In this, our first 2018 installment of “Meet our Mediators”, we turn northward to Alabama and present shareholder George M. "Marty" Van Tassel. Marty joined UWWM in 2014 after having led the Mediation Center at Sirote & Permutt P.C. in Birmingham, Alabama. Resident in our Birmingham office, Marty graduated from both the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama School of Law where he has served as an adjunct professor in mediation process and practice. A very experienced mediator before joining us, and known to many of those who also use our Sunshine State-based neutrals, Marty was a litigator, representing both plaintiffs and defendants throughout Alabama’s federal and state trial and appellate courts. Marty has refined his skills through the most effective means possible – experience – and is sought after precisely for those traits that he identifies as those he has seen in the most successful lawyers. Please read on to learn more about Marty.
- When did you first think about becoming a mediator?
I had been involved in several multi-party mediations with Rod Max and had watched the way he was able to put together all the pieces and achieve a settlement in a complex case. It looked like it would be challenging and fun to do what Rod was doing, so I decided to attend a course in mediation. I did and was certified as a mediator in 1996.
- What did you do before becoming a mediator?
By 1999, I had been trying civil cases for over 25 years, as well as mediating part-time since 1996. In my career representing clients, I had handled cases for both plaintiffs and defendants in a wide variety of areas, including personal injury, wrongful death, business disputes, fraud, construction and will contests and many others. However, between 1996 and 1999, my mediation practice was growing at a rapid clip, and, ultimately, I had to make a choice about which direction my career would take. In 1999, I decided to join Rod Max at Sirote & Permutt, where he was at the time, and try to become a full-time mediator. I walked away from a good practice with good lawyers, leaving all of my clients behind. I have said many times that, if my plan had not worked, I would be seen as the stupidest lawyer in America, but it did work, and I’ve been a full-time mediator for 18 years.
- What did you like most about your prior career?
Because of the variety of my practice when I was representing clients, I was always learning something new. While trying cases was stressful, I enjoyed the opportunity to focus single-mindedly on one case and, at the conclusion, see the result of my efforts. Obviously, the result was not always what I wanted, but I still liked the immediate feedback provided by a trial.
- What is your favorite part of being a mediator?
My favorite parts of being a mediator are the same things I liked as a trial lawyer. In fact, I was stunned to find that for me, being a mediator felt, in some ways, very similar to being in trial. I still learn something new every day. I can still be very focused on each day’s case. I get immediate feedback, and at the end of the day, I know exactly what I have accomplished that day (that feeling of accomplishment was not always there in the world of litigation). Finally, my settlement rate is much better than my victory rate as a trial lawyer, so the feedback is not only quick, but it is usually positive!
- What are the traits of the greatest lawyers you have known?
Most of the lawyers I have worked with during my career have been trial lawyers, so it is this sub-species of lawyer with whom I am most familiar. My observation is that great trial lawyers are not stamped from a mold. However, there are some traits that seem to be shared, in greater or lesser degrees. Great lawyers seem to have an ability to connect with others. They are quick studies. They are confident (usually by virtue of intense preparation), which gives them the room to be creative in their approach to the case. They are professional, not “gotcha” lawyers. Finally, they can be cooperative when they need to be, and when it advances the cause of a client.