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Family, Mediation

Fogelman builds thoughtful touches into family law practice

In his new firm, Toronto family lawyer Herschel Fogelman has created the conditions for what he feels will make for successful mediation and arbitration proceedings.

Fogelman Law, a boutique Toronto family law practice he founded in September, is the latest, and most significant, development in his long-term vision for his mediation-arbitration practice, which continues to grow.

“Family law is well-suited to mediation-arbitration,” Fogelman tells AdvocateDaily.com.

Fogelman first trained in mediation-arbitration in 2004. He found it perfectly fit his skills and personality, and he began to establish it as an increasingly significant component of his family law practice. Prior to striking out on his own last year, he practised with a mid-sized Bay Street firm for more than 15 years.

Fogelman does not take a one-size-fits-all approach to his cases.

A good mediator requires “a pretty wide tool chest, as does a good lawyer,” Fogelman says. “Fundamentally, you need to be able to establish a rapport with the parties where they have confidence that you’re seeing things reasonably, and that you have a fair approach.”

A key component of his practice is to ensure all parties share their perspective, an empowering part of the process. 

“In a litigation environment, you never really feel like you’ve been heard,” he says. For many people in mediation, it’s rewarding just to have the opportunity to tell their story, even if it’s notfully reflected in the resulting agreement.”

While Fogelman’s focus is on alternative dispute resolution, his firm advises clients on all aspects of family law and offers a full range of services. While the preference is to negotiate a resolution out of court, when necessary, he and his team have litigated at all levels of court in Ontario, including the Court of Appeal.

Two associates, a senior and a junior joined Fogelman at the firm. He says this three-person team is the right size for the kind of organization he wants to lead.

“I wanted it to be small,” he says. “I didn’t want to have 100 people.”

Fogelman also has clear ideas about the kind of physical environment he wanted to create, and its influence on the process.

“I want people to come to my space, primarily mediation clients, and feel comfortable,” he says. “That it is a physical space conducive to negotiating a resolution.”

Fogelman Law will soon move into a heritage building in the Annex, chosen for its exposed brick, hardwood floors and windows that open.

“We have a boutique practice in a boutique environment,” he says. “It’s not a white office, it’s not boardrooms and fluorescent lighting, it’s not pumped-in heating and air conditioning.”

Fogelman wanted to make it as comfortable as possible for clients who are dealing with difficult issues at what is typically an emotionally charged time.  

“I think a high-rise boardroom is kind of a sterile environment. It doesn’t mean it’s bad, and it doesn’t mean deals don’t get done there because they do. But I had a different vision — still professional, but a setting where people are more relaxed and ready to do business.”  

Fogelman has even considered bringing a dog into the office, as animals help put people at ease.

The space is flexible in its configuration, as well, so the seating arrangement and use of technology, including screens on which documents can be seen by everyone in the room at the same time, support a successful resolution.

And Fogelman extends that customized approach even to his attire, eschewing jacket and tie if he senses a more casual demeanour will put certain clients at ease. He brings in lunch, so momentum is not lost by having to break and leave the building.

He is also exploring the potential for creative partnerships to make the space more interesting and inviting. He has approached the Ontario College of Art and Design to invite students to work in his offices, and is thinking about engaging student chefs to provide meals.

These thoughtful touches are all in the service of an efficient resolution, Fogelman says.

“Deals get done because people are engaged in the process of deal-making, which means that you’re having a dialogue,” he says. “You want to set an environment where people feel comfortable putting their ideas on the table in a non-judgmental way so the discussion can evolve.”

In building his team, Fogelman knew what kinds of associates he wanted, those who share his solution-oriented approach.

“I want lawyers who can solve problems, not make them,” he says. “People come to me when they have an issue, they don’t want me to add to them.”

In practical terms, that means having a good understanding of a reasonable range of outcomes, he says.

“How is this thing going to end? And managing your clients’ expectations from the beginning, so they are reasonable,” Fogelman says. “It’s what good lawyers are supposed to do.”

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