As Seen In Authority Magazine: Abbey Kaplan, How To Create A Successful Career In Conflict Resolution & Mediation
By Kluger, Kaplan, Silverman, Katzen & Levine, P.L. May 11, 2023
Listening, and recognizing that there are three sides to every story and be ready with different answers because you will never always be right.
What does it take to create a highly successful career in conflict resolution and mediation? As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Abbey Kaplan.
Abbey Kaplan is a seasoned trial lawyer known for taking on complex cases and crafting creative strategies for tackling the most complicated legal issues in commercial litigation and business tort cases. A Founding Member of Kluger Kaplan, Abbey has extensive experience handling partnership and corporate breakups, real estate development disputes including banking and broker controversies, professional liability disputes, corporate finance issues, contract disputes and intellectual property issues. Because of his extensive experience handling commercial litigation matters, Abbey has also handled complex trust and probate litigation and on a selective basis, divorce matters. Abbey has also dealt with white collar criminal issues in the civil litigation context, including issues relating to fraud, perjury and other sanctionable matters.
Abbey’s clients range from major real estate developers, business owners and brokers, to professional athletes and entertainers. His clients look to him as a trusted advisor, coming to see Abbey with their most critical and time-sensitive legal disputes.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you ended up where you are?
I was working my way through college with more than one job at a time. I had an opportunity to go into retail when I graduated or earn an MBA; or go to law school. Back then, I remember my dad would always complain about how much he paid his lawyer. But he also respected and trusted his attorney. Owning nothing except debt and being a guy that wanted to make a good living, and as someone who considered himself trustworthy, I opted for law school and pursued a career in law.
Fast forward to 2009, I started Kluger Kaplan with my business partner, Alan Kluger. Everything came together thanks to hard work, a lot of luck, and being in the right place at the right time. I have always surrounded myself with excellent lawyers and partners to advance my career.
Today, I have 48 years of complex litigation experience and over 30 years of mediation experience. I have litigated and mediated partnership and corporate breakups, real estate development disputes including banking and broker controversies, professional liability disputes, corporate finance issues, contract disputes, intellectual property issues, complex trust and probate litigation, and divorce matters. I have also dealt with white collar criminal issues in the civil litigation context, including issues relating to fraud, perjury and other sanctionable matters.
Over the years of toiling in the complex commercial litigation area, I came to the conclusion that the space is in need of more experienced trial lawyers to help facilitate dispute resolution either through the mediation process or through arbitration, which is why I am focusing more of my practice on Alternative Dispute Resolution. It’s my way of giving back to an area of the law that is close to my heart and one that needs more attorneys with complex litigation experience.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Thank you for the compliment. My best guess would be in no particular order:
1. Being a hard worker. I think that hard work has translated into crossing every “t,” dotting every “i,” and looking at each case carefully with every law and possible scenario in mind.
2. Patience. Working with clients, judges, and opposing counsel can be very demanding. If you don’t have patience for those demands, you will fail.
3. Preparation. I am rarely the ‘smartest’ guy in the room, but I overcome that by being prepared. Preparedness is instrumental to success.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
The most interesting thing I’m working on is figuring out how to explain to lawyers who deal with complex litigation matters that they need to have a mediator who is familiar with their area of expertise and has been dealing with the same issues and realities of the practice.
It’s interesting to convince people that they need someone like themselves. I believe complex matters benefit from having a mediator who has been in the trenches because they understand or at least a sense of how a judge or jury will respond in these complicated scenarios.
Fantastic. Let’s now shift to our discussion about Conflict Resolution And Mediation.
What is Mediation?
It is a process used to resolve conflict between parties to a lawsuit utilizing an independent neutral facilitator to push the litigants to find common ground.
How are the fields of Conflict Resolution and Mediation different? How are they similar?
Conflict resolution is the start or underpinning for mediation and they are far from exclusive to each other. Every part of our day-to-day existence creates situations that require some type of conflict resolution. It’s as simple as what color suit should I wear to court today to resolving a spat with your spouse or significant other, to maybe even negotiating a compromise with one of your children.
On the other hand, mediation is a well-recognized system and methodology to resolve the conflicts between the parties to the lawsuit and very well may involve numerous “conflicts,” not only as to the better interpretation of the law but to factual disputes as well.
Can you share a few examples of cases or disputes that would be brought before a professional in conflict resolution or mediation?
The types of disputes would arise from business and corporate litigation including but not limited to the areas of real estate, securities and financials fraud, corporate governance, estate and probate matters, professional liability and especially family matters.
Our firm has handled numerous high-profile matters involving professional athletes; well known entertainers and musicians; well respected (and not so well respected) businesspersons, and many large multinational companies.
What are some common misconceptions about conflict resolution and mediation that you’ve encountered, and how do you address them?
The most common misconception about conflict resolution is that people tend to think the facilitator is making a decision that they’re bound to. In reality, they have the ability to decide on their own how to resolve the dispute. My role is to help find common ground.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers why the skills and tools of Conflict Resolution and Mediation are so important?
In any type of dispute, resolving the problem is time consuming and often costly. And on top of that, you never know what the results are going to be — as compared to working through the process of finding common ground and ending the turmoil, which will save time and money.
What are the skills? Patience, the ability to compromise, and the ability to get people to recognize how important finding common ground might be. In my view, those are the right tools that can end costly litigation.
Looking back, what are some things that you wish you knew when you first started in this field?
I wish I appreciated the importance of finding common ground. When you work in the area of mediation and conflict resolution, you’re dealing with a set of facts where people need to resolve the issues, but often times, those people have completely different agendas.
The best example is that people in litigation sometimes just want to be heard. Sometimes all they want to do is just ask the person on the other side, “Why?” They don’t necessarily care about how the matter gets resolved.
I didn’t know that in the beginning, but now I know that there are often times more than just the issues that give rise to the lawsuit that needs to be resolved. People need to recognize this to be a successful facilitator.
How has your personal background influenced your approach to conflict resolution and mediation?
I’m married, I have children, and I have law partners!
When you have children, there’s conflicts every day. You need to learn how to deal with those conflicts and reach a resolution. Every marriage, no matter of deep the love and respect you have for one another, comes across an issue where the other’s passion creates conflict. With business partners, it’s the same thing. You have to learn how to find common ground so you can resolve those conflicts.
When I was very early on in my professional career, I learned that the easiest way to end an argument is to agree with the other person. By continuing to disagree and not accepting another person’s position, you will constantly be in conflict.
What role does empathy play in the process of conflict resolution and mediation? Can you share an example from your experience?
It would be almost impossible to be a successful mediator without the ability to understand the feelings of each party. A very common challenge for any mediator is to recognize one party’s absolute refusal to pay the other’s attorney fees to resolve all the issues.
Many times, one party needs a sum certain to settle. That number includes the fees that were paid to the lawyer. With an understanding that the other side will allow hell to freeze over before it pays fees of the opposing counsel, it could be a disaster if the amount needed to settle which would otherwise be fair includes an amount to reimburse the other party for the fees that it incurred. If the mediator doesn’t have “empathy” for the paying party and tells that party the amount includes fees, it could be a disaster.
For someone looking to enter these fields what kind of education and certifications would they need?
If you’re going to be involved with complex litigation matters, your education should preferably be some type of business undergraduate degree and an MBA if you’re lucky enough or had the money and time to be rewarded with that degree, and of course, a law degree.
As far as becoming a certified mediator, I don’t think it’s necessary, unless the state in which you practice requires it. Those who have practiced for many years and have been in the trenches have the necessary skillsets to mediate complex matters.
This is our signature question that we ask in many of our interviews. What are your “5 things you need to know to create a successful career in conflict resolution and mediation”?
1. Listening, and recognizing that there are three sides to every story and be ready with different answers because you will never always be right.
2. Being patient and finding common ground with colleagues, clients and opposing counsel. It is crucial to a successful practice that you manage everyone’s expectations, including your own.
3. Be kind and gracious to your opposing counsel and the opposing party. I learned this strategy during my first few years practicing law when I was deposing witnesses, and the opposing counsel had several years of experience on me. These two lawyers were so nice and helpful. They said to me, ‘Why don’t you do it this way? Why don’t you ask these questions?” They kind of guided me. This experience stuck with me and showed me that you can get your client a desirable result without being aggressive toward a colleague.
4. Avoid getting wrapped up in the small things and fighting on every single issue.
5. Pay forward mentorship: Beyond helping achieve justice for clients, it’s important to spend time mentoring the “next gen” of attorneys.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love for it to be a requirement that every person recognizes that they have implied prejudices and that they would make a promise to do whatever they could to overcome those prejudices. Whether it be race, equality in the workplace, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, etc. Unfortunately, we all have implied prejudices. I know we can’t get rid of them, but if someone recognizes that they have those and can work on them, it would limit those prejudices and help everyone reach common ground.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!