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JAMS ADR Insights

Arbitration Mediation Neutral Spotlights & Profiles Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

A JAMS Q&A Session: Shining the Spotlight on Tracy W. McCormack, Esq.

Learn about her legal journey, her role as director of advocacy at the University of Texas School of Law and why she feels it’s important to support increased diversity in the legal profession.

Tell us a bit about your legal career prior to joining JAMS.

I started my legal practice in a large insurance defense firm in Austin. I tried a varied docket of cases before judges and juries. I then spent roughly 10 years in the Austin office of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, where I practiced in both the litigation and insurance sections of the firm. At Akin Gump, I had a hybrid litigation/regulatory practice that allowed me to represent clients across agencies and governments while also handling their litigation matters. This experience gave me a deeper understanding of the broader needs of companies when trying to resolve disputes. During this same period, I also taught part time at the University of Texas School of Law and then became a full-time law professor in 2000. Further, I was the director of advocacy at the law school for over 20 years and oversaw all of the advocacy courses and programs.

How did you get interested in ADR?

I became interested in ADR as a trial lawyer. I started practicing law when mediation and then arbitration became standard resolution methods, and I gained significant experience representing clients in both forums. As I developed the curriculum at the law school, it was clear that I needed to prepare students to be effective advocates within dispute resolution. It was equally important to help lawyers know when and how to choose the most effective forum for the resolution of their clients’ cases. ADR offers parties a valuable alternative to litigation.

What are some of the highlights of your career to date?

I have had the opportunity to hold many amazing positions in the legal industry. When I started my legal journey, I cut my legal teeth on personal injury, malpractice and construction accident jury trials. That enabled me to bring trial skills to the more complex subjects and cases later in my career. Some of my career highlights include two “no money” settlements in complex cases and a major arbitration. Finding creative solutions for my clients’ problems was as fulfilling as a jury verdict, and being able to take those experiences and translate them into teaching law students has been a true gift.

How would you describe your mediation and arbitration style?

I try to combine my knowledge and skills to make the process as effective and efficient as possible. Lawyers and clients need to have confidence in both the neutral decision-maker and the process. To me, that confidence comes from all parties being heard, treated fairly and being engaged in a process that is equitable to all parties and designed to resolve the dispute. As part of my mediation process, I have pre-mediation calls with each lawyer to make sure I am as prepared as possible to help them resolve their dispute. I read and research everything that the lawyers provide to make sure I have a thorough understanding of the issues and can reach a balanced result. I promise the parties that I will keep working as long as a resolution is feasible.

What do you enjoy the most about mediating?

I enjoy working with the lawyers and their clients. Lawyers can help me understand the hindrances to the parties reaching an agreement. During the process, I can help provide some objectivity to the dispute. The dispute is new to me. I can see it with fresh eyes—similar to how a judge, jury or arbitrator will.

Mediation allows us to find solutions to problems beyond what litigation alone can offer. I bring patience and a variety of tools to help the parties find a solution. It’s always gratifying to hear from settling parties who never thought that their disputes would settle at the beginning of a mediation.

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

I want to encourage lawyers to use third-party neutrals more expansively. Early neutral evaluation, co-mediation and process design are underutilized in many instances. I am also looking to expand my practice to include technology cases, mass torts matters and fiduciary litigation. These are areas of expertise I want to develop.

What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?

Leaving my career to teach full time has allowed me to work to improve our legal system. Serving as the director of advocacy at the University of Texas Law School for over 20 years has allowed me to teach and train law students as well as research and write books and articles—all with the goal of advancing our legal system as the touchstone of our democracy. Now I get to bring that knowledge and those skills to my practice as a neutral.

Did you have a mentor? If so, what was the most memorable piece of advice you received?

I was lucky enough to have several mentors who saw the potential of a young black girl from West Virginia. They gave me confidence and opportunities. I learned to say yes even when every part of me may have wanted to say no to opportunities that came my way.

Are there any organizational affiliations you are involved with?

I am the president of the National Board of Trial Advocates (NBTA), which provides national board certifications of lawyers. I am on the national board of directors of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) and serve on the Professional Education Committee. I’ve enjoyed my work on the Texas Pattern Jury Charge Committee because of the fabulous lawyers and judges. I have been a longtime member (now emeritus member) of the Inns of Court within Austin, where I served as president of one of them. I served on the Austin Bar Association’s board of directors several years ago and was chair of the State Bar of Texas’ Consumer Law Council a while back as well.

What DE&I initiatives are important to you? Which ones have you taken part in?

As a Black woman, I think it’s important that we continue to support the increased diversity of the legal profession. If we expect the public to have confidence in our system, it needs to be representative of society. The different perspectives of lawyers from various socioeconomic backgrounds, races, genders and sexual orientations make for better, more well-rounded decision-making. Toward that end, I work with law firms, bar-related groups and schools to ensure that everyone knows there is a place for them in this profession.

What is the best piece of advice you have received?

The best advice given to me is “Be yourself.” Whether it’s trying a case, teaching a class or being a neutral, find the confidence to be you. It is too hard to pretend; when you do so, you lose your authenticity.

What is your favorite pastime?

I am a family person, so spending time with family is key. I love reading, cooking and sports. My (now adult) kids have made me appreciate watching movies and bingeing shows on streaming services.

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