Please provide a snapshot of your legal career prior to joining JAMS.
I went to law school with the intention to pursue a career in environmental justice, but after taking the Capital Defender Clinic with Anthony Amsterdam, I was inspired to work in criminal justice on multiple fronts.
At the Southern Poverty Law Center, I worked on local jail atrocities, statewide women's prison reform and national civil rights cases. As a public defender in New York City, I represented people through the full range of criminal charges, from criminal mischief to attempted murder. On individual and systemic levels, it was stimulating but emotionally draining work.
Nearly a decade of daily court advocacy took its toll, and I was ready for a change. I started teaching, which has been incredibly fulfilling. I’ve taught over a dozen courses at New York Law School, John Jay College and Rutgers Law School. In 2016, I started my own conflict resolution business, focused on helping people resolve family and workplace disputes. In addition to mediation, our programs helped over 2,000 people in six countries.
What inspired you to pursue a career in ADR, and how did you first become interested in the field?
I have a very unusual ADR origin story. The short version: On my walk home one day, I saw some people arguing and felt compelled to intervene. I talked them through their issues and helped craft a solution where they could enjoy the rest of their night. The whole conversation couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes. It was the spark that led to my ADR career.
What are some of the highlights of your career to date?
Three highlights stand out to me: one, becoming the director of New York Law School’s Mediation Clinic; two, joining JAMS; and three, I was recently stressed about an ethical issue in a mediation process. Within a few hours, I received excellent advice from three mentors and colleagues. I remember hanging up the phone and reflecting on the strong community of conflict resolvers in New York City and their graciousness.
How would you describe your mediation and arbitration style?
Patient, curious, thorough and creative. People need to feel heard and understood before we can delve into strengths, weaknesses and possible solutions. Where mediators excel is in the ability to hold opposing stories as true and explain points in ways that meet the parties where they are.
What do you enjoy the most about mediating?
Two turning points. First, when I shape a story in a new way so that a party can finally absorb it. Second, that “aha!” moment when they can see a way to sync their values with their position. I love mediating because, no matter the result, the participants are usually better for having participated in the process.
Are there any practice areas that you are particularly interested in developing at JAMS?
People spend more time at work than they do at home with their families, so when there’s tension in the office, the impact is deep. Growing up, my mother worked in a very toxic environment, and I saw the toll it took on her every day. Whether it’s about an employee’s rights or an owner protecting a hard-earned reputation and business, I’m drawn to the issues and controversies in employment law.
What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
I loved my term as president of the board of directors for the Association for Conflict Resolution, Greater New York Chapter [ACR-GNY]. When I first became interested in mediation, I went to an ACR-GNY event and felt so welcomed by the community. To be able to join the board and then eventually become president felt like things had come full circle.
Another bright moment was turning down a full-time teaching position to double down on building an ADR career. There were two paths to choose from: safety and certainty or risk and uncertainty. I followed my heart, and I’m happy to say that I made the right choice.
What do you think ADR professionals can do to support DE&I efforts?
Honestly, supporting DE&I efforts doesn’t need to be a heavy lift. Just be curious about others and take small steps to support people who may be a little different than you. It’s also a broad category, ranging from gender and race to veteran status and disability. What people have in common is a need for opportunity. Let someone shadow you. Or, better yet, ask them to co-mediate. When you get a project, think about adding a new person to your team. Go to one affinity association event every quarter to show support for your colleagues and meet new people.
What DE&I initiatives are important to you?
I’ll offer an example of values in practice. The New York Law School’s Mediation Clinic has three professors: one lead supervising professor and two coaches. For several semesters, I was one of the coaches. When I took over as the lead, I had to find my replacement. I took stock of the demographics covered by me and the other coach. I thought about other perspectives that the students could benefit from. Ultimately, I recruited a replacement who was 30 years older than me, because I believe intergenerational views enrich the course.
If you could meet and chat with any person throughout history, living or not, who would that be and why?
I’m taking an alternative approach, going with a fictional character. I chose Jessica Fletcher from the show “Murder, She Wrote.” Her character reinvented herself in her fifties and pursued a risky career as a writer. She was an explorer who made friends with people all around the world. She was confident, humble, glamorous and down-to-earth, and found clever ways to challenge denigrating and sexist remarks. I know she’s not a literary titan, but I wish I could have a conversation with her about courage and storytelling.
What is the best piece of advice you have received?
You can’t grab an opportunity after it walks past you. Say yes and figure it out later.
Genesis Fisher, Esq., is a JAMS mediator, trainer and Associate Director of the JAMS Institute, handling contentious matters of all types. Through mediation, coaching and conflict resolution training, she gets people talking so they can share their frustrations, address differences and repair trust.
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