Mediator uses straight talk and a bit of sugar

Originally posted on July 27, 2007 by By D. Heimpel, Daily Journal Staff Writer

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©2007 The Daily Journal Corporation.
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LOS ANGELES – It’s hard to imagine Alan G. Saler has a penchant for candy.
Despite casting a lean profile, Saler always keeps a selection of Andes chocolate mints, Red Vines, sweet tarts and gummy bears on the mediation table at his office in Sherman Oaks.

Although he periodically munches, the sweets serve a greater purpose.
“Sugar fuels any good mediation,” Saler said.

With his sense of humor and laid-back style, Saler, 48, works to make conflicts disappear. Through his four-year-old mediation practice, he has quickly earned a reputation as someone who can keep even the most contrarian plaintiffs and defendants out of the courtroom.

“Even as a litigator, I always felt that I had failed if a case went to trial,” he said. Indeed, the pillars of Saler’s practice are tenacity and preparedness. “I go into every mediation thinking I’m going to settle,” he said.

While a number of mediators refer to psychological manuals and techniques to assist in dispute resolution, Saler believes the only way to compel both parties to engage in an honest and serious dialogue is to be straightforward.

“The more informed someone is the better their decision-making process and ultimately their decisions are,” he said.

Another hallmark of his practice is preparation. By understanding the legal as well as the business aspects of a matter, Saler is able to talk plainly to both sides of an issue.
He often comes into a case with legal pads crowded with outlines while reading over the matter at hand. As a result of meticulous preparation, Saler wastes little time getting to the heart of a dispute and explaining the facts of the case clearly to both parties.

“You get more than your money’s worth with Alan,” said Toni Kern of Los Angeles-based Callahan McCune & Willis.

Saler will also go to great physical lengths to get a mediation in. He recently traveled to Bakersfield to mediate a tenant-landlord dispute for Jean M. Pledger, a partner at Klein Denatale Goldner Cooper Rosenlieb & Kimball.

“He didn’t even charge us for travel,” she added. The result, Saler said, is that often the two parties leave the table feeling as though they have gotten the best deal possible.
Saler also possesses a rare tenacity, according to those who’ve worked with him. He has seen a $400,000 settlement last three hours, and $20,000 mediations take twice as long. But Saler insists that no matter the size of the case, staying the course and talking through often complicated and vexing disputes works.

“Sometimes before a party can decide what to do about their case, or to follow their lawyer’s advice, they need to tell their story or to vent their frustration about the predicament in which they find themselves,” he said.

The lawyers who have used his services recognize and appreciate Saler’s focus.
“He’s not someone who I’d say is particularly charismatic,” said Andrew L. Shapiro, a name partner at Encino-based Lewitt, Hackman, Shapiro, Marshall & Harlan, who has worked with Saler on four cases. “But what he lacks in charisma he makes up for in energy and bulldoggedness.”

Patrick M. Kelley, managing partner for the western region at Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, felt so strongly about Saler that he called the Daily Journal from the back of a car in upstate New York just to talk about him.

“He is extremely well-prepared,” said Kelley, who represents clients in as many as 50 mediations a year. “He can talk on an academic level, and that gives the parties a gentle dose of reality.”

A native of the Big Apple, Saler moved west in 1984. Until then, he likened himself to Woody Allen’s character in the movie “Annie Hall.”
“I thought New York was the center of the universe,” he said.

Saler earned his undergraduate degree from Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., in 1981, then headed into the city to pursue a law degree from Columbia University School of Law.

Saler grew up in the shade of Shea Stadium in Queens, and had become accustomed to the cold winds that blew off the Atlantic. But he quickly adapted to Los Angeles.

“Everyone complains about the bar being so hard,” he said. “But I was studying on the beach getting a suntan.”

The lifestyle suited him. Upon his arrival, Saler joined Ervin, Cohen & Jessup, handling complex civil litigation in a range of practices, including personal injury and real estate.
But the East Coast beckoned him in the form of a former law school colleague. While back in New York for a brief family visit, Saler contacted Daniel Hirsch and asked his old friend to lunch. Instead, the two met at Hirsch’s bustling firm, Jones Hirsch Connors & Bull.

Three weeks later, Hirsch made him an offer – he wanted Saler to become a partner and open a branch in Los Angeles.

“That’s like a marriage,” Saler said. “I had to be sure I wanted to be married to them.”
So Saler, pragmatic and methodical, spent a few weeks studying the firm’s New York City office. The courtship turned into blessed matrimony, and Saler opened the firm’s Los Angeles branch in February 1992.

Most of his business involved representing the insured in both catastrophic and routine injury cases, much of it pertaining to industrial accidents. While his cases frequently went to trial, Saler always preferred to settle.

So opening his own mediation practice in 2003 was, for him, akin to a dream come true.

“I simply love what I do,” Saler said. “In fact, I believe my enthusiasm for the work is one of the reasons I am good at it.”

Back to the candy-strewn mediation table and Saler’s secret weapon, sugar.
“My grandmother taught me you get more with sugar than vinegar, so I like to keep plenty of Red Vines and other candy on hand,” he said.

But sometimes, it is the mediator enjoying the goodies more than the parties at the table, according Lee Marshall of Haight, Brown & Bonesteel.

“He likes it more than anybody else,” Marshall said. “He always takes a generous portion himself.”

But as long as Saler keeps settling disputes, what’s a bit of candy?

Here are some of the lawyers who have used Saler’s services: Stephen F. Danz, Danz & Gerber, Sherman Oaks; John P. Blumberg, Blumberg Law Corporation, Long Beach; Marc Smith, Krane & Smith, Encino; Andrew L. Shapiro, Lewitt, Hackman, Shapiro, Marshall & Harlan, Encino; Pejman A. Ben-Cohen, Novak & Ben-Cohen, Beverly Hills; Diana P. Scott, Greenberg Traurig, Santa Monica; Patrick M. Kelly, Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, Los Angeles; Leigh Ann White, Carlton, DiSante & Freudenberger, Irvine; Lee Marshall, Haight, Brown & Bonesteel, Los Angeles; Toni Kern, Callahan McCune & Willis, Los Angeles; Jean M. Pledger, Klein Denatale Goldner Cooper Rosenlieb & Kimball, Bakersfield; Marie B. Kenny, Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps, San Diego; Mark Susson, Smith & Susson, Newport Beach; William A Bossen, Musick, Peeler & Garrett, Los Angeles; Barry Zoller, Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, Los Angeles