From The Morning Call – May 8, 2006
By Jeanne Bonner
As Karolyn Vreeland Blume sees it, litigation is an unwelcome houseguest that stays for two years.
Blume, a practicing attorney for nearly 30 years, suggests an alternative: mediation.
Her firm, Conflict Resolution Services, offers mediation and arbitration for family businesses, estates, professional partnerships and workplace conflicts.
Studies estimate managers spend between 30 percent and 40 percent of their time on the job dealing with some form of conflict. This especially can be the case in family businesses and small companies that often do not have personnel departments to address workplace conflicts and provide behavior guidelines, Blume said.
Blume markets her services as a way for businesses to retain control of a potentially toxic situation. Mediation provides a solution that both parties can live with, instead of a verdict imposed by a court. Both parties are involved in suggesting possible solutions to the conflict.
And mediation typically takes less than two months.
“I think mediation is a win-win situation,” Blume said. “I saw there was a terrible waste of court time and human time.”
Blume’s services consist of an initial consultation, and then a series of joint mediation sessions that typically last several hours. Blume also meets separately with each party “in caucus,” to ferret out sensitive details that might hint at the underlying conflict.
“You have to listen to what’s said and what’s not said,” Blume said.
Blume deals frequently with small companies in which a supervisor and an employee do not get along. Firing either of the parties could result in a wrongful termination suit. She also has dealt with family businesses as they make the transition to a second or third generation, whose members want to take the company in a new direction.
Mediation often allows the parties to continue professional and personal relationships that would otherwise be destroyed by a protracted court battle.
Some of Blume’s clients approach her as a last resort before taking the issue to court, while others seek her out once they’ve found how time-consuming litigation can be.
Mediation can be less costly than a trial, particularly when one considers the lost productivity and stress that conflict incurs.
Nationally, between 70 percent to 80 percent of cases that choose mediation instead of trial end in mutual agreement, according to the American Bar Association. By constrast, between 5 and 10 percent of civil cases need to go to trial. That’s because, experts say, companies should risk a trial only when at least $1 million in assets or sales is at stake.
For business disputes, mediation is relatively new to the Lehigh Valley, Blume said. It’s also relatively new in the world of law. Blume said when she attended law school in the 1970s, mediation was not offered as a course.
“It was all adversarial,” said Blume, who wants to use her business to educate the public about mediation.
Blume, 53, was born and raised in Manhattan. She moved to Allentown after completing her law degree at Villanova University in 1977.
She officially started Conflict Resolution Services in 2004, but she has been practicing mediation part-time for many years. She served as counsel for PPL, the Allentown utility, and worked as a senior law clerk for the U.S. District Court’s Eastern District of Pennsylvania. She also had her own private law practice for 15 years.
She is an adjunct professor in business law at Cedar Crest College, and in 1990 was the first female president of the Bar Association of Lehigh County.
Not every mediation case has worked out. But Blume said her clients have nothing to lose because the contents of the mediation sessions and her professional notes cannot be subpoenaed at a trial.
Blume sees her current job as providing a safe environment for people to air grievances to reach a peaceful resolution. She frequently meets at the Bar Association’s office in Allentown to provide a neutral setting for parties embroiled in a conflict. She said the first mediation session is frequently quite tense because both parties take the opportunity to “vent.”
“There are times when my head starts to spin and I think, ‘Why did I get into this line of work?’” Blume said. “But it always ends. I’ve never had a case where people leave as angry as they arrived.”