Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Meet Paul H. Grinde: ‘Lawyers like to talk. Don’t.

1016-paul-h-grindePAUL H. GRINDE graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1980 and from Hamline University School of law (now Mitchell Hamline) in 1984. He joined a law firm in Rochester in 1985, married a very patient and tolerant lawyer in 1987, and with her produced two wonderful and enjoyable children. They are on their second Bassett hound.

Tell us about your practice.

I am in a general civil practice with five other attorneys and 10 staff. We have offices in St. Charles and Rochester. I spend the majority of my time in Rochester and handle cases throughout southeastern Minnesota. The majority of my practice now consists of civil dispute resolution (litigation, arbitration, mediation) as the neutral or as an advocate. The majority of my work involves construction, business, contract, employment, and estate disputes. During college I worked as a carpenter and one of my first cases as a lawyer happened to involve a mechanic’s lien issue. I have been engaged in construction law ever since.

As a Rule 114 Qualified Neutral, what methods of dispute resolution do you utilize?

In the Rochester area, the majority of attorneys that I work with use the mediation process. We use it because it works. I also utilize arbitration in certain cases where the parties want a speedy result without going through an expensive trial.

What led you to emphasize dispute resolution in your practice?

As a young attorney I thought that litigation was the primary way to settle disputes and that real lawyers were litigators. That was what Louis Nizer and Clarence Darrow did and that is what I thought I should try to do. (I learned quickly that I was neither Nizer nor Darrow!) I thought that negotiating too early was a sign of weakness. During the 1990s I was asked to mediate and arbitrate. I liked it and ultimately decided to become a qualified neutral. As I got older, and hopefully wiser and more experienced, the words of Honorable Harold Kreiger (a district court Judge who was seated in Rochester, Olmsted County) to me as a young attorney took on real meaning: “Grinde, your job as an attorney is to close files.” I do not believe it usually serves our client’s interests to litigate to the death (sometimes economic) unless absolutely necessary. I think mediation serves my clients and others very well. It is a useful and economical way to settle disputes.

Do you have any advice for a law student or new attorney who would like to emphasize alternative dispute resolution in their practice?

John Nash, the great mathematician, said, and I paraphrase, “The best result comes from everyone doing what is best for himself and what is best for the group.” I recommend that one learn certain areas of law and how to defend and prosecute those areas very well. Know how a case must be tried and proven in court. Read Jay Foonberg’s book How to Start and Build a Law Practice and then work—a lot, and hard. Once one gains an understanding of the areas of practice one would like to engage in and if one does have the ability to work with people, not just against people, one’s ability to engage in ADR at all levels will follow naturally.

Listen. Keep in mind, lawyers like to talk. Don’t. As a mediator one must give the parties (not the lawyers) the opportunity to express themselves. Oftentimes just allowing a party to talk and express her feelings will lead toward resolution. Oftentimes they just want to be heard.

I have also found, both as a mediator and an advocate in mediation, that for some reason clients sometimes do not believe their own lawyers. Why this is befuddles me. However, when a mediator says what the party’s lawyer has also said, it somehow becomes believable. Keep neutrality in mind but be aware of how participants view things—it is rarely from a strictly legal perspective.

I like to mediate in areas that I practice. I have been asked to mediate disputes in areas that I do not practice. I always make sure to let the attorneys know that ahead of time in case it makes a difference in their choice.

In order to be a competent mediator you must be able to listen, think, respond rationally and caringly, and not show bias. It is the rare lawyer that graduates from law school who will be able to immediately go into an ADR practice and survive economically. But over time the skills may be developed.

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