February 2000


By Philip Zimmerman

CPAs that practice in New Jersey have an advantage over those that practice in New York because of the greater acceptance and use of mediation in New Jersey. This dichotomy becomes meaningful for any New York firm that faces a malpractice claim or is interested in practicing mediation. As a CPA who practices mediation in both New York and New Jersey, this is acutely clear to me and was highlighted at "Mediation in the Mainstream," the recent sixth annual conference of the New Jersey Association of Professional Mediators.

First of all, no similar New York mediation association is open to membership by not only attorneys (which have several mediation associations) but also to CPAs, social workers, and other professionals that practice mediation. For those CPAs that are sued, whether for professional, commercial, or matrimonial reasons, New Jersey judges have the authority to refer the matter to mediation before the case is brought before them, even if mediation was not the first line of defense in engagement letters or other contracts. In New York, judges in only a few counties have this authority. Also in New Jersey, judges in four counties are part of a pilot program that requires judges to first place business cases into mediation. In another pilot program, judges in six counties are required to place economic issues in divorce into mediation before hearing the case.

New Jersey businesses can choose a CPA mediator from anywhere in the state. For example, I was recently selected by a judge from the statewide panel of approved mediators provided to the courts and litigants to mediate a contractual dispute over compensation for the value of clients that left a firm to join a former employee's firm.

The New Jersey Association of Professional Mediators conference sessions covered New Jersey mediation practice in construction workplace disputes, divorce, and other areas. Three CPAs were speakers at the conference: Linda Schaeffer, Thomas Geraghty, and Alan Winters, all of whom practice as experts and mediators in divorce.

Hanan Isaacs, president of the mediation association and a longtime advocate of including CPAs on all mediation panels, explained how he recently lobbied to have the committee that accredits mediators for the divorce pilot program qualify CPAs and other mediation professionals, in addition to attorneys.

New York CPAs should lobby their CPA associations and governmental representatives to more vigorously promote mediation as an alternative to litigation. Even more useful is for CPAs to include a mediation clause in their engagement letters and employment and other contracts. *

Philip Zimmerman, CPA, practices mediation for both the New York and New Jersey courts and in private practice. He can be reached at www.mediatorpz.com.

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