up filing arbitrations involving breach of contract claims against companies they had supplied products to. The firm let me handle those arbitrations as a young lawyer, and I enjoyed them. I also started to think about how the arbitration process could be improved.
One thing people don’t necessarily know is how much arbitration has changed since the early 1980s. Then, like now, you would get a list of potential arbitrators and each side would get to strike and rank them. Well, I would try to find out information about the panel members, and it was very hard to do. There was no internet, of course, and the information in lawyer listings was pretty minimal, and it all sounded the same. I also discovered that some of the people on the arbitration panels were completely retired and that others had passed away! Also there wasn’t much arbitration in those days. People volunteered to be on the panels, but even if they were senior attorneys, that didn’t mean they had any significant experience as arbitrators.
In the early ’90s, things really started to change. The panels were updated, and a more rigorous process was put in place before you could become an arbitrator. Gradually, that also corresponded with an increasing number of arbitrations and with larger cases. I got really interested in arbitration and applied to be on the AAA panel. I got on the AAA panel in the early ’90s, and I started off getting small cases to arbitrate. And over time it just gradually grew. So now I get some very large and complex cases.
The increasing popularity of arbitration coincides with Supreme Court decisions that have given the Federal Arbitration Act new life and with the crowding of the courts, the high cost of litigation, and the long time it takes in court to get to trial. Arbitration and mediation benefit clients, but they also are in a very major sense relief valves for the court system. And, as RSI has shown, mediation also can help people who cannot afford the high cost of litigation resolve their disputes and get a chance to be heard.