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The Business of Better Resolution

Lucie Barron & ADR Services prove that there’s more to legal dispute resolution than meets the eye.

Barely five minutes into an interview with Lucie Barron, founder of ADR Services Inc., it’s clear that her business acumen is a force to be reckoned with.  She is candid and undeniably knowledgeable about the business of alternative dispute resolution, particularly in California.  As the founder of one of the largest alternative dispute resolution companies in California, legal statistics flow from her mouth, with all of the nonchalance she might have when discussing the weather. It’s as if she’s spent her entire life studying the legal field.  No doubt, this is an asset.  But what’s interesting is that for all of her success, and her vast knowledge in regards to the inner workings of dispute resolution, Barron does not have a legal background.

Personal Experience Proves Invaluable

In the early 1990’s, Barron, who was a psychologist (albeit with an MBA) by trade, found herself in a legal dispute of her own. She’d spent a few years investing in real estate rental properties.  Following a dispute with one of her rental managers, she found herself up to her eyeballs in legal fees.  “The case just wouldn’t go away,” she says.  Moreover, she recognized that she was being overcharged by her own attorney.  This dispute eventually went to arbitration and Barron won.

For the single mother of 7 children, that was all it took to plant the seed which would in time be sown into arguably the second largest alternative dispute resolution company in the state.  She spent every spare moment reading and studying everything she could about the field.  Armed with the facts that California is by far the most litigious of the states, that only 1.8% of case filings ever make it to trial, and that California is particularly amenable to mediation, Barron launched her company.

But she admits that at the time of her launch 18 years ago, “we had no advantage that gave us market intrigue.”  The field of alternative dispute resolution was incredibly competitive, so Barron was going to have to carve out a specialty on her own.  “I spent a lot of time asking questions.  I focused on the buying patterns of attorneys.  I saw that these buying patterns were changing.  Attorneys no longer wanted generalists. This industry looks for specialization.”

Back To Business

Armed with the knowledge that, in order to meet the growing demand for neutrals with specific areas of expertise, Barron would clearly need to know her panelists. She developed a very strategic business development plan, which served multiple purposes.  First, ADR Services would need to have a thorough understanding of her neutrals’ areas of expertise.  “We work very hard at attracting the best neutrals. We are their agents, and their reputation is very important.”

Secondly, Barron says “this market is driven by the end-product user.” To her, that means that ADR Services must serve a highly consultative role.  “We are committed to pairing up the right judge or attorney, with the right case,” she says.  To that end, Barron encourages all potential clients to call and just talk with the team at ADR Services.

To illustrate, she gives an example of a corporate dissolution.  “If we receive a call about a spin-off company, where the dispute is all about money, we’re not going to pair them with a neutral that comes from a criminal defense or district attorney background.  We provide the best chance for resolution.  The client needs someone with a strong accounting background, who is familiar with balance sheets and profit/losses.  We would provide a neutral who is cerebral, linear, evaluative and pragmatic, who can look at the case and say ‘how can we resolve this by looking at the laws and the numbers?’”

To ensure that ADR Services does attract only the best neutrals, the company offers a more attractive fee split than other companies, Barron says.  They also tend to have cases that are more interesting to their neutrals.Moreover, Barron has worked hard to create a physical environment which is conducive to helping calm agitated clients.  Each of her offices in Los Angeles, Century City, Las Vegas, Orange County, San Francisco, Silicon Valley and San Diego offers themed conference rooms, decorated with furniture from Barron’s personal travels.  The San Diego office, for example, provides ample space in the NBC building, decorated with South and Central American pieces.  “Our offices make it very easy and very comfortable for all of our mediators.  We provide the entire environment for them.  The only thing they have to concern themselves with is the resolution of the dispute.”

The Psychology of Disputes

In addition to Barron’s business sense, her background in psychology has also been instrumental in the company’s success.  Because the disputes that come to ADR Services are overwhelmingly those requiring mediation (80-82% of the business), Barron again falls back on the fundamentals of her business.  “This business is driven by how good our neutrals are.  We have to get them the first case. They have to bring the clients back.” But, again, ensuring the proper pairing of a specialized neutral with a specific case falls on Barron’s shoulders.

“When you have a partnership dissolution, the dispute is very emotional.  These are people with hurt feelings. Unfortunately, sometimes they’ll lose all their money while fighting. In a case like this, the client needs someone who understands the human side of business. It’s a different sort of mediation.  We are responsible for assigning the most suitable person to achieve resolution,” she says.

It’s quite clear from the volume of business that ADR Services handles that Barron has found a formula for success.  However, she’s humble and forthright about the nature of the alternative dispute resolution business, saying, “We are in a field that doesn’t count on massive clients.  Clients don’t send us every case. One law firm will use us for 15 cases, and then use another company.  We are only driven by one case at a time.  Clients call, ask who we suggest, we get that case resolved, and it’s on to the next one.”

But what she has done is tap into a huge market with unlimited room for growth, and case by case, she’s built a foundation with proven results, as evidenced by the now 8,000 cases a year that ADR Services receives. True to her business-savvy style, she is able to break down exactly how far her company’s services extend. “There are about 215,000 practicing attorneys in the state.  38% of them are litigators. Our database includes more than 56,000 attorneys.  That means that we’ve handled one case or more for 95% of the litigators in the state.”

It’s plain to see that, for Barron, alternative dispute resolution isn’t necessarily a cut-and-dried field, where just the facts are always enough.  There’s a psychological component to successful resolution, and there are business laws of supply and demand in regards to the types of neutrals that clients need.  Fortunately, for the thousands of clients, and the successful judges and attorneys who serve as neutrals for ADR Services, Barron’s unique formula for success has proven time and again to provide a win-win situation for all parties involved in alternative dispute resolution.

ADR Services, Inc.
225 Broadway, Suite 1400
San Diego, California 92101

(619) 233-1323

lucie@adrservices.org
adrservices.org

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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