Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 6
 
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
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It’s New to Us by Jean Stratton



GENDER-NEUTRAL: “We have developed a gender-neutral team approach to provide a fair, efficient and private setting in which parties to a divorce or other family law disputes can resolve issues equitably and comfortably,” says Jan L. Bernstein, Family Law Chairperson at Riker Danzig Scherer Hyland & Perretti LLP. Shown from left are members of the team: former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Stewart G. Pollock, partner Jennifer Lazor, Ms. Bernstein, and senior litigator Benjamin P. Michel.

Gender-Neutral Family Team of Attorneys Handles Mediation for Riker Danzig Law Firm

Dealing with the difficult, often emotionally-charged issues presented in family law cases is challenging. Frequently settled in the adversarial atmosphere and setting of the court system, family law cases have also been addressed by a single mediator or arbitrator.

Now, however, a new option is available. The Morristown-based law firm Riker Danzig Scherer Hyland & Perretti LLP launched an innovative initiative in January in its family law practice: a new gender-neutral approach to mediation and arbitration. The firm will provide a panel of two or three of its experienced attorneys, to include at least one woman and one man, to resolve family law disputes.

Among the attorneys who will comprise the panel are Riker Danzig Family Law Chairperson Jan L. Bernstein, former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Stewart G. Pollock, senior litigator Benjamin P. Michel, and partner Jennifer Lazor, certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a matrimonial law attorney, and qualified as a New Jersey family law mediator.

Ms. Bernstein, who created this idea, has celebrated her 25th anniversary with Riker Danzig, and was recently elected to the Executive Committee of the firm. This is a singular honor, accorded to six attorneys who help provide leadership for the firm.

Number One

As one of the largest law firms in New Jersey, with offices in Trenton, New York, and London, Riker Danzig handles all aspects of the law, including corporate, litigation, tax, trust and estate tax, real estate, and family law, among other areas. It has many clients in the Princeton area.

It was recently named Number One among New Jersey law firms in the “Best Lawyers in America 2009” by Best Lawyers, the respected peer-review publication, an honor it has received for the second year in a row.

Family law has always been Ms. Bernstein’s specialty, an interest from her early days as an attorney. “I clerked for a family law judge, and then decided to go into family law,” she explains. “I like working with people and helping them solve problems. Family law encompasses every issue that can affect a family, including adoption, divorce, domestic violence, civil union, support, and alimony. In family law, you are always thinking creatively to help people resolve these issues.”

It was creative thinking that led her to introduce the gender-neutral approach to mediation and arbitration. “I felt the times were crying out for a serious alternative for those who don’t need a court remedy. With this approach, instead of waiting one to two years to go through the court system, people can move forward quickly. It’s a more efficient system, offering both economic and time efficiency.

Flexible Remedy

“Also, with two people — a man and a woman, both very experienced, very high-level decision-makers — on the panel, there is more flexibility to try to settle cases. This brings a broader level of experience and expertise. It provides for two really experienced lawyers to fashion a more flexible remedy that would not be in the discretion of the courts, which have limited remedies by law.”

She points out that in some cases, however, the court system is advisable. “There is always a place for the court. The family law judges are terrific, but they have a huge case load, and it can be a lengthy process.”

Many people like the mediation or arbitration procedure because it often results in a more amicable, less stressful situation, and leads to a timely conclusion. It is in a private setting, with a more informal atmosphere. Clients may also choose to be represented by attorneys as they meet with the mediation or arbitration panel.

There are differences in the mediation and arbitration methods. In the case of mediation, which provides a relaxed, informal setting, the mediators, with direct client participation, help clients to resolve the issues and reach a conclusion themselves.

Client-Friendly

In an arbitration format, the arbitrators, after hearing testimony, make the decision themselves. In this case, clients give testimony, and lawyers are always present. It, too, takes place in a private, constructive environment with the assurance that clients are fully heard and fairly treated.

Another advantage of Riker Danzig’s gender-neutral approach is the cost factor, explains Ms. Bernstein. It is client-friendly. “We are offering a blended rate for fees. Just one hourly rate will be charged, not two, even though two attorneys will be present on the panel. This makes a significant difference.”

If clients are represented by lawyers, then they must also pay them separately for legal counsel.

“We hope this initiative will provide New Jersey residents with a high-level option to resolve their family law disputes outside the court system in a completely gender-neutral setting,” says Ms. Bernstein. “There will always be a choice for those who don’t need the court to resolve their issues. This is an option that will benefit a lot of families.

“I look forward to providing an opportunity for clients that is new and fresh and significant.”

For additional information, call Riker Danzig at (973) 451-8404. Website: www.riker.com.

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