In this installment of “Meet our Mediators”, we get to know Ana Cristina Maldonado. You may already have met her as a mediator, or through her work with The Florida Bar Alternative Dispute Resolution Section, Craig S. Barnard Inns of Court, Palm Beach Hispanic Bar Association, Mediator Qualifications & Disciplinary Review Board, and her work with various mediation and dispute resolution training groups. Cristina epitomizes what it means to be diverse in experiences, skills, and interests. The broad perspective that yields makes her well-equipped when arbitrating, and when mediating – something she started early in life.
I have said previously that curiosity is a trait of the most effective neutrals. Cristina’s environments and curiosity have led to diverse experiences that contribute to her right- and left-brained multi-disciplinary approach to life. She was born in Venezuela to an Army brat mother and a Cuban-born father and grew up almost entirely outside the continental US. Having attended high school in Chile, she attended Amherst in Massachusetts. Amherst accommodated her multiple interests by allowing her to study across several disciplines, in sociology, political science, and economics. After contracting for the Department of Labor, and receiving a Masters in Conflict Resolution, the desire to be closer to family drove Cristina south to Florida and to law school.
Cristina, who is trilingual, speaking English, Spanish, and Portuguese, serves as a neutral across a variety of subjects, too, including but not limited to family, first-party insurance, and commercial matters.
When not mediating, her hobbies include reading. When asked about titles that have stuck with her, Cristina shared "A Wind In The Door" by Madeleine L’Engle, which is a companion book to "A Wrinkle In Time," and "Never Split The Difference, Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It" by Chris Voss, which she uses as a resource when teaching ADR. I hope you enjoy learning more about Cristina. And, when you see her next, ask her to tell you about where she was when she saw the comet Hyakutake and when it is expected to return.
- What did you do before becoming a mediator?
Law is my second career. My bachelor’s degree from Amherst College is in international development. After graduating, I spent eight years working in the Washington, D.C., area as a program manager, handling millions of dollars in technical assistance funds targeted to labor, workplace safety and ADR issues in Central America and coordinating a 15-person team of employees and contractors across nine different countries.
- When did you first think about becoming a mediator?
Before law school, I completed a master’s degree in conflict resolution at George Mason University. Among the students were several “recovering attorneys” – veterans with 20+ years in their fields, who were coming to mediation as a second career. So, while attending St. Thomas University Law School, I focused on ADR and sought out circuit civil mediator certification in 2010, right before graduating. During the foreclosure crisis, I worked a mediator in Miami and Broward in Florida. Later, as a family and dependency staff mediator for Palm Beach’s 15th Judicial Circuit, I mediated three to four cases per day. That job at the courthouse ADR served as my ADR “clerkship,” as with so many new lawyers who work for the state attorney or public defender’s office. Then, before joining UWWM, I spent several years as a full-time solo neutral.
- What is something about you not too many people are aware of?
That, other than fifth grade in Key Biscayne, Fla., I grew up outside the continental United States. I was born in Venezuela; did elementary school in San Juan, Puerto Rico; went to middle school in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and attended high school in Santiago, Chile, at a time of Chile’s transition to democracy. My family was still in Chile when I came to the U.S. to go to college in Amherst, Mass. While there, I spent a semester at the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies program in Mystic, Conn., which I considered “my semester abroad” because it was so different from where I had grown up! From my time overseas, I retain fluent Spanish and Portuguese, and the ability to get along with people from all over.
- What is your favorite part of being a mediator?
That look of relief on people’s faces when they realize that they have settled their case. “It’s over, I can move on.” Not every case can settle or should settle – but when they do, or when my neutral work helps create the possibility for it to settle, it is a real feeling of satisfaction. Also, while teaching mediation, it is really rewarding to watch attorneys and mediators – whether they are new to law or veterans in their field get that “A-ha!” look when they learn something new or gain a new insight on their practice.
For me, mediation is a vocation. I’m still the kid who signed up to be a peer counselor in sixth grade.
- What is your favorite way to recharge?
I love spending time with my family, reading, traveling and butterfly gardening.
Cristina will co-present a Webinar in UWWM's CLE series at noon on Wednesday, June 23, 2021. For details and to register for "Recognizing and Dealing With Cognitive Biases in Mediation," click here. For more Meet Our Mediators features, please click here.