Supporter Spotlight: Hon. Brigid M. McGrath, (Ret.) ADR Systems

Hon. Brigid M. McGrath, (Ret.) ADR Systems, Senior Mediator and Arbitrator

I joined ADR Systems in October 2019, after serving 20 years on the Cook County bench, having been in private practice during the 15 years prior to that.  

Tell us a bit about your practice/company.

ADR Systems was founded in 1994 and services the legal community across the United States.  It is known for its superior mediation and arbitration services, but it also provides a host of other alternative dispute resolution services, including neutral evaluation, special master, discovery master, mock trials and arbitrations, appellate review, and mock oral arguments.  During this pandemic, ADR Systems has been providing services in person, and through Zoom, CourtCall and Skype.

During my 35 years in practice and on the bench, I dealt with both personal injury and commercial cases, so I am involved in both the personal injury and commercial sides of ADR Systems.  

What is your firm/company’s mission statement? 

ADR System’s mission is to create an environment that encourages successful party-driven resolution.  It does this through providing exceptional client service and a superior client experience.  

While I was on the bench, I observed that the cases before me that went to mediation or arbitration at ADR Systems reached a successful resolution at an unparalleled rate.  Now that I am a neutral at ADR Systems, I understand why:  it employs experienced, hard-working neutrals and then supports the neutrals with experienced and hard-working staff.  The staff works closely with the neutrals to ensure that clients’ needs are met:  they assist the attorneys through every step of the process and craft the process to meet the needs of both the attorneys and the attorneys’ clients. 

How has your business/practice changed during the pandemic?

At the beginning of the lockdown, I was mediating and arbitrating through Zoom and CourtCall.  Recently, however, lawyers have been requesting more in-person mediations and arbitrations and it feels great to be back in the office!

What is one habit/practice that you’ve adopted during the pandemic that you plan on keeping? 

Staying in closer touch with friends and family that I had not been in regular contact with before the pandemic.  Zoom has made it so much easier to stay close to people by allowing face-to-face communication without leaving the house.  An added benefit is that when a sibling starts to go on too long about his or her child’s most recent successes, you can log off and blame technological malfunction. 

Share with us a career highlight of yours.

My favorite mediation was one which resulted in resolution of not only the legal conflict, but a family conflict.  It involved a closely-held corporation and some of the siblings sued other siblings on behalf of the corporation, claiming mismanagement etc. The suit had lingered in the courts and the two factions of siblings had not communicated for years, except through their attorneys. 

At the mediation, it gradually became clear that the disputes were deep-seated and had less to do with the corporation than the plaintiff-siblings’ perceived slights over how their parents had treated them over the years, believing that the defendant-siblings had been the favored children. 

When the plaintiff-siblings became more forthcoming about their real complaints, the defendant-siblings were surprised and receptive, and shared their own experiences about how their parents had treated them.

By the end of the mediation, the case had been settled and the siblings went to dinner together that evening to celebrate.   

What is the most challenging part of your practice/business?

Trying to figure out what is motivating litigants and their attorneys;  what the root cause or causes of the dispute are, so I can determine how best to guide them to a mutually agreeable solution.  

In my most challenging mediation, a partnership dispute, I could make absolutely no headway with one of the litigants (I’ll call him Mr. Cuckold) even though the other side kept on making proposals that really benefited Mr. Cuckold.  He ended up going to trial and losing.

Sometime later, Mr. Cuckold’s attorney told me that the partnership dispute originated when Mr. Cuckold learned that his partner had a romantic relationship with his wife.  Mr. Cuckold never told his wife or his partner that he knew, but he derived great satisfaction from dragging his partner through a trial and forcing him to incur attorney’s fees. There was no way he ever would have settled his case.

What is the most rewarding part of your practice/business?

When you can empower litigants to achieve an agreement and save them from more time in litigation in the courts or at arbitration, it is very rewarding.  You have assisted in removing a conflict that has been negatively impacting their lives, like an excision of a boil. 

What sets you apart from your competitors?

Having the backing of ADR Systems provides me significant advantages that non-ADR Systems’ neutrals do not have. 

I think that what sets me apart is the depth of my experience in both personal injury and complex commercial litigation.  When I was in private practice, I spent 15 years litigating medical and legal malpractice cases and product liability claims.  By the time I made partner, I was also litigating commercial cases, such as insurance coverage disputes and securities litigation and shareholder suits, as well as trade secrets and antitrust work.

As a judge, I had a similarly broad experience. After three years on the bench, I was assigned to Law Jury, where I presided over personal injury trials, including police shooting, medical malpractice, sex abuse and product liability trials.  I was then given a Commercial Calendar, where I heard an extremely wide range of complex commercial cases, including legal and accountant malpractice, banking disputes, construction-related cases, employment disputes, shareholder derivative suits, commercial fraud, contract and breach of fiduciary duty cases.

My depth of experience means I am very comfortable working on a wide range of cases.  It allows me to focus on the facts of each case, the personalities of the participants and the root causes of disputes, rather than having to spend my time getting acquainted with an area of the law that is completely foreign to me (although I’m always interested in learning new subject areas of the law!).  In addition, it is beneficial when the attorneys ask for an advisory opinion of what I believe a judge or jury would do regarding a claim.

I also believe that my personality enables me to disarm conflict before it gets out of control.  I am easy-going and diplomatic and that allows me to assist in guiding clients to resolution without them getting defensive, taking offense or feeling that they are being forced into something. I do not take things personally and am excellent at listening to people vent – except for my husband and kids.

How do you create opportunities for women and young attorneys in your practice/business/firm?

ADR Systems makes an exceptional effort to both employ women and to reach out to women in the legal community.  For instance, it holds women-only conferences and seminars on a regular basis.  Our last “Women’s Initiative” event was in early August and focused on how the Covid-19 lockdowns are affecting different aspects of practicing law. 

Why are you a supporter of the WBAI?

When I started practicing law in 1984, the vast majority of lawyers and judges I worked with were men.  It was not unusual for me to be the only female attorney in a courtroom or at a deposition.  One of my more senior colleagues at Lord, Bissell & Brook – a male colleague! – encouraged me to join the WBAI, and it was my salvation.  The WBAI became a refuge where I could seek advice from and commiserate with other female attorneys.  There is no other place like it in Chicago.  I will be forever thankful for everything the WBAI has done for women attorneys and the legal community as a whole.  

Tell us something most people would not know about you?

What most people do not know about me is that one summer when I was in high school, I toured Europe as a violinist in the American Youth Symphony. It was a great experience, but I do not tell people because I was a truly awful violin player and it was pure happenstance that I got the opportunity. Heaven forbid anyone asks me to play for them!

When this pandemic is behind us, where do you most want to travel?

Anywhere there is a beach and some good wine. Also, I swore that I would not turn 60 without going on a truffle hunt with dogs in Italy, and that has not happened yet, so I’ve been hovering at 59 for a couple of years. Then again, perhaps I’ll skip the truffle hunt and stay 59!  

What do you/your firm/company/business hope to accomplish in the next 12 months?

ADR Systems will continue to grow its business and aim for becoming the ultimate standard for alternative dispute resolution.  I hope to continue to work with the ADR  Systems team in achieving that goal!

What other information would you like to share with our audience?

I am originally from Minnesota and came to Chicago in 1985 because of a job offer.  I intended to return to Minneapolis after one year but fell in love with this city and stayed.