Getting to Know Mediator & Arbitrator Parag Shah
Why did you become a lawyer, then a neutral?
Mr. Morton made me want to be a lawyer. When I was in college, I did an internship at the public defender’s office in Memphis, TN. I worked for Mr. Morton who represented clients charged with misdemeanor offenses who couldn’t afford an attorney. Up until that point, everything I knew about the law I learned from TV. Looking back now, I realize Mr. Morton was one of a kind. He represented clients as people and not as a number on a file. How he communicated, listened and helped the people he represented had a lasting affect on me.
After losing a trial, my client came up to me and said, “I can’t believe that is what the jury thought of me.” He believed that the jury’s verdict was a valuation of him as a person. As much as I tried to convince him otherwise, the jury had spoken and that had left a lasting impression on him. As lawyers, we are sometimes guided by winning and losing the cases we fight. We lose sight of the emotional element behind the litigation and trial. I wanted to be a neutral to be that person who helps to bring light to the underlying human aspects of a case by communicating and listening to people the way Mr. Morton did. And what I have found is that true resolution of disputes happens when that is done.
What’s your area of specialization?
I specialize in difficult people. I have found over the years that many of my clients have chosen to mediate with me because one or more of the people in the litigation are difficult, stubborn or appear to be unreasonable. Over the years, I have sharpened my skills for breaking through the litigation walls with even the hardest people and the most difficult of situations.
What are you most proud of with respect to your career?
I am proud of all the smiles I played a part in bringing out. To be able to help someone in their worst, most difficult, or painful moment and turn it into something that makes them walk away smiling with a sense of relief is why I do everything I do.
What does ADR look like in 10 years?
In 10 years, alternative dispute resolution won’t be “alternative.” It will be how all disputes are handled. The court system will seem as the “alternative.” As more and more people go through the dispute resolution process, the benefits will become more and more clear. Eventually, all the benefits people feel about going to court will somehow be incorporated in the dispute resolution process.
What do you hope to accomplish through your ADR practice?
Most people say that a successful mediation means that both sides leave unhappy. However, that outlook focuses on the result. By focusing on the process, both sides will come to a resolution that is right for their particular dispute. In those situations, both sides leave happy. That is my goal with every mediation. For everyone to leave with a smile on their face.
What is your conflict resolution style/approach?
My conflict resolution style is called “Transformative mediation.” Transformative mediation is based on the values of “empowerment” of each of the parties as much as possible, and “recognition” by each of the parties of the other parties’ needs, interests, values and points of view. The potential for transformative mediation is that any or all parties or their relationships may be transformed during the mediation. Transformative mediators want to allow and support the parties in mediation to determine the direction of their own process. In transformative mediation, the parties structure both the process and the outcome of mediation, and the mediator follows their lead.
What change would you like to see in the practice of law?
Mental health and substance abuse are big issues in the practice of law. Part of that is due to the stresses of litigation and the adversarial nature of the process. Over time, with the growth of ADR, these issues will become less and less as more cases will be handled in an environment that promotes collaboration, openness, and resolution.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in New Orleans. I grew up in Blytheville, Arkansas. Went to boarding school in Connecticut. College in Memphis. Law School in Ohio and have lived in Atlanta for the past 15 years.
What’s your favorite book?
The Wolverine comic book series.
What do you like to do in your spare time? How do you unwind?
I love binge watching tv shows, playing basketball with my lawyer’s league team and eating chocolate chip cookies.
If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be?
Airport shuttle driver. Great conversation, great exercise and great music.
Do you have a favorite quote?
Gotta get it when you can get it.
What movie or novel character do you most identify with? Why?
Ace Ventura. My methods may be unorthodox but I always come through in the clutch.
What characteristic do you most admire in others?
I admire those people who stay true to themselves despite outside pressures to be someone else.
If you could have dinner with anyone who would it be and why?
My grandparents. Both sets passed away when I was young. Grandparents have a wisdom and calm about them that is like no other family member. I would love to have the opportunity to soak up all they had to offer.