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Podcasts Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

[PODCAST] “At JAMS, we learn from each other.” How the JAMS Institute has Turned JAMS into an ADR Leader in DE&I, Ethics and Neutrality

In this podcast, JAMS Institute executive director, Rich Birke, and associate director and neutral, Deirdre Gallagher, give listeners an inside look at the training arm of JAMS. They discuss how the JAMS Institute has evolved with world and industry events, how and why they ensure neutrality, ethics and DE&I are interwoven throughout the curriculum, and the important role the JAMS Institute has played in making JAMS what it is today.

[00:00:00] Moderator: Welcome to this podcast from JAMS. In this episode, we're discussing the important role JAMS plays in ensuring its network of over 400 neutrals are trained to resolve disputes in a fair, neutral and cost-efficient manner. While other alternative dispute resolution providers rely on outside professionals to train their mediators and arbitrators, JAMS made the decision in 2004 to bring the training in-house, creating the JAMS Institute. Today, we're joined by the Institute's executive director Richard Birke, as well as its associate director Deirdre Gallagher, who is also a JAMS neutral.

Thank you both for joining us today. Rich, I'd like to start with you. Can you give us an overview of the JAMS Institute?

[00:00:46] Richard Birke: Absolutely, and thank you for hosting this. The JAMS Institute, as you mentioned, started in 2004, when JAMS was enjoying rather significant growth in the industry. We were becoming the big dominant national provider, and we became pretty clear that it made sense for us to bring our education mission in-house. So, they made the decision to hire me, a former full-time law professor, with more than two decades of teaching experience to put together a curriculum that we could use to onboard all of our new people. And we're now, as you mentioned, over 400 [neutrals].

[00:01:30] Moderator: So, what is the curriculum like?

[00:01:32] Richard Birke: The curriculum looks a little bit like a law school curriculum in that the first year of law school, you don't get a choice of what courses you take. When you join JAMS, there are a variety of things that we require that you take. Arbitration and mediation, of course, but also working with your case manager as a partner, thinking about all of the issues around electronic formats, so cyber security and mediating through Zoom. Once people finish their required courses, we start to move into specialized courses for the wide variety of services and industries that our neutrals serve, from cyber disputes to bankruptcy, to construction defect and beyond.

And that sort of looks a lot like the second year of law school. And your third year of law school is a thousand flowers. You get to specialize and go into any particular subject matter area that has meaning to you. And so we also offer a series of courses for people who wanna get down deep into the nitty gritty.

[00:02:44] Moderator: Can you talk about how JAMS addresses ethics and diversity?

[00:02:48] Richard Birke: JAMS has ethical codes for mediators and arbitrators. Those are published and available on our website. Everybody can see those. Naturally we're aware that JAMS didn't invent mediation or arbitration ethics - they exist inside and outside of our organization.

We've made a decision that those should be taught in an immersive way. We have standalone ethics trainings and programming on our Institute library. That's our repository. But we also make sure that ethics and diversity pervade every conversation we have. Diversity and inclusion have always been a priority at JAMS, but over the last several years, as has been true around the country, there's been an increased focus on social justice, and JAMS brought this to the forefront.

We knew we needed to not just double down, but triple down on our efforts in DE&I - diversity equity and inclusion. The JAMS Institute was one of the places to do that. And we make sure that it's interwoven into the fabric of our company, through the practices of our neutrals. Every person, whether they are a lawyer, client, a vendor, a witness, a guest, every one of those people needs to be treated with the respect that they deserve, independent of whether they're coming in for five minutes to drop something off, whether they're a client that we see all the time. We tell our neutrals "guard your neutrality above everything else." And it's not without some attention that we've decided to, in fact, not call them "mediators" or "arbitrators," but to call them "neutrals" to reinforce that part of their identity in everything that they do.

[00:04:40] Moderator: So Rich, you mentioned your background in academia. Clearly that has shaped the direction of the JAMS' Institute, but can you talk about just how so?

[00:04:48] Richard Birke: Yeah, just briefly. Academic dispute resolution is wonderfully multidisciplinary.

It doesn't just stay within the confines of law because, as we know, we resolve disputes in the shadow of the law. And what else is in that landscape in that shadow world? Hefty doses of economics, psychology, interpersonal communication, cross-cultural dynamics, law, legal systems of course, but also systems design, game theory, and decision making. They all play a role in the study of conflict resolution. And at JAMS, we turn the best of that theory and those disciplines into a daily practice that evolves as the outside world changes. So we really are rooted in academia and in theory, but we keep a focus on the day to day.

The reason that our clients hire us is not to be great theoreticians, but to get problems resolved. So it's a nice blend through the Institute of taking like I say, the best of theory and turning it into the best of practice.

[00:05:59] Moderator: Deirdre, can you talk about your role with the Institute and how that intersects with your role as a neutral?

[00:06:05] Deirdre Gallagher: Absolutely. So I joined JAMS in March of 2020. So just at the beginning of the pandemic and I came on board in a hybrid role. So I am the associate director of the JAMS Institute, and I'm also a neutral. The opportunity to do both was really important to me, because since launching my career 25 years ago in this field, I've always worn multiple hats: mediator, facilitator, trainer, professor.

So that keeps things interesting and challenging professionally. More than that, though, it was important to me to come on in this hybrid role, because I know that being a trainer makes me a better neutral and being a neutral makes me a better trainer. JAMS was very receptive to the creative arrangement, and here I am.

[00:06:57] Moderator: So what drew you to JAMS and the Institute in particular?

[00:07:01] Deirdre Gallagher: I had a unique opportunity before coming on board with JAMS. I was able to train, serve as kind of a guest trainer for a number of the new panel trainings. And I really liked what I saw as far as JAMS, just the integrity of the company, the people in the company.

And as far as the Institute, I just really believe in the work and the mission of the Institute. The Institute does not rest on its laurels. We have a fantastic training. But the curriculum is not static. We are constantly asking how can we make it better? How can we better equip our neutrals? How can we help our neutrals to address the challenges that they are confronting now?

So I've seen the field change a lot in the past 25 years since I've been in the field, the world has also changed. And that means that the challenges, the questions that are confronting our neutrals have changed. So our curriculum with the JAMS Institute evolves to respond to those changes. And one example, I said that I came on board in March of 2020, and really the focus at the outset was to equip our neutrals with the tools that they needed to mediate and arbitrate virtually. And while this may seem kind of straightforward, you know? Okay, you just kind of mastered the technology. There were so many nuances around the things that are foundational to the work that we do as neutrals.

For example, just communication. How do we demonstrate that we're listening effectively when we're on screen? Building trust. How do you foster trust in the process when you are looking through various computer screens. A big one: confidentiality. How do you as a neutral preserve and promote confidentiality in this virtual space? So I think the JAMS Institute goes below the surface. You can say all of these things are important. At the same time, what does that actually look like in, in a changing world? The things that are so foundational to our field, how do you talk about those things, but also make sure that you are kind of walking the talk as our world changes?

[00:09:28] Moderator: Rich, can you talk about the impact you've seen the Institute have on JAMS as a whole?

[00:09:35] Richard Birke: So the Institute has had a magnificent impact on JAMS as a company. Many neutrals join JAMS later in their career. Some of them have already retired from the judiciary. Others have enjoyed a substantial legal practice. And so they've learned about the law quite a bit. They've learned maybe some really great things about settling cases, but there's no way that the smartest individual, the most experienced individual out there can match the experience of our more than 40 years collectively handling tens of thousands of cases and dealing with many hundreds of experienced neutrals. Through the Institute, we've gathered information from a wide variety of sources over a long period of time that we consolidate and pass along to our new people. Through the Institute, we've watched people implement new practices and techniques into their neutral roles. We provide them tools to ensure that their practices are adapting to the world around them.

And you don't need to look very far to see that we've all adapted to COVID, virtual and hybrid processes, fluctuations in the world of employment, supply chain issues and more. We provide education in real time. We just had a series of programs on how the ripples from the war in Ukraine have impacted everything from energy to food and finance, and at JAMS, we resolve the disputes that emanate out of those ripples. Finally, I would say a huge impact that the Institute has is in the world of collegiality. JAMS was born kind of as a small family, a few neutrals in Southern California, and then elsewhere, who knew each other very well, have now expanded into a company that has more than 400 neutrals, and staff larger than 300, and we're still growing. In a world where we can't travel as much, where it's hard to gather in one place, the Institute has played a critical role in keeping the JAMS family collegial and connected with each other. The motto of the Institute is "At JAMS, we learn from each other." So we have the people who have resolved some of the biggest disputes within their industries. And when it comes time to put together teaching programs, we call on the best, most experienced folks to pass their wisdom along, and that creates a small company feel in a national environment.

[00:12:11] Moderator: Deirdre, as you mentioned, you've been in the ADR field for more than two decades. Can you talk about what stood out about the JAMS Institute and how it differs from what you'd experienced before?

[00:12:24] Deirdre Gallagher: Yes, so great question. So in my career I've worked for a couple of dispute resolution firms. I worked as a mediator for two different federal government agencies, and I had my own firm and I would say, in my past roles, I would have the opportunity to attend probably one or two trainings a year related to the work that I was doing. And if I wanted more than that, I really had to seek out opportunities to explore important practice questions for example.

With JAMS, the JAMS Institute and the commitment to education is just woven into the fabric of the company. It's a top priority and thinking about this, I could say, well, that's a real luxury. The same time, I think it's really a necessity to do the work that we do at the highest level. The questions of say, for example, diversity, equity and inclusion, the questions of ethics have to be woven into everything we do. As Rich was talking about the different programs that the Institute offers for DE&I and ethics, for example, we have dedicated programs. At the same time, we are really thinking intentionally to ensure that concepts and questions around DEI and ethics are integrated into our curriculum and are always at the forefront of what we're doing. So we don't just say that these things are important, we are demonstrating that these things are important through our actions and through our programming.

[00:14:09] Moderator: More walk the walk. Rich, I'd like to go back to something you said earlier. Guard your neutrality above all else. Can you expand on that?

[00:14:19] Richard Birke: Sure. You bet in a world where everybody's trying to get you on their side and every litigant, every party in a dispute wants you to agree with them, it becomes really important to maintain a neutral stance. There are mediators out there, not mediators at JAMS, who believe that that neutral stance means you keep a substantial and equal distance from all the parties in the same way that like a, a judge sort of literally is physically separated from the litigants. In a mediation or arbitration, that's not that effective. It's more effective to get equally close. Our job is to bring all the stakeholders face to face with the problem that brought them there in the first place - up close and personal. And we are right there with them in the fray. I'm speaking now from my new hometown, 3rd-year hometown of Portland, Oregon, where we have three professional sports here: soccer, semiprofessional hockey, and of course our professional basketball team. If you think about the referees in any of those basketball, soccer or hockey, they're not watching from the stands they're not watching from above, they are in the middle of the action. In order to be effective as a neutral referee, they need to really see what's happening.

So you're down there in the scrum with everybody else and our neutrals are down there in the scrum, but while the players are trying to convince the referee to call things in their favor and litigants are trying to push you to move toward their side of an argument, a good referee doesn't compromise their main job: calling the match fairly and without bias or preference to any player - in our case, parties, litigants and stakeholders. Parties, like professional athletes, always trying to get you on their side, but like the best refs out there, we are collegial with every one of our athletes or parties. We treat every person in every one of our processes with the same respect and dignity as everyone else. We listen, we empathize, we work with each person, but we maintain a singular focus on neutrality and problem solving without compromise, no matter how compelling an individual situation might be. It's the sine qua non of our industry. And that's why we say guard your neutrality above all else.

[00:16:53] Moderator: Deirdre, I'm sure you've heard that phrase guard your neutrality above all else. Can you tell us what it means to you and how it manifests itself?

[00:17:02] Deirdre Gallagher: Sure. I mean, as a neutral, it just kind of underscores for me that professionally, I'm in exactly the right place because this neutrality that is just the foundation of the work that we as neutrals do day in and day out. And without that, we cannot do our work effectively. So, we can talk about how the world is changing, the field is evolving. At the end of the day, though, what is foundational to the field remains the same and it is this neutrality.

Rich talked about how that cannot be compromised. And it's something you do have to guard because everything that we do, everything that I do as a neutral, everything that my colleagues do as neutrals, rest on this. Rest on guarding what is a pillar of the work that we do.

[00:18:01] Moderator: Well put. Rich, any final thoughts about the JAMS Institute you want to leave our listeners with?

[00:18:07] Richard Birke: Certainly. We're very, very proud of the JAMS Institute. And the fact that JAMS has such a robust educational effort really speaks well of the company. I am one of the 10, now 11 senior managers of our company. That's a real commitment on the part of our organization to make sure that education and continuing to keep our people educated is as important as marketing, as important as finance, as important as tech. So I would like everybody listening to this podcast to walk away from this understanding that the JAMS Institute and our educational efforts are one of the main pillars of what keeps JAMS at the pinnacle of our field.

[00:18:57] Moderator: Deirdre?

[00:18:58] Deirdre Gallagher: Yes. I mean, just to echo what Rich had said, it really is a pillar. It's a priority. It is just woven into what JAMS is. And I'm incredibly proud to be part of the JAMS Institute. And I'm also really proud of our neutrals, my colleagues, because they really invest themselves in accessing and participating in the programs that the Institute offers.

I mean, we talk about learning from each other and that's the motto. So neutrals are also raising the ideas for so many of the programs that we offer as they confront challenges, they are calling us up saying, "Hey, it would be great to do a program on this." And I really feel that collectively we are all working together to ensure that we are never complacent. We're always saying, okay, this is where we are, and it is fantastic, and it's just a wealth of resources. At the same time, we can always do better and we're continually challenging ourselves and challenging each other to do that.

[00:20:14] Moderator: All right. Well, we'll leave it there. Deirdre, Rich, thank you so much for joining us.

[00:20:18] Richard Birke: Thank you very much for having us.

[00:20:21] Deirdre Gallagher: Thanks so much for this opportunity.

[00:20:23] Moderator: You've been listening to a podcast from JAMS, the world's largest private alternative dispute resolution provider. Our guests have been Richard Birke and Deirdre Gallagher of the JAMS Institute. For more information about JAMS, please visit

Thank you for listening to this podcast from JAMS.

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