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Value of Variety

“If you scratch a lawyer, you’re very likely to find a personal affinity for the creative arts beneath. This shouldn’t be surprising, considering that the practice of law and ADR demands creativity in artfully and persuasively marshalling facts with legal principles. But this also makes the process nuanced and very personal. Getting things right and getting them done requires a keen interpretation of the varying personalities that each brings and tailoring the resolution accordingly,” says Merv Thompson, founder of the Law Office of M.R. Thompson. For Thompson, a mediator and arbitrator who is also a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA), and Special Master to the Superior Court for complex litigation, it is precisely this approach that he seeks to bring to each case within the specialty areas of his ADR practice. These include construction defect, tort, contract and generalized disputes, which are suitable for disposition at arbitration or mediation.

Thompson’s life has been one filled with variety to say the least. As a young child, he and his family were interned by the Japanese in the Santo Tomas Prison Camp in Manila during WWII. Fortunately, the family was repatriated before the end of WWII and ultimately settled in Oregon. However, Thompson’s experience with war was not over. He joined the Navy and served in the Vietnam War before ultimately attending USD School of Law on the G.I. Bill. “After I graduated from USD Law, I was fortunate to serve as the first Law and Motions Clerk for the Superior Court, North County, under Judge Fio Lopardo. His mentorship was largely responsible for me launching into Civil Practice,” Thompson recalls.

For Thompson, launching into law meant joining Higgs, Fletcher & Mack in 1974, and by 1979, he’d become partner. During his career at Higgs, he’d amassed a wealth of experience in diverse areas including personal injury, construction injury, construction defect, geotechnical litigation and environmental law. He was also exposed to alternative dispute resolutions. “Aside from my trial practice, my experience at Higgs exposed me to years of settlement conferences, mediations and arbitrations within these same practice areas,” Thompson says.

By 1991 however, Thompson was ready for a career course change and left the firm to found the Law Office of M.R. Thompson. He soon found himself in what he fondly refers to as a “fortuitous accident.” Thompson explains, “When I left to establish my own practice, there was a coincidence of need for mediators in construction defect cases which had flooded the court system. I began receiving direct referrals to assist in resolving these, facilitated by the fact that I no longer had conflicts of interest with institutional clients. In this way, ADR quickly overtook my other areas of practice.”

Thompson’s transition into ADR was a natural fit. “Trial experience permits me to evaluate risk and communicate a fact-based approach to dispute resolution. Mediations are expedited by preparation ahead of time,” he says. “They have to be better, faster and cheaper than a trial,” he adds. To Thompson that means that he reviews briefs, and whenever agreed to by the parties, initiates personal contact to help set the mediation stage before the scheduled date. “In complex cases involving numerous parties and claims mediated, fact-finding sessions are frequently necessary before the negotiation stage to gauge the relative levels of risk amongst the various parties,” he explains. “And risk avoidance is the name of the game,” he adds.
By 1993, mediations were the dominant portion of his business. “At that time there were probably no more than three or four mediators active in the construction defect area of concentration, resulting in a very crowded calendar and expansion from San Diego County into Los Angeles and Orange County,” Thompson recalls.
Moreover, the fact that there were so many cases, and so few experts in the field, afforded Thompson the opportunity to participate in a variety of fascinating developments. “In the early days of construction defect, many of the terms of existing Case Management Orders were still in a state of change. I was fortunate in having the opportunity to assist in drafting and fine tuning many of the terms that are now used, and I helped introduce such orders to other venues for implementation,” Thompson says.

But Thompson wasn’t serving exclusively as Special Master/mediator for construction defect cases. As Special Master to the coordinated breast implant cases in California, he assisted the Coordination Judge formulating uniform discovery, hearing motions and reviewing medical records in individual cases headed for trial. His range of experience has also extended to such diverse areas as polybutelene-plumbing, needle stick, personal injury, contract and insurance coverage matters.

Yet Thompson, who has mediated and arbitrated case resolution totaling hundreds of millions of dollars in settlement, is still eager to diversify his ADR practice by leaving space for personal injury, contract and coverage matters, and contractual matters to compliment construction defect. He also sees a growing need for arbitrations and experienced arbitrators, given the number of contractual provisions that mandate the process. His experience as arbitrator has recently expanded to include Arizona as a new venue, complimenting his California practice. “As an experienced arbitrator, I always welcome the challenges of working with new law and different counsel that a multi-state experience brings,” he says.
Indeed for Thompson, nothing intrigues him more than the opportunity to diversify his work. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the emerging areas happen to coincide with his diverse experience. “I have such a long history in personal injury, complex litigation and construction defect that I welcome these types of cases. Also, my interest in travelling is such that I gladly do not pass on this expense to my clients,” he says. This would, of course, include additional expansion into Northern California and his “home” state of Oregon as near future objective in his ADR sights.

Merv Thompson
Law Office of M.R. Thompson
(619) 231-6844
550 West C Street
Suite 1830
San Diego CA 92101

Karen Gorden

Karen Gorden is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal.

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About the Author: Karen Gorden is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal.

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