An 'Intangible Quality' Makes Lawyers Trust Him
(Originally published in the Verdicts & Settlements section of the Los Angeles and San Francisco Daily Journals on October 9, 1998. ©Copyright 1998, Daily Journal Corporation. Reprinted with permission.)
By Tom Orewyler
Whether the comparison is to a cartoon he saw as child, a quote from the Talmud or baseball slugger Mike Piazza's contract situation, Jeffrey Kichaven isn't short on analogies for attorneys who appear before him.
"For lawyer to go the route of mediation, it's the analogy of [Bob] Dylan going electric," said Kichaven, a litigator for 15 years who made the successful transition to mediation. "By going electric, he was able to harness new tools to go even greater heights.
"I think when lawyers take a look at mediation with this high degree of self-determination, its like taking their practices and going electric," he said.
Kichaven, 42, is a full-time, independent neutral and a partner at the law firm of Richman, Luna, Kichaven & Glushon, where he devotes all of his time to alternative dispute resolution.
His Harvard training, coupled with his years of litigation experience at Lost Angeles' Alschuler, Grossman & Pines, have left some attorneys feeling as though they were back in law school.
"I took notes on him," said Charles Peterson, an attorney in the Los Angeles office of Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold who also serves as a mediator. "He has an intangible quality that makes people trust him."
In addition, Peterson said, Kichaven's extensive litigation background suits him better than many others in the field.
"He relates to people better than these ex-judges," Peterson said. "It's magic, really."
After earning his bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1977, Kichaven went to Harvard Law School, graduating cum laude in 1980.
Upon graduating, Kichaven went to work at Alschuler, becoming a partner in 1987. He remained at the firm until 1995, practicing complex business litigation with an emphasis on large financial disputes.
"I loved working there, but as I go older, I had a desire to be more entrepreneurial," he said.
While at Alschuler, Kichaven participated in several mediations and came away believing his clients liked the result. His first mediation was a lender liability case in which he represented a bank in a long-standing dispute.
"A case pending for three years settled in six hours," he said. "The client was delighted, and I thought, wow, this is great [because] the client is happy."
A financial windfall let to his leaving the firm. In 1994, Alschuler had received a large contingency fee when a drawn-out dispute was resolved between Guess Jeans and Jordache. Every partner in the firm received a chunk of the proceeds.
"It was a lot of money," Kichaven said. "It gave me an opportunity to think about doing my own thing---and getting off the path of least resistance."
So, with the support of his wife, Kichaven left the large firm life to open a smaller practice, teaming up with longtime friend Dean Pregerson at Pregerson, Richman & Luna. (One year later, Pregerson was appointed to the federal bench and the firm evolved into Richman, Luna, Kichaven & Glushon.)
Kichaven's initial idea was to continue his litigation practice with a concentration on plaintiffs' work. That soon changed, however.
"I was enjoying the mediation work much more than I was enjoying the litigation work," he said, "and I found I was succeeding at it."
It didn't hurt that he was making money from it.
"I thought, what a wonderful confluence that people would pay me for work that I love doing." He said.
He soon stopped practicing law to devote himself full-time to mediation. He also conducts an occasional arbitration.
In describing his zest for mediation, it's no surprise that Kichaven uses a metaphor.
"The mediator is an octopus," he said. "You have to have your thumb on eight different pulses at all time. You have to be very good at monitoring yourself and how you are coming across to everybody in the room."
Kichaven views one of his most important roles as serving as a reality check for clients who have often proceeded through a litigation with unrealistic expectations on the outcome of their case. In such instances, the neutral can be the lawyer's best friend.
"There are issues about breaking that bad news to the client," Kichaven said. "The best attorney-mediators understand that lawyers sometimes need some help representing their client."
Even when mediation fails to yield a settlement, Kichaven believes, the process is often a success.
"The real purpose of mediation is clarity," he said. "The real purpose of mediation is for lawyers and clients to understand what their options are and to make rational decisions on how to proceed.
"Sometimes I feel I've done a better job as a mediator when they don't settle," Kichaven said. "Sometimes the reason that the case does not settle is because somebody in the room is irrational, stubborn, or not as intelligent as they wish they were, and just doesn't get it.
"If those cases settle, it's only because I have leaned on the reasonable party too hard." He said. "If a mediator is too attached to settlement for the sake of settlement, that mediator is likely, I think, to engage in bullying tactics.
"It does not serve the lawyer's purpose or the client's purpose of being there." He said.
According to Kichaven, mediations are most challenging when the parties are at an apparent impasse and the neutral hasn't the slightest idea of where to go next.
"One thing I often do is I'll turn to the lawyer and client together and say, "'If you were the mediator, what would you do right now?'" he said. "That question is a gateway to creativity."
While Kichaven isn't bashful about turning to parties for advice, attorneys believe he does just fine unassisted.
"There are several kinds of mediators--one kind is the fist-pounding type that tries to knock the parties head together," said Los Angeles attorney Neville Johnson, who has appeared in three mediations before Kichaven, two of which settled on the spot. "Jeff's style is much more conciliatory, much more unemotional, but also empathetic."
Jeff Kichaven, A Professional Corporation
Suite 3000, 555 West Fifth Street
Los Angeles, California 90013-1010
310-721-5785; 213-996-8475 fax; email