Welcome to RSI’s Board Member Profile series! Each profile will feature a different member of RSI’s talented and dedicated Board of Directors. We begin this month with Board President Brian Roche, who was elected to the position in April to fill the unexpired term of Raven Moore. Raven stepped down amid increasing demands from her expanding role in the counsel’s office at McDonald’s Corporation, which will take her overseas. (Lucky for RSI, she is able to remain a Board member.)
Prior to being elected Board President, Brian Roche served as Board Vice President since 2015. He has been on the RSI Board since 2010. Brian is a partner in Reed Smith’s Litigation Department, focusing on intellectual property and technology disputes. We asked him to share a bit about how alternative dispute resolution fits into his practice, the importance of RSI’s work, and his goals as Board President.
Can you tell us a bit about your law practice?
My practice is intellectual property litigation. I focus predominantly on patent, trade secret litigation, high-tech wireless communications, medical devices, electronic securities trading and software, database networking and telecommunications. I’ve been doing this work for about 25 years. It’s been an exciting area, especially as we’ve seen the technology breakthroughs in telecommunications in speed and bandwidth. What has come with that is a lot of disputes with patent holders over who owns the technology, who owns the rights. It has involved some of the largest companies in America trying to protect what they are developing. And people trying to preserve what they have developed against people who say, “Hey, I did it first; I got a patent.”
How do you use alternative dispute resolution in your practice?
It’s a central part of (intellectual property) litigation in the US today. The courts favor having parties try to resolve the litigation through negotiation. Every court does it differently; some encourage mediation early on, some recognize that it’s not effective early on and encourage it after there’s been more evidence developed in the case before the trial. Others do it right before you go to trial. But these mediations sometimes last a couple days. The mediators tend to be active and retired judges, and retired litigators that used to do what I do now. I have actively been doing ADR since it began. It became a normal thing in the kind of work I do in the 1990s. Before then, it was really unusual.
What attracted you to/made you want to join the RSI board?
I didn’t have much contact with what RSI was doing until a colleague introduced me to the organization, and that was (RSI Board member) Hon. Morton Denlow. He was a federal magistrate at the time, and before that he was a partner with me at this law firm. He was recruiting to try to expand the board to get younger lawyers who were active in law firms. At that time RSI’s board was heavily focused on former and current judges. So he invited me, and I joined.
What’s your favorite thing about being on the board?
What I have really enjoyed is that the mediation RSI focuses on is not between big corporations that have the best law firms and best lawyers in the country working for them, and that can afford to hire the best private mediators. That’s not what RSI’s about.
RSI is about making the legal process that ordinary people occasionally run into better by having a way to have it resolved quickly. They get to participate immediately and don’t have to spend years litigating. That’s really what RSI is trying to do and has been able to do effectively in areas where people in these lawsuits are not regularly in the legal world. If there’s a problem with their mortgage, or a family dispute, such as divorce or child custody. And also small disputes, like with a contractor or a neighbor. Those are the kinds of disputes we believe can really be solved with mediation, if the courts are supporting and encouraging it.
So what’s been exciting about what we’ve done with RSI is we’ve partnered with the courts, predominantly in Illinois to advance mediation as an alternative to full-blown litigation. During the mortgage crisis that began in 2008, seeing what RSI was able to accomplish was remarkable: people who thought they were going to lose their homes found a way to keep their homes through mediation.
Another of the things that excites me about taking on the role of Board President is working directly with our Executive Director, Susan Yates, who is a national leader in mediation in the courts and a national leader in innovative ways to move mediation online. I’m very excited about working closely with her.
In your RSI bio, you say that court ADR is often “a better and more efficient process” than litigation. What makes it that way?
I think that was referring to the context of what I do in these large cases, but applying it more to RSI, it can also be the best way for disputes to get resolved. People get hauled into court unexpectedly; they don’t have resources to hire a lawyer for a long fight. Really, all they want to do is tell their side of the story to the other side. They can hear the other side, and they get a neutral person to help resolve it, and most of the time, things get resolved that way. There’s recognition that litigation might go on for years, so for people who aren’t familiar with the court process, mediation can be a savior.
Do you have any particular plans or things on your to-do list as Board President?
One focus is attracting younger people to the board who are excited about RSI’s mission, so there is confidence the organization will continue for years into the future; that it’s influenced by younger people who see different ways to resolve these kinds of problems, who have new ideas, new energy, new blood. Getting younger people from all different communities to join the board is a high priority.
The second priority is to see if we can expand services in the area of family disputes – in particular child protection cases in which children have been removed from their homes due to allegations of neglect or abuse. These are so difficult for families. Mediation has proved to be effective – it can be even more effective with online tools available today. And also just to be supportive of the courts in their own efforts to expand ADR in small claims, mortgage and rent disputes, among others.