Getting to Know Mediator Steve Dunn
Steve is a candid mediator known for his focus on fairness, justice, and issues of right and wrong. Over his 20-year litigation career specializing in employment law and representing individual executives as well as Fortune 500 companies in virtually every industry, Steve mastered the language of employment and business litigation. He has used this mastery in his mediation practice to get cases resolved and help parties consider novel approaches. When Steve is not settling cases, he unwinds by doing yard work listening to podcasts.
Why did you become a lawyer?
Even when I was a little kid, my nickname was “Even Steven” because I was unusually focused on fairness, justice, and issues of right and wrong. From a personal standpoint, legal work suited me because I enjoy writing and public speaking (and sure, OK, arguing).
What is your area of specialization?
As a lawyer, I did complex business and employment litigation. As a mediator, I am willing to try anything.
What are you most proud of with respect to your career?
As a young lawyer, I was taught by my mentor, Phil Van Hoy, to be candid and honest at all times, with everyone. I always practiced that way and it served me well.
Why did you become a Neutral?
Mediation is all the fun part of legal work without the stressful and annoying parts. I get to talk to smart people, be persuasive, and help solve problems, all within the context of working toward a common goal.
What does ADR look like in 10 years?
Video conferencing is here to stay. It will not completely replace the in-person experience, but it will be complementary in ways we are only beginning to imagine. In the future, I think neutrals will be part of the litigation process from start to finish rather than appearing for just one day.
What is your conflict resolution style/ approach?
I am extremely persistent. I never give up until the parties kick me out, and even then, I keep following up and bugging them until they settle.
What do you hope to accomplish through your ADR practice?
I hope the people who work with me feel as though our time together was useful and worthwhile regardless of the outcome of their case.
How would your clients describe you?
As a lawyer, clients found me responsive and pragmatic. I gave options and assigned relative risk to each rather than defaulting to the most conservative approach in every instance. As a mediator, clients find I can establish a genuine personal connection with all kinds of people and that I am a straight shooter even when things are not going well.
Where did you grow up?
My father was in the Air Force so we moved a lot growing up. I’ve lived in Charlotte longer than anywhere else and consider it my home.
What do you do in your spare time? How do you unwind?
I love live music and have played in bands, so I go to a lot of concerts. I’ve traveled thousands of miles in a Volkswagen van to see Phish play all over the country. At home, I unwind by putting on headphones and listening to podcasts while doing yardwork.
What characteristic do you admire most in others?
I admire people who take action and get things done, who aren’t all talk. I admire people who take pride in their work, no matter what it is, and strive to do it exceptionally well.
What was your first law job?
During law school, I was the summer clerk at a small employment law boutique firm in Charlotte. They hired me out of law school as their first-ever associate and spent my entire 21-year legal career there.
How did you decide to branch out into ADR?
I was inspired by the work of some incredible mediators in Charlotte who helped settle my own cases. In their example, I saw something I might be good at, too.
If you had to identify a passion for a particular area of the law, what would it be?
Employment discrimination and non-competes. Neither area is defined by technical rules or arbitrary lines. Rather, they both hinge on fairness and common sense—do you have valid reasons for what you’re doing, or not?
How does your experience help you add value to conflict resolution clients and their disputes?
I certainly speak the language of employment and business litigation. I have seen cases get resolved a variety of ways and sometimes I can help the parties think of approaches that had not occurred to them. With any type of case, though, my experience building relationships with people from every walk of life enables me to establish rapport that is essential to settlement.
What is the importance of alternative dispute resolution?
Settling cases improves the mental health and quality of life of everyone involved in litigation, including the lawyers.
How has your life experience made you the neutral you are today?
I had a wide variety of jobs before I was a lawyer, including office, retail, food service, amusement park, camp counselor, and playing in a band. While practicing law, I also chaired the boards of several non-profits. Through these experiences, I developed a first-hand appreciation of what all kinds of people go through in their professional lives, from the dishwasher to the president of the restaurant chain – I’ve been there.
In your estimation, why do clients like working with you?
I’m fun to be around. People find me refreshingly honest and real.
How does ADR help make lawyers more successful?
Every settlement is a win. If I can help you get your case settled, your client is by definition satisfied with the outcome because it’s their decision. It’s better for everyone.
If you had to teach a subject, what would it be?
I’ve taught employment law as an adjunct professor and enjoyed the experience.
What is your favorite holiday and why?
I like Christmas because at that time of year, regardless of one’s faith, the whole country slows down and everyone takes time to focus on family and things that really matter.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
We are all human beings and we bring our personalities to our work. There are many “right ways” to do things. What’s important is to do your work authentically in your way.
What is your favorite book? Why?
The Right Stuff. I’m a huge fan of Thomas Wolfe’s non-fiction and this one combines the qualities of remarkable people engaged in a remarkable endeavor in a remarkable time.
Do you have a favorite quote?
“Don’t believe everything you think.”