Skip to main content

JAMS ADR Insights

Neutral Spotlights & Profiles

A JAMS Q&A Session: Shining the Spotlight on Hon. Helen Freedman (Ret.)

Learn about Judge Freedman’s prolific legal writings, the mentors who influenced her career and the best advice she still follows to this day

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

For more than 29 years, I was a state court trial judge for complex litigation and commercial litigation and an intermediate appellate judge handling all state appellate cases for more than 6 years. I spearheaded the creation of and then chaired the New York Litigation Coordinating Panel, a state entity modeled on the federal Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) Panel, as well as managed most of the mass tort litigation in New York state for 21 years. Resolving complex commercial and mass tort cases by organizing dockets, using special masters to assist with discovery, and facilitating trials and settlements was a great source of satisfaction. It also set the stage for my handling complex cases as a neutral.

How would you describe your mediation style?

I start by learning as much as I can about the case, including reading parties’ pre-mediation statements and all relevant documents submitted, conferring with parties’ counsel separately before the first session and ascertaining as much as I can about the case and the nature of the parties and their relationships. Speaking individually with counsel is important because it often yields useful information not contained in the pre-mediation statements. By having a good grasp of both the issues and the nature of parties, I hope to inspire confidence in the participants and have a much better chance of resolving the case. While I prefer starting with a joint session and encourage parties to take advantage of it, I take a cue from the lawyers as to how they feel about the joint session and to what extent they want to set forth their arguments at it. Most importantly, I start out by listening to the parties, empathizing to the extent possible and reframing issues. As the day wears on, I become evaluative and recommend resolutions. Where appropriate, I ask the parties if they want a mediator’s proposal.

Are there any practice areas that you are particularly interested in developing at JAMS?

I have considerable experience in mediating product liability, medical malpractice, legal fees, commercial and employment cases. In addition to arbitrations in the same areas, I have a lot of experience arbitrating and some in mediating insurance matters. While mediating any case gives me satisfaction, I particularly enjoy trying to resolve product liability, medical malpractice and commercial cases.

Please describe your virtual hearing experience and style. 

I have found virtual and hybrid ADR to be as successful as in-person ADR. While I like being with the parties in person, virtual practice has worked extremely well in my cases. In arbitrations, seeing the faces of parties and witnesses onscreen provides an excellent opportunity to assess credibility. Using virtual sharing tools to manage documents is often a very effective way of presenting evidence in virtual hearings as well. In mediations, individuals with ultimate authority are often more available by Zoom than they are in person.

The option of hybrid and virtual is also conducive for witnesses, as they no longer need to travel or disrupt their work schedules, making them more likely to appear.

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

The two individuals who influenced my career as a judge were Judge Jack B. Weinstein and Justice Betty Weinberg Ellerin. Early in my career as a state court judge, Justice Betty Weinberg Ellerin served as an advisor, mentor and role model. There were very few women on the bench at that time, and Judge Ellerin supported, advised and promoted her “sisters-in-law.” Justice Ellerin and I are now colleagues at JAMS. Judge Jack B. Weinstein was the federal judge with whom I worked in the New York asbestos litigation. Judge Weinstein was always way ahead of the litigants and lawyers who came before him and ready with creative approaches, particularly in mass torts. But the best advice I have gotten from all of my mentors is to listen closely, be totally prepared, don’t pre-judge and be alert to openings for creative solutions. I have done my best to follow this advice and believe it to have led to success in both my judicial practice and ADR at JAMS.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of? 

First is establishing the Litigation Coordinating Panel in New York state. Second would be some of the writing I have done, particularly the chapter on federal-state coordination in commercial litigation in New York courts and the entire book, called New York Objections, an evidence and trial practice book that I finished writing in 1994 and updated for 20 years. I have also written several law review articles on managing mass torts. I relished the opportunity to share with others some of the wisdom I gained in handling these types of cases. Third would be the 29 years I have spent serving on the New York Pattern Jury Instructions Committee. That has kept me abreast of new developments in New York law, which serves me well, particularly in the areas of employment, product liability and insurance.

What do you like to do in your free time? 

Having been an American history buff since my college years, I had the good fortune to become editor-in-chief in 2015 of Judicial Notice, a publication of the Historical Society of the New York Courts. I solicit and edit articles about interesting cases, events and individuals that form New York’s legal history. I have written articles featured in that publication and other publications of the Historical Society, including one on its website about the legal history of Columbia County. I also participate in a local inn of court, where I am a member of the historical trial team. Our team reprises famous trials, most recently the John Gotti prosecution.

What advice do you have for the next generation of ADR professionals?

Don’t decide on a specific career path until you have had an opportunity to explore the many options that are often available in private practice, government, the nonprofit sector, legal services and the business world. Do as good a job as possible in your first position, but don’t be afraid to change if the work isn’t satisfying or something else appeals to you.

This page is for general information purposes. JAMS makes no representations or warranties regarding its accuracy or completeness. Interested persons should conduct their own research regarding information on this website before deciding to use JAMS, including investigation and research of JAMS neutrals. See More

Scroll to top