Fall 2019 Alumni Spotlight - Yvonne Shoff

Our Fall Alumni Spotlight features Yvonne Shoff, J.D. 1997!  

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Before going to law school, Yvonne worked for an asbestos settlement firm that kept asbestos related claims out of the court. This was her introduction to dispute resolution before she knew she even wanted to do it. She worked as a settlement negotiator for about two years in this position which taught her a lot about negotiation. 

While in law school, Yvonne was the President and Founder of the Family Law Society. As a law student at Quinnipiac, she had the opportunity to be involved with appellate litigation as a clinic student when she argued in front of the Connecticut Supreme Court.  

Since law school, Yvonne has been involved in dispute resolution in many ways. She was involved in housing mediations and clerked for a family law judge in the Superior Court of Bridgeport. Yvonne noted that in her time as a clerk, she never saw mediators in the courtroom, but now it is common! Currently, Yvonne works at the Connecticut Mediation Center where she is a full-time mediator and collaborative professional, working predominately on family related matters, often involving custody issues, parenting plans, and anything else family related. She is also a member of the Connecticut Council for Non-Adversarial Divorce and the Connecticut Bar Association. 

Yvonne has made alternative dispute resolution her work- and she loves it. She loves what she does a mediator and collaborative professional because it provides a holistic way to help divorce claimants and allows her to find and use creative solutions and create tailored agreements without having to turn to litigation. When asked about her collaborative work, she said it creates a way to get through a conflict productively because of the use of mental health professionals, divorce coaches, and other professionals who help to reduce the fears that come with divorce and the clients are able to get to the real reason they are arguing. While clients may often be skeptical and fearful of trying collaborative divorce, Yvonne notices how thankful clients are after the process that they chose collaborative. 

In her work, Yvonne has noticed how clients have an increasing willingness to recognize that there are two different stories to the divorce. She has also noticed how law schools are now embracing alternative dispute resolution, but they are not the only ones. She finds that while judges used to be hesitant to accept mediated agreements, now they recognize the value of mediation and often commend parties for using mediation to work through their divorce. 

When asked about the role that ADR has played in her job as a friend, she said to ask her friends. Yvonne’s commitment and passion as a mediator makes her see everything through the lens of a mediator. She sees her friends come to her with issues, looking for Yvonne to be a peacemaker for them. Yvonne loves this, though. She says that once you are hooked on seeing how dispute resolution affects people’s lives in positive ways, it becomes a lifestyle. Mediation has turned her into a more compassionate person and she no longer takes anything at face value but tries to remain neutral and looks to understand first instead of making snap judgments. Yvonne loves her profession so much that she wants to shout from the rooftops to let people know how positive the process can be! She even spreads the positive work of ADR at the University of New Haven when Dr. Henry Lee brings a delegation of students from China.  

Yvonne had a lot of advice for students who are thinking about a career in ADR, but her most important advice was to not get discouraged. She said the key is to persevere and learn as much as you can. She also suggests to students to take advantage of as many opportunities while you can as a law student, including going to conferences and volunteering. Yvonne made it clear that if this is your passion, don’t give up. She noted that it took her 20 years to find her dream job, but she never gave up. In addition to working with professors, Yvonne also recommends reaching out to professionals and to never be afraid to ask them for help. They will do everything in their power to encourage you, and she says they are the nicest people you will come across.  

For those considering making ADR their career, Yvonne also recommends taking more than just law classes- take marketing classes and learn how to market yourself in a profound and honest way because you may have to create the jobs that are not there. This is the way of the future, Yvonne says, and the opportunities are growing, you just need to have the grit. 

Alumni Spotlight - Kristen Sweet

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Kristen Sweet graduated from Quinnipiac University School of Law in 2013 with a concentration in civil advocacy and dispute resolution with honors. However, Ms. Sweet wasn’t always sure she wanted to go to law school. She graduated from college in 1992, and immediately went to work in the entertainment industry as a stage manager for live productions for 15 years. Her work brought her to Seattle, New York City and Connecticut. After her daughter was born, Ms. Sweet shifted focus in the entertainment industry and began working in payroll, sales and marketing in Los Angeles. In 2008, Kristen realized a lot of the work she was doing involved contract negotiations and began to wonder if she could cut out the middlemen and do these negotiations herself. So Ms. Sweet started to explore going to law school. She knew she never wanted to be an attorney who did day-to-day work in the court system; she thought agreements could be much better reached if the parties involved had an actual say in the matter. When she began looking at law schools, Ms. Sweet only looked, therefore, at schools with strong alternative dispute resolution programs. When she looked at Quinnipiac, she was extremely impressed with the school’s Center on Dispute Resolution. She talked to Dean Brown (back then, Professor Brown) about her work and goals with respect to the center, and what it meant to look at the whole lawyer and how we interact with one another in the practice of law. In 2010, Ms. Sweet officially enrolled at Quinnipiac University School of Law and began her transition from theater sales and marketing to the legal field.

While in law school, Ms. Sweet became the second student fellow to work for Quinnipiac’s Center on Dispute Resolution. She did an externship with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, working as a mediator doing employment discrimination. For classes, Ms. Sweet took as many ADR and employment law classes as she could. While she was working in the entertainment industry, she was a union member and decided that, while in law school, she wanted to use the knowledge and experience she already had in employment law and combine it with ADR work in that field. Ms. Sweet’s daughter was 10 years old when she started law school, and when asked about what that was like, Ms. Sweet noted that it definitely wasn’t easy raising a daughter while in law school, but she “just did it.” She reflected fondly on the study dates they would have together, and how grateful she was for her classmates and Quinnipiac faculty and staff being so supportive of her while she was doing it.

Following graduation, Ms. Sweet began working for an employment labor law firm in Hartford. The firm was management focused, and while Ms. Sweet was grateful for the time and experience she got there, she realized that she would much prefer working as either a neutral or an advocate on the employee end of the spectrum. Today, Ms. Sweet works for the United Public Service Union as a union attorney. She puts her ADR skills to work when she does contract negotiations or represents union members in mediations and occasional arbitration proceedings. She enjoys working hard for her clients in these negotiations and mediations. She’s found that a lot of what she learned in law school, she now gets to apply to her work, and she loves it.

Ms. Sweet thinks that parties are more open to negotiating and mediating than they were a decade ago. In employment law, and specifically labor relations, she noted that you always

need to consider that the parties have an ongoing relationship, and the employer and employees involved in these processes are very likely to have a long-term relationship. ADR processes allow her to keep those relationships in mind when she’s advocating for her clients. She’s also found that parties are more understanding of the value mediation offers in resolving these disputes; if the parties are willing to invest in the process and have open conversations, they’ll be more likely to find an outcome with which they both can live.

Outside of her work, Ms. Sweet finds she uses her ADR skills constantly in her everyday life. She noted that her daughter is a great negotiator, skills her daughter likely picked up from her. She thinks ADR really does improve our listening skills, as well as our ability to respond to one another, and increases our curiosity of what is in the mind of others in our lives. These skills, she noted, helps a lot in everyday life, and by using these skills in conversations and disputes with family and friends, you learn to bring a more humane approach to the formal processes. ADR, she said, offers skills that are beneficial in all aspects of life; she’s learned that sometimes treating each other fairly is more important than the outcome.

When asked if she had any advice for students thinking about a career in ADR, she had two simple words of advice: DO IT. Law school is one of the few times we have left in life to explore different things at the same time, so Ms. Sweet encouraged students to take advantage of what law school offers to try new things, hear speakers and do externships. She remembered that, when she wrote a paper for Professor Pillsbury’s Intro to Mediation course, she went out and interviewed mediators about their different styles, and how useful it was for her to talk to these individuals. She recommended that anything we can do to explore and better understand the ADR community, take full advantage of it. And if you find something that’s really cool, do not be afraid to talk to an ADR professor about setting up an independent study to learn more about it. “Let yourself be exhausted,” she recommended, “to take advantage of new opportunities.”

Alumni Spotlight Fall 2018!

FEATURING. . . ANDREW MARCHANT-SHAPIRO!

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After obtaining a Bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota and a Master’s degree at the University of Chicago (both in sociology), teaching college for several years, and working in software engineering for 15 years, Andrew Marchant-Shapiro decided to pursue a law degree. Quinnipiac School of Law’s Dean’s Fellows scholarship program caught his attention, and during an interview with some faculty members, one professor inquired as to whether or not The Fellowship of Reconciliation--a pacifist organization that Andrew was affiliated with–was a dispute resolution organization.

That query served to connect his dedication to pacifism with the importance of the role that dispute resolution plays in achieving that goal. He found himself drawn to dispute resolution at Quinnipiac, starting with trying out for the Society for Dispute Resolution’s competition team and later in enrolling and participating in various dispute resolution courses.

In a regional Representation in Mediation competition, Andrew and his co-competitor, along with 2 other teams from QU Law, made up the top 3 teams at an ABA regional competition in Rhode Island. It was then that Andrew got a sense for what QUSL was capable of when it comes to the field of dispute resolution. His team ended up placing second overall.

He has since transitioned into practicing law and incorporating mediation into his work as much as he can. Andrew currently has a small practice, River Bridge Resolutions, LLC, where he represents clients primarily in the fields of inmate civil rights, family, and business law, trying particularly with the latter two to stress the role that mediation and relationship building have for maintaining cooperation, whether in families or in business. In such settings, he has experienced that using litigation can destroy a relationship crucial to a family or to an ongoing project.  While he is excited about assisting divorcing couples to work out parenting plans and helping businesses make good deals and maintain professional relationships, he recognizes that there is much more to do in the legal field to make potential clients aware of the benefits and availability of mediation in lieu of litigation. “We need to find a way to make mediation sexy,” he told me as he was thinking, that as far as awareness of the legal system and the legal community goes, most people only think of lawyers as litigators, and don’t realize that mediation is an option. As the treasurer of The Connecticut Mediation Association (CTMA), Andrew hopes to find ways to do just that and to promote mediation as a tool that can help parties solve problems in an efficient manner. Mediation is particularly apt when there are matters that require people to work toward the future, whether it is parents ensuring the well-being of their child or businesses working together on an ongoing project. Mediation is a great way to maintain relationships into the future instead of potentially destroying them in litigation.

At the end of the day, Andrew hopes that attorneys and clients alike will recognize the value in resolving disputes as opposed to squeezing the greatest financial value out of any given situation. Mediation is about advocating for a solution, as opposed to advocating for a client’s individual interests, and neutrality is key. When asked what advice he had for current law students, Andrew stressed the importance of obtaining soft lawyering skills during law school due to the number of cases that settle. He said, “Work on your negotiating skills as soon as you can because the vast majority of cases are not going to end up in court, and even the ones that do will likely end up settling at some point. Get involved in SDR. Volunteer as a community mediator.”