'Fixer' Peter Israel settles employment law cases
By AdvocateDaily.com Staff
Despite coming relatively late to the game, Toronto employment mediator Peter Israel immediately took to his new field.
“Mediation was very intuitive to me. At the risk of blowing my own horn, I’m generally very good with people. People open up to me. I am generally matter of fact in my approach, but I can be diplomatic when needed,” he adds.
Israel says his undergraduate degree in psychology gave him a good grounding in understanding people’s motivations before he went on to Osgoode Hall Law School.
During the four decades since his call to the bar in 1978, Israel practised exclusively in employment law, representing employers and employees in both the public and private sector, including health-care companies, retailers, broadcasters, manufacturers and financial services providers.
But in the last few years his mediation practice has developed, emerging organically.
“More and more senior lawyers were running into trouble on their files, and calling to see if I would mind sitting down and mediating a resolution,” Israel says. “When I started doing it, I liked it, and it didn’t take long for word to spread.”
He says he also enjoys the flexibility that a mediation practice brings, allowing him to schedule larger chunks of holiday time when he can spend time with his family and his motorcycle.
“If I want to spend March riding in New Mexico, I can do that,” he says.
Israel is also involved in legal work at the firm he founded, bringing in business, delegating files to juniors and supervising their work. The wealth of experience already behind him also informs his evaluative approach to mediation, rather than the facilitative method favoured by some in the field.
“I deal with the merits of the case, and ask myself what I would do if I were the trier of fact,” he says. “I’m not a message taker, but an active participant. Some people tend to shy away from conflict in order to present themselves as neutral, not realizing that you can be neutral and forceful at the same time.”
The style doesn’t suit everyone, but there’s no arguing with the results he achieves. Israel conducts between approximately 120 and 150 mediations every year, and his settlement rate currently stands around 90 per cent.
“I have the credibility of 39 years in practice, so I usually get my way. That carries some weight when you work in a narrow sphere such as employment law,” he says.
Israel says senior employment lawyers tend to be comfortable sending their less-experienced lawyers to his mediations.
“They trust my integrity and know I won’t let their juniors be eaten alive by older, more experienced opposing counsel. I’m very protective of young lawyers,” he says.
In an Israel mediation, the parties skip the plenary session, which he finds can cause more harm than good, and get straight to negotiation. Israel says he will come to the mediation with an idea of where things stand, based on the briefs provided to him in advance by counsel. He uses the early part of a three-hour mediation to fill in all the factual gaps they left.
“As we go along, my view about what I would do becomes stronger and stronger, and by the end of the day, everyone is often singing my tune,” he says. “Once you convince each room that you know what you are talking about and that you have no vested interest in anything but the deal, you’re able to resolve most cases.
“It’s not about justice or fairness, but what can be achieved by each party. Nobody wants to spend money, time and effort, when you know what the likely outcome will be within a small margin of error in the vast majority of cases,” Israel adds.