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Alternative Dispute Resolution Business & Commercial Employment & Labor Neutral Spotlights & Profiles

A JAMS Q&A Session: Shining the Spotlight on Hon. James E. Snyder (Ret.)

Learn about his legal journey, what he enjoys most about mediating and the professional accomplishments he is most proud of.

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

After law school, I worked as a staff attorney at a municipal agency and, for a period of years, a solo practitioner, mainly in employment and small business matters. From 2000 to 2007, I served as the general counsel of the Illinois Human Rights Commission, the agency that enforces and adjudicates discrimination claims under Illinois law. That was a wonderful opportunity to focus on human justice and learn from amazing leaders for equality. After my role as general counsel, I served 16 years as an associate judge on the Circuit Court of Cook County, where I presided over a commercial litigation calendar, including bench and jury proceedings, in matters involving employment, construction, government and whistleblower claims, qui tam and statutory false claims, professional negligence, contract matters, lending and debt. I was also the supervising judge of the circuit court’s Municipal Jury Trial Section and as supervising judge of the court’s Law Division Mandatory Arbitration Program. 

How did you become interested in ADR?

People come to lawyers for help resolving their disputes. Throughout my career, I have always enjoyed courtroom skills and litigation, but I also love the way ADR allows me to help lawyers be creative problem-solvers and find resolutions.

What influenced you to pursue a career in law?

It’s easy these days to say that lawyers are a part of every problem. But actually, lawyers are a big part of everything that works well in American democracy and in our society. They fight for people and principles. That’s how I felt about the law, and I always wanted to be a part of that. 

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What are some highlights of your legal career, and how have those experiences shaped you?

Even as someone who truly appreciates the value of ADR, I loved trial work. The more complicated the legal and factual issues were, the better. Lawyers do amazing work at trial, and juries exercise incredible wisdom. Every trial I had as a judge, I learned something new about the law, about people and about myself.

What is an important skill for a mediator or arbitrator to learn?

Listening is the key to ADR, albeit a different type of listening than one does on the bench. You aren’t listening to make a ruling or to solve a problem. You are listening to help parties find their solution to their problem.

Which practice areas are you passionate about and why?

A couple of practices that I am passionate about are employment law and commercial law. Employment law stands out to me because it’s all about people and the ways we interact. I like business ownership and fiduciary disputes. They are also very human and can have challenges and legal principles to learn. And I guess I am a bit of nerd, because I love contracts.

What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?

Two notable accomplishments that stand out to me are that I was honored to serve as the president of the Illinois Judges Association, representing all judges in our state, and of the Alliance of LGBTQ Judges, Illinois.

It was my great privilege to serve as the chair of the Illinois Supreme Court New Judge Orientation Program for several years. I got the chance to help reinvent and invigorate the education of Illinois judges for years to come.

Did you have a mentor? If so, what was the most memorable advice given to you?

I have had so many great mentors. You never stop needing guidance and perspective from wise peers. The most consistently valuable advice I have ever received is to appreciate just how lucky we are for every day. 

Are there any organizations you are involved with? And how has your involvement within them impacted your career?

I have been active in many bar associations and organizations throughout my legal career. I have been a member of the Chicago Bar Association, the Illinois State Bar Association, the Illinois Judges Association and the Alliance of LGBTQ Judges, Illinois. Professional associations are an essential part of building our communities and our careers. The most important thing a lawyer can do is to serve the next generation of lawyers.

What is your favorite pastime?

Travel is one of my favorite pastimes. I have been fortunate enough to visit more than 45 countries, and I hope to go to more. While I love to travel, at the end of the day, there is no place like home.

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