At the end of November, AFCC-MA member Hon. E. Chouteau Levine retired after ten years as an associate justice of the Probate and Family Court, mostly sitting in the Suffolk Division; and after 33 years of representing parties in family law cases, AFCC-MA board member William M. Levine departed from his long-time partnership, Boston’s Lee & Levine LLP. Together, they have established and opened Levine Dispute Resolution Center LLC, with offices in Westwood and Northampton, MA. They reflect on their career changes here.
After 53 years of mostly negotiating, trying, appealing and judging cases, we have decided to go “all in” as neutrals, by partnering together as full -time ADR providers. Our goal is to provide high quality and cost-effective neutral services such as mediation and arbitration for all kinds of family law, probate, elder, and other matters. Why now, and why this?
Bill’s path to ADR began 1990. After a dozen years of litigating private and public family law cases (two and a half years as a DSS lawyer and the rest in private divorce practice), he already knew that he would want to have a “second career.” The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) offered matrimonial arbitration training, which appeared to be a path to using the knowledge and skills of the law office and the courtroom in a way that simplified, streamlined, and applied intellectual skills and judgment to family law problems, perhaps mitigating the impact of divorce and related disputes on families in distress. In 1995, AAML offered another avenue with greater currency in the family law market- place but to which Bill had had little exposure: mediation. This training opened another personal window onto the resolution of family law disputes in a less adversarial, often more effective and if successful, far less bruising process for families and practitioners alike.
Chouteau had earned her way to law firm partnership when she attended mediation training in 1999. Then, she began to develop a mediation practice within Boston’s Brown, Rudnick, Freed & Gesmer. As it began to gain traction, this new practice area provided insights to her that ultimately led her to apply to be a judge on the Probate and Family Court, where she sat until her 2011 retirement. Serving a largely pro se population, Chouteau mediated every day between and among distressed litigants. When she saw lawyers with consistency, it was mostly in high-end probate litigation such as will contests and trust matters. The skills that Chouteau gained in litigation and mediation, honed by a decade of daily decision- making and courtroom mediation, led her to wonder how she could make an impact in the private sector again.
So, what, beyond the romance of working together and building a business in tandem, moved us to make this move at this moment in our lives and careers? We both believe that in more cases than not, the parties can benefit from private, consensual methods that enhance autonomy of process and outcome. Far too often the fight becomes about the fight and not about the stakes, or even about self-interest. So, too, as professionals, we can re-gain a measure of self-determination and control over our own lives, separate from court processes and other external intervening forces.
Why are we doing it in the manner that we envision for our new firm? First, we both believe that to make an ADR practice thrive, we need to stand apart from the daily turmoil of the adversarial system. It is difficult to be perceived as impartial when the lawyers with whom you are working are the same people with whom you are litigating with every day. Second, we believe that we need to show a commitment to ADR that communicates to others that we believe in the efficacy of these methods of dispute resolution, above all else.
Third, to provide a secure and private setting for parties, we are convinced that it is best to have devoted space that is geared towards the unique needs of ADR clients, tailored for differing processes (clients alone, clients with lawyers, clients with counsel and witnesses) and ample space for private consultations, in the midst of mediation and arbitration work. We also aim to be convenient to many people in Greater Boston and Western Massachusetts, and believe that we have succeeded in that goal.
We look forward with great anticipation to this next phase of our careers.