Daily Journal Profile

Focus on ADR – Verdicts and Settlements

Supplement of the Los Angeles Daily Journal and San Francisco Daily Journal

June 28, 2002

Photo By Hugh Williams

“I guess you would call my teen-age daughters the final exam in mediation,” Santa Monica neutral Deborah Rothman says. Rothman follows her instincts, recognizing when to use reason and when to try a touchy-feely approach.

Deborah Rothman

Law school: New York University, 1976
ADR group: Independent, but affiliated with
American Arbitration Association
Service area: Southern California
Case types: General civil litigation
Career highlights: Santa Monica-based neutral, 1991-present;
president, Baby Fair Enterprises, 1984-88;
associate, Los Angeles’ Manatt Phelps
Rothenberg & Tunney, 1976-80


Treiger represented a direct marketing company that sued a real estate business for allegedly skipping out on a bill for services rendered.

The mediation started at 9 a.m. and continued through the day and into the wee hours of the night.

“We couldn’t even go to lunch or dinner, ”he says. Rothman tried every trick in the book.

She brought all the lawyers and parties into the same room for discussion. That didn’t work. She separated the two sides and used shuttle diplomacy. No dice.

She tried playing the judge as a way to convince the attorneys of the pitfalls in each other’s version of the case. “We weren’t going to bend,” Treiger says.

At around 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., Treiger was looking for the door, but Rothman convinced him to stay. They were close, she told him.

At midnight, she went for broke. “She said, ‘Lawyers are barred. Get out,’” he recalls.

The following two hours she spent privately with the clients. That final push made a difference.

“At 4 a.m., we signed a settlement agreement,” Treiger says. “We were all battered and beaten by her, which is the way it’s supposed to be.”

On her way to a career in alternative dispute resolution, Rothman had her ups and downs.

After law school, she worked at Los Angeles’ Manatt Phelps Rothenberg & Tunney, where she says she got flak for settling too many cases.

She left the firm to start a partnership, Baby Fair Enterprises, which organized trade shows spotlighting the latest products and services for consumers who were pregnant or had preschool children.

But then copycats ripped off her company’s idea, she says.

Not long after that, she went through a divorce.

By chance, a former law firm associate, who recalled Rothman’s penchant for avoiding trials, suggested she give mediation a shot.

“It was just an instant match,” Rothman says. “My trainers said to me that I had that spark. There were some lean years, but I knew that I had the touch.”

Santa Monica neutral Deborah Rothman says she does “whatever it takes” to convince parties that litigation isn’t the answer.

To break logjams, she relies not just on persistence but, more important, on her intuition.
“This is why mediation can’t be taught,” Rothman, 52, says.

Following her instincts throughout her 10-year career as a full-time mediator, Rothman recognizes when to use reason and when to try a touchy-feely approach.

Late last year, a woman allegedly subjected to workplace sexual harassment spewed an obscenity-laced tirade against her employer during a mediation session with six company representatives in attendance.

“My client just sort of, for lack of a better word, flipped out,” Los Angeles plaintiff’s attorney Lisa Maki says. “I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, this won’t settle.’”

Ironically, the plaintiff, a parts clerk at an aerospace company, wanted to keep her job despite the alleged mistreatment she had suffered.

“I thought there was no hope [for an out-of-court resolution],” Maki says.

But then Rothman spent three hours talking to the plaintiff.

“Deborah calmed her down,” Maki says. “[Rothman] was very professional and rational. She didn’t do that touchy-feely thing.”

Her client ended up agreeing to quit after Rothman convinced her to look at the reasons for her resignation as pluses, Maki says.

“I don’t know how she did it,” Maki says.

As an added bonus, her client received a greater than expected settlement, Maki says.

In another recent case, Rothman took a different tack, encouraging the two sides to blow off some steam.

A dispute had broken out between brothers whose deceased father had left one son with a business and the other two siblings with ownership of the land on which the business was located.

The arrangement was a recipe for disaster, especially because “the brothers hate each other with unbridled passion,” Westlake Village attorney Adam K. Treiger, who worked on the case, says.

Rothman allowed the family members to vent about the old days, such as when one brother would lock another in a closet, Treiger says.

Unfortunately, her 20-hour mediation session couldn’t resolve the decade-old conflict. But having the parties open up emotionally helped break down barriers to a settlement reached later on, Treiger says.

“I don’t think she failed,” he says. “I saw progress made in 20 hours that I haven’t seen in four years.”

As a single mother raising two teenage daughters, Rothman can tackle the toughest disputes.

“I guess you would call my teenage daughters the final exam in mediation,” she says. “If I cannot lose my patience with them, then I’ve got the patience for anyone.”

Even King Solomon would have been impressed with Rothman’s stick-to-itiveness in a case from a few years ago.