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JAMS ADR Insights

Neutral Spotlights & Profiles

A JAMS Q&A Session: Shining the Spotlight on Hon. Barry Baskin (Ret.)

Learn about Judge Baskin, his journey from South Africa to the United States and how he became the first South African appointed to the U.S. judiciary

Please provide a brief overview of your legal career prior to joining JAMS.

My legal career began in South Africa, where I worked as lead trial counsel and eventually became managing partner of a business litigation law firm founded by my grandfather. In 1986, I gave up my assets, career, family and a lifetime of connections to leave apartheid and immigrate to the U.S., where I began as a first-year associate at Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro. In 1992, I became a partner at Farrow, Bramson, Baskin & Plutzik, where I was the lead trial counsel until my appointment to the Contra Costa County Superior Court in 2002. I served in almost every division during my tenure from 2002 to 2022, including two years as assistant presiding judge and two years as presiding judge.

How would you describe your ADR style?

I would describe my ADR style as flexible. I am very open to the merits of each side. My 50 years of experience enables me to competently provide a neutral evaluation while remaining realistic, instinctual and sensitive to the parties’ needs. Above all, I am persistent and my history of settling thousands of cases positions me well to continue my career as an arbitrator and mediator.

What practice areas are you particularly interested in developing at JAMS?

I am hoping to develop a commercial arbitration practice that includes all kinds of employment claims. On the mediation side, I hope to see entertainment industry disputes, which I have already handled. I also have experience as a litigator as well as a judge in class actions, giving me unique perspectives, as I defended them and later prosecuted them as counsel.

What are some of the highlights of your career to date, whether in ADR or litigation?

As presiding judge, I was fortunate to lead our court safely through the beginning of the pandemic, shutting down most departments while continuing to provide urgent services and balancing safety against the need for jury trials and other hearings. Another highlight was one of my class action rulings, which had the effect of transforming the auto lending industry by making it more consumer-friendly, which I think is a good thing.

Please describe your virtual hearing experience and style.

I don’t have a set method; I adjust for each case, mostly avoiding joint sessions at the beginning. I have conducted many bench trials, arbitrations and mediations by videoconference. While this method is very convenient and in high demand, I still prefer to meet in person for mediations. The chemistry and personal investment are superior to what you have in virtual hearings, in my opinion. If you want to maximize your chances, I encourage in-person mediations.

What has the experience of conducting virtual and hybrid ADR proceedings been like for you?

These have gone very smoothly, as long as there is adequate pre-hearing preparation. Hybrids work well as long as everyone is in agreement that hybrids are fair to both sides.

Who influenced your legal career or had an impact on the direction you’ve taken?

Nelson Mandela is a great role model. Despite suffering a lifetime of injustices, he could set aside his personal feelings and still compromise to achieve a just result. I think he would have made an excellent mediator.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?

The best advice I’ve received is to zealously protect your reputation for honesty. It takes a lifetime to build, but just one single instance of bad judgment can destroy it. I work hard to learn what the facts and the law are and to never misrepresent them.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

Given the sacrifices I made to get here, my proudest professional accomplishment is being the first South African appointed to the bench who was raised and trained in South Africa.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I like to exercise with hikes on camping trips. I love to play pickleball. I also enjoy cooking, baking and collecting red wines. Reading historical fiction is another hobby of mine.

Why is diversity and inclusion in the ADR field so important?

Having left South Africa because of apartheid, I have seen discrimination and its detrimental effects on society. It most often arises when there is a lack of diversity, which is why diversity and inclusion in the ADR field is so important.

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