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Full Spectrum STRATEGY

Laura Kass-Moreno’s years of litigation and transactional experience provide the creative, strategic bandwidth needed to successfully mediate cases to resolution

“What others see as an impasse, I view as a challenge and address the issues from a variety of perspectives—never giving up or losing hope that we might still reach a resolution. By asking creative and thought-provoking questions, I examine the possible range of monetary awards, the probability of obtaining such an award at trial, the time and expense required to arrive at such an outcome, the present value of money and weighing the benefits of a mediated resolution today, against the prospect of leaving the dispute to fester, with costs and emotions escalating in the interim, pending resolution on a later date in another forum,” says Laura Kass-Moreno, mediator with The National Conflict Resolution Center.

If it sounds like Kass-Moreno has a comprehensive understanding of disputes, and unique approach to mediation, that’s because she does. A mediator, mentor and instructor for NCRC for the last 15 years, suffice it to say, she’s successfully resolved countless cases, using her broad view perspective. Interestingly, what many people didn’t know was that when Kass- Moreno first began her mediation practice in San Diego in 1999, she came armed with 8 years of complex business, construction, real estate and professional liability litigation. That preceded an additional 9 years of experience in transactional entertainment law, handling labor and employment matters, securities filings and compliance issues, supervision of shareholder lawsuits, mergers and acquisitions, financing, and the acquisition, protection and licensing of intellectual property.

Creativity as Keystone
“I always wanted to be a lawyer,” says Kass-Moreno. “I am not sure why, but it was always the career I wanted,” she adds. As such, Kass-Moreno graduated from New England School of Law in 1981. “I came to Southern California after my last law school final and before my formal graduation. Through a friend of my sister, I was introduced to the law firm of Friedeman & Menke in Orange County and was offered a position 2 days after my interview. I did not go back to Boston for my graduation—I went to Disneyland instead,” she recalls with a chuckle. Kass-Moreno admits she was something of an anomaly in her field at the time. “There weren’t a lot of women practicing in my field of law, but I was fortunate to receive tremendous mentorship and training. I was sitting second chair in a trial in my first year,” she says.

Kass-Moreno would later go on to join Murchison & Cumming in Los Angles, where she would ultimately meet her husband, Ken Moreno, now Senior Partner at Murchison & Cumming in San Diego.

After 8 years of civil litigation practice, Kass-Moreno was ready to put her experience to use in a new, but complimentary arena. Kass-Moreno explains, “I transitioned into being the first in-house counsel for NTN Communication, Inc., a pioneer in multi-platform, interactive gaming. I was responsible for negotiating, drafting and implementing agreements with vendors, licensees, and licensors including the NFL, MLB, HBO and major hospitality venues. I was able to develop positive relationships by exploring the particular needs and interests of the contracting parties, rather than focusing on positions and demands. Who better to put contracts together than someone like me who had a lot of experience understanding why partnerships and contracts fell apart?”

After nearly 20 years of work as a practicing attorney in Orange County and Los Angeles, Kass-Moreno had seen one chief problem arise time after time. “Whether it’s civil litigation or even as in-house counsel, people are arguing over the same things. It’s money, terms, conditions, demands, but there are always underlying issues,” she says. So when it was suggested to her by Judges Adrienne and Michael Orfield that she consider mediation so she could use her strategic thinking, negotiating skills and relationship—building abilities to help others identify those underlying issues, and resolve them; she went for it.

Strategic Solutions
“Mediation affords the parties with the unique opportunity to customize a resolution that meets their particular interests. I enjoy working with the parties and their counsel to arrive at creative solutions where it seemed that no resolution was possible. As a mediator, I am much more than a conduit for offers and counteroffers between the parties,” she explains.

Continuing, Kass-Moreno says, “From the outset of the process, I strive to establish a relationship of trust and inspire the confidence of the attorneys and their clients. I treat even the most challenging personalities with courtesy, understanding and respect. I believe it is essential to preserve the dignity of each party and acknowledge the contribution of counsel. My goal is to gain a better understanding of core elements of their respective claims and unmask the undisclosed, underlying interests. If one strategy doesn’t result in movement by the parties, I change direction and pursue another inquiry.”

By way of example, Kass-Moreno successfully mediated the controversial matter between representatives for the Children’s Pool in La Jolla, and the Animal Rights Protection League where the parties had temporary restraining orders against each other. “The Animal Rights activists established a presence to protect the seals and their young pups from outside human intrusion. The advocates for the Children’s Pool felt their rights had been violated in that the area had been expressly bequeathed to these swimmers,” she explains. In the end, Kass-Moreno was able to help the parties to reach a “detailed, concrete resolution which made it possible for these highly competing interests to co-exist in peace.”

16Hard Work as Way of Life
Kass-Moreno has realized tremendous success, and satisfaction from her mediation practice, despite the fact that it took San Diego attorneys a while to become familiar with her. “Nobody knew me, or knew I had been a litigator,” she says. She says she built her practice largely by word-of-mouth referrals from attorneys she worked with and those who attended the NCRC training seminars she taught. Once she began to carve a name for herself, it was her hard work which kept attorneys returning, and referring her to still others.

“I work hard. I use every effort to settle a dispute, leaving no issues outstanding and making sure all parties sign a settlement agreement so the deal is done before concluding the mediation. I am on many of the panels at NCRC and have mediated cases as part of nearly all of these panels. The cases that I find most rewarding are those involving challenging and complex issues, ranging from business disputes, employment matters, intellectual property claims, a wide variety of real estate issues, claims involving homeowner’s associations to personal injury cases and professional malpractice.”

As far as the future is concerned, Kass-Moreno has no intentions to transition out of mediation, or end her work as a mentor of the credential program at NCRC. “I have the pleasure of working closely with candidates to help them improve their mediation skills,” she says. “And of course I’m a huge proponent of the mediation process. As long as the parties are talking, there is hope for resolution and it is up to me to facilitate meaningful negotiations, and provide the opportunity for creative solutions.”

Laura Kass-Moreno
National Conflict Resolution Center
(619) 977-5208
625 Broadway, Suite 1221
San Diego, CA 92101

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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About the Author: Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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