SAN JOSE - An accomplished jazz pianist, Yaroslav Sochynsky brings a variation of his subtle skills as a musician into play in his work as a mediator and arbitrator.
Attorneys say Sochynsky, known as "Yarko," is understated and commanding, marshaling his own extensive knowledge of the facts of each case to persuade the parties and their lawyers to listen to his suggestions and take them seriously. "He has a quiet demeanor that, in my experience, inspires clients to trust him," said Jack Boos, a San Francisco-based partner at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis who has hired Sochynsky to handle three mediations.
"People are not stampeded toward a result," Boos said. "Invariably, clients are impressed that 'this guy knows his stuff, so I'm going to listen to him.'" The 61-year-old Sochynsky, whose cases range from employment disputes to highly technical intellectual property disagreements, also has become a specialist in international legal squabbles.
A native of Berlin whose parents are Ukrainian, Sochynsky moved to the United States as a young child a few years after World War II. He attributes much of his awareness of the impacts of different cultures on the mediation and arbitration process to growing up in the melting pot of Brooklyn. Sochynsky has worked as a mediator and arbitrator since 1986, and has worked at the Oakland-based alternate dispute resolution firm of Wulff Quinby & Sochynsky since 2000.
He deals with both arbitration and mediation panels, serving on three-member arbitration panels that resolve international disputes while also dealing with matters of local concern, such as a contract dispute between the Golden State Warriors and the joint powers authority of the City of Oakland and Alameda County that operated the arena. A job that requires him to mediate disputes ranging from a power plant case to one focusing on the sale of a racehorse is never dull. "What I find interesting is the variety," Sochynsky said. Sochynsky is especially adept at navigating around big egos, attorneys say.
Theodore Griffinger, a San Francisco-based attorney with Stein & Lubin, said Sochynsky's "nuanced approach" does not keep him from calling an attorney's weak argument as he sees it. "He's not afraid to say, 'This doesn't make a lot of sense,'" Griffinger said. Griffinger hired Sochynsky two years ago to deal with a "particularly difficult" dispute between the European buyer of a high-tech manufacturing facility and the American company that was selling it. He and other attorneys who spoke about Sochynsky praised his work ethic. "This is what he does for a living, and he's willing to work at it," Griffinger said, whether by spending long hours resolving conflicts or by devoting the time to understanding complicated issues as well as the attorneys on either side of the dispute.
Mediation, even in business disputes, is rarely a dry exercise in splitting the difference. "That's the exciting part about the process," Sochynsky said. "It involves human emotions and conflicts they don't teach you in law school."
Attorneys say Sochynsky demands a certain decorum. Randall Widmann, a Palo Alto plaintiffs' employment attorney, said opposing counsel began calling him names at the end of a long day of mediation. Sochynsky put a quick stop to it.
"Counsel, it's a business matter," Widmann recalls him telling his legal adversary. "Let's not get emotional here." Sochynsky, whose father was a doctor, found that he liked the law and had an aptitude for it. He graduated from Georgetown Law Center in 1970, spent a year at White & Case in New York and then was given the option not to serve a four-year term in the U.S. Navy judge advocate's general program because the Vietnam War was winding down. By then, Sochynsky was in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he learned about an opening as a clerk for U.S. District Judge William Sweigert in the Northern District of California. He got the job, where he worked until 1973, when he joined the law firm of Landels, Ripley & Diamond.
Sochynsky remained at the firm for 27 years, working on business and litigation as well as technology, real estate, environmental and employment disputes. In the mid-1980s, the American Arbitration Association trained him as an arbitrator and mediator - with the support of his firm, where he had become a partner in 1977. He also enjoyed the new role. "I enjoyed being an advocate, but found I could be a better advocate if I understood the other side's position," Sochynsky said. In 2000, Sochynsky got in touch with two other former large firm partners, Randy Wulff and Bill Quinby, to form a mediation and arbitration service. All of them live in the East Bay, so their home office is in Oakland.
Sochynsky, who is divorced with two adult children, has handled more than 1,000 mediation and arbitration disputes during his career. He has arbitrated domestic disputes such as one between the manager of an Indian casino and the tribe.
But a lot of his business involves disputes between American and foreign companies. In mediation matters, Sochynsky said a key matter to resolve is determining which of the overseas executives is the one whose opinion ultimately will decide whether a case settles or not. "It's important to identify [the decision-maker]" because in many disputes, several company executives will show up for the mediation. "Sometimes it takes a while to figure that out," Sochynsky said. "The beauty of mediation is that it's a flexible process," he said. "A good mediator will have a variety of tools available." Sochynsky talked about a recent case in which the first day and a half was spent allowing the parties to talk to one another. But Sochynsky said he has developed an instinct to know when he needs to take an active role.
"At a certain point, it becomes important to be more firm," Sochynsky said. "You learn it by doing and not from a book." Sochynsky also garners praise for his work on arbitration panels, including from some attorneys who had never heard of him before because he is not a retired partner from a big-name, nationally known law firm.
John Shope, a partner with the Boston office of Foley Hoag, had Sochynsky on a panel deciding a dispute between the government of Guyana and American investors in a power plant there. Shope represented the government, which was accused by the investors of expropriating the plant.
"I was very pleased that, in the course of three weeks, he knew what the exhibits said better than I did," Shope said. He said he worries that, in disputes that involve a lot of technical jargon, that the panelists will lose interest. That did not happen in Shope's case, and he gives Sochynsky a lot of the credit not only for knowing the material so well himself but also for educating the other two arbitrators.
"He illuminated the matter for the other panelists," Shope said. In the end, the panel rejected the American investors' claim and found in favor of Guyuna's counter-claim for mismanaging the plant, which helped provide power for a dauxite mine, which produces aluminum. Sochynsky also was respectful to the witnesses from Guyana, whose thick Caribbean accents were not always easy to understand. Shope said he would recommend Sochynsky to an attorney trying an international case again, "unless their case is bad." "In that event, they would probably want somebody who is more easily deceived," he added.
Affiliation: Wulff, Quinby & Sochynsky Location: Oakland
Rates: Mediation rate , is $550 per hour [2 parties], $650 per hour [3 parties], $750 per hour [4 or more parties]; Arbitration rate $475 per hour through the American Arbitration Association
Here is a list of attorneys who have used Sochynsky's services:
John Shope, Foley Hoag, Boston, Mass.
Jack Boos, Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, Preston Gates Ellis, San Francisco
Frank Cialone, Shartsis Friese, San Francisco
Jeffrey Lowenthal, Steyer Lowenthal, Boodrookas, Alvarez & Smith, San Francisco
Theodore Griffinger, Stein & Lubin, San Francisco
Randall Widmann, Palo Alto
Lou Highman, Highman, Highman and Ball, San Francisco
Lawrence Callaghan, Tucker, Ellis & West, San Francisco
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