Neutral Yaroslav Sochynsky likens mediation briefing to 'sheet music'
"Arbitration is a cerebral, analytical exercise," he said in an interview at his offices near Lake Merritt. "I'm tasked with making the right decision and explaining it to the parties in writing."
By contrast, "Mediation is intuitive and improvisational, like playing jazz piano by ear," he said.
Sochynsky, 68, said his jazz heroes include Dave Brubeck, Bill Evans, Erroll Garner and Oscar Peterson. "You want to come to the mediation process with an open mind," he added. "A brief is like the written sheet music. It identifies the law and the evidence. But to get to the heart of the dispute you need your interpersonal and improv skills. A focus on the human and psychological aspects help."
At one of his first mediations after leaving his litigation partnership after 27 years at the now-defunct Landels, Ripley & Diamond LLP, Sochynsky faced a dispute involving the takeover of a small home alarm system company by a much larger business. The woman who had started the smaller company burst into tears. "Mr. Mediator, I'll be damned if you'll take away the business I started with my daughter in her bedroom," the woman sobbed, in Sochynsky's retelling.
Sochynsky called for a private caucus and asked the woman how the business had come to be. "Emotional and intuitive terrain is an open field," he said. "Once I got to know the personalities involved, the matter settled."
Because he spends about half his time doing arbitrations, Sochynsky said, he has an advantage when mediations are on his schedule. "Ruling on arbitration outcomes lets me project with mediation parties how a case could end up if it goes to arbitration or to trial," he said.
A lawyer who often calls Sochynsky, Aaron P. Minnis of Minnis & Smallets LLP, echoed that claim. "He's able to explain things to parties when they don't see the potentialities down the road," Minnis said. "He's an excellent listener, very patient with parties."
Minnis said Sochynsky is especially valuable in executive-level partnership disputes. "When there's a high degree of emotion, as is often the cases with these situations, Yarko has helped reach resolutions each time," he said.
Again, Sochynsky spoke of his work in musical terms. "When I play, when I improvise, I get into a zone where the process is flowing," he said. "In a mediation I hope to find a flow that leads to a turning point, when the parties are done with posturing, done with discussing the evidence and are ready to try to find a solution."
In one mediation Sochynsky and the lawyers were approaching an essential target date. "There were multiple parties and a lot of money at stake," he said. "We'd been having staggered meetings over the course of a month. One lawyer was being especially difficult, and another took me aside and explained he was upset because it was his birthday and his family was waiting at home with a party for him."
Sochynsky, as the midnight deadline neared, sent out for pizza and beer and asked that candles be put on the pie. "We all sang 'Happy Birthday,' the lawyer smiled and the case settled," he said. "That moment changed the atmosphere, almost the way the air smells after a thunderstorm."
James B. Betts of Fresno's Betts & Rubin said that Sochynsky settled a particularly intractable mediation "that I knew could not be settled. It was a shareholder derivative action that involved a lot of ugly, emotion-laden charges dealing with embezzlement. The parties had been entrenched in litigation for a year and a half, but Yarko worked with everyone into the night and was really good at getting to the bottom line.
"He has an intuitive insight into the personalities. He connects, with intellect and a dry wit. I'm a big fan."
Sochynsky, who charges $5,500 a day for mediations and $500 per hour for arbitrations, was born in Berlin of Ukrainian parents, with whom he moved to New York at age four shortly after World War II. The melting pot that was Brooklyn shaped his familiarity with various cultures, knowledge that aids his ease with diverse personalities.
In 2000, Sochynsky joined with Randall W. Wulff and William A. Quinby to form Wulff Quinby Sochynsky Dispute Resolution. On a recent morning he was in his office with the door closed, preparing for the day with a transcendental meditation session.
He said the practice helps with stress and serves to clear his mind for work. He hasn't tried meditation in a mediation, but he recalled one copyright case that came close. "It was over a quasi-religious work allegedly channeled by God to a woman on the West Side of Manhattan," he said. "Other parties were publishing portions of the text and claiming fair use. Both sides wanted to approach the mediation in a constructive spiritual manner, so they had us all hold hands and observe a moment of silence before we began."
Did it help? "The case settled pretty quickly," he said.
Here are some of the lawyers who have used Sochynsky's services: Frank A. Cialone, Shartsis Friese LLP, San Francisco; Paul J. Dion, Jones Bothwell Dion & Thompson LLP, San Francisco; Andrew A. August, Browne George Ross LLP, San Francisco; Daniel J. Bergeson, Bergeson LLP, San Jose; John L. Boos, K&L Gates LLP, San Francisco; Theodore A. Griffinger Jr., Stein & Lubin LLP, San Francisco
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