Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, October 24, 2014

Leitner Williams boosts mediation practice with move to Tallan Bldg.

Attorney David Noblit is a Rule 31 mediator with Leitner, Williams, Dooley & Napolitan. He says the law firm’s new space in the Tallan Financial Center was designed to facilitate effective mediation. Behind him, work by Chattanooga-based artist Gay Arthur graces the main conference room. - (Photo by David Laprad)

Recently, attorney David Noblit of Leitner, Williams, Dooley & Napolitan took part in four personal injury mediations in four days. As a Rule 31 mediator who’s participated in over 800 mediations since 1985, he was a portrait of poise at the negotiating table. His clients, however, were not.

“All four plaintiffs were distressed, anxious, and uncomfortable,” he says. “There was a lot of money at play, but not so much it would make a long-term difference in anyone’s life. Still, they looked physically hurt.”

Unresolved legal matters do take a toll on a person’s mental and physical well-being. For that reason, Noblit is a proponent of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). “Litigation is about beating somebody up, and someone walks away disappointed with the judge or jury,” he says. “Through mediation, the two sides are able to work together to achieve a result within range of similar cases. It’s more satisfying.”

Mediation can also help the parties in a dispute avoid a long and expensive trial, saving time and money. This can be especially critical when the merits of a case are weak. “Your position might not be as strong as you think,” Noblit says. “When I look in the mirror, I see the prettiest person on Earth, but I’m the only one who sees me that way. Everyone has their biases. Mediation allows us to test the risks in a case, and weigh those against how much money a trial would cost and how long it would take.”

Although mediation offers benefits, the process can still be taxing. But there are ways of easing the tension surrounding a negotiation. One big one, Noblit says, is providing a space that contains the fewest possible distractions and allows the participants to focus on the issues.

Leitner Williams’s new office in the Tallan Financial Center does just that. From free parking, to a state-of-the-art mediation center, to free refreshments for clients and guests, the environment at the firm is conducive to the resolution of disputes.

When the parties involved in a mediation step off the elevator at Leitner Williams, they enter a small but elegant waiting area. The receptionist greets people from behind a desk to the left, while comfortable seating is available on the right. Directly ahead, on the other side of a glass wall, is the main conference room, which stretches from one end of the waiting area to the other. Windows inside the conference room offer a spacious view of downtown Chattanooga.

Available on either side of the main conference room are smaller, soundproofed conference rooms that allow the sides in a dispute to break off into private meetings. The refreshment center is located around a corner behind the waiting area.

“We don’t have to walk people through a maze of hallways and cubicles,” Noblit says. “They walk in, and the conference room is right there.”

Noblit is especially proud of the audio visual equipment in the main conference room, which allows someone to connect remotely using a dedicated service. Noblit likens the speed of the connection and the clarity of the display and the audio to the person being on the other side of a glass partition. “Unless you’re connecting with a 3G phone, there’s no choppiness,” he says. “We’ve even done video depositions using this equipment.”

The AV equipment is more than a bragging point for Leitner Williams; it allows people who live a considerable distance from Chattanooga to take part in a mediation without leaving work or incurring travel expenses. “When you have a case that’s going to settle for $20,000 to $30,000 – which isn’t a lot of money today – and the adjustor is in another state, he might not want to get on a plane and miss two days in the office for a four hour meeting,” Noblit says.

Even more to the point, interacting with someone using the technology can allow for a stronger, more human connection between parties. “When someone has been hurt, they want to feel as though the other side has listened them and will treat them fairly,” Noblit says. “They don’t want to hear a voice on the phone. This can make or break a mediation.”

Leitner Williams moved to the Tallan Building in September after nearly 50 years in the Pioneer Building. Over the decades, the firm had grown exponentially, taking over almost 30,000 square feet of space, but its office was fragmented, and there was no mediation center. With many cases today going through ADR before going to court, a change was needed. Now the firm not only offers an easily accessible, dedicated mediation center, it’s also housed within a slightly smaller, contiguous space. Together, these things allow Leitner Williams to better serve its clients.

Noblit began practicing law in 1979, when mediation did not exist, and cases were settled on courthouse steps. When Rule 31 went into effect in 1985, no one knew what to expect or even how to go about the process of mediating a matter. Today, nearly every case goes through some form of ADR, and professionals take specialized training to become mediators. “It’s an integral part of the justice system,” Noblit says. “I’ve met people who could not get together and talk, but once an objective ... [third party] became involved, they were able to discuss the issues and come up with solutions.”

While Noblit’s practice includes defending corporate clients in liability cases and workers’ compensation cases, he also represents individuals in family law disputes – all of which must go through mediation. For that reason, he’s thrilled with the new space at Leitner Williams.

As are his clients – including the four he assisted during one busy week.

“Four people who came in looking chronically ill left standing upright, with a smile on their face. They were shaking hands with people, and in some cases even hugging them,” Noblit says. “Mediation is a very satisfying part of this profession. You can take people who are suffering mentally, lift the stress off of them, and let them go back to living their lives.” 

For more photos, pick up a copy of the Hamilton County Herald.