April 2000


By James John Jurinski, JD, CPA

American Management Association, $171 ($139 for AICPA members)

Review by Philip Zimmerman, CPA

Whether in public practice or industry, CPAs are accustomed to hearing about disputes with employees, customers, and suppliers. Opportunity costs--those incurred through time-consuming litigation or through loss of valuable, long-term relationships with clients or suppliers enmeshed in litigation--can be even greater than the cash costs.

The AICPA and the American Management Association have developed a self-study course designed to help CPAs understand the inner workings of alternative dispute resolution. Author James John Jurinski is a tax and business law professor and a mediator and arbitrator for the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD). He also maintains a law practice in Portland, Ore.

The book is a complete, understandable, and sensible course on almost everything a CPA needs to know about mediation and arbitration as distinct processes in relation to litigation. The book contains much to recommend it but lacks a discussion of the principles and good practices of negotiation and the specifics on the practice opportunities for CPAs as neutrals in negotiations.

The fastest and least costly way to resolve a dispute--even more so than mediation--is negotiation. Even CPAs comfortable with negotiation would benefit from an explanation of better negotiation techniques, such as is found in Fisher and Ury's Getting to Yes or "The CPA Negotiator: The Next Step" by Hanan Isaacs, Esq. (The CPA Journal, September 1999).

A new chapter on the CPA as a neutral would encourage CPAs, who as Jurinski says, have the most important qualities of a good mediator--"integrity and the ability to instill confidence in the participants"--to become more involved in alternative dispute resolution (ADR) proceedings.

A CPA taking a course specifically prepared for CPAs would expect to be mentioned as neutrals in the same breath as attorneys and other professionals.

Consulting Services Practice Aid 99-1

Another important omission from the course is the professional standards and nonauthoritative guidance that apply to ADR practice and detail how being a party to mediation or arbitration affects CPAs' independence. (For this information, users of this course would be advised to also refer to the AICPA's Consulting Services Practice Aid, 99-1, "Alternative Dispute Resolution Services." The aid contains a number of useful checklists and a list of helpful articles.)

The self-study course's strong points include the following:

* An even-handed explanation of when and when not to mediate, arbitrate, or litigate;
* A description of which method is preferable under various circumstances; and
* A practical outline of how to better prepare and win using the various ADR processes.

Case Studies

The course includes two excellent case studies, which are important in understanding which type of ADR is preferable in various situations and how ADR can help maintain valuable relationships, reduce legal costs, and avoid the unfavorable publicity that can damage a firm's goodwill.

One practice case involves a noncompete clause given to a former partner. Another case clearly illustrates how a CPA firm's in-house dispute resolution system could have helped resolve a number of typical disputes: an employee's vacation pay entitlement, a wrongful discharge, competition from a former employee, and a Title VII sexual harassment claim. Although one CPA firm is unlikely to experience all of these disputes at once, to encounter them over a longer period is not unusual. *

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