Getting to Know Mediator Ken Shigley
What made you want to become a lawyer?
Growing up, I did not know any lawyers and was not aware of any other lawyers in my extended family. Only after I had been practicing law for decades did I learn of a distant relative, Lott Warren, who was a lawyer in antebellum Georgia. A former judge and congressman, he died of a “fit of apoplexy” in the courtroom in Americus in June 1861, defending a black man on a murder charge on the cusp of the Civil War. Someday I want to dig up the records of that case.
When I was four and five years old, my grandmama read to me almost every day from a book about the “lives of great Americans.” Many of them were lawyers. That probably planted a seed that was later watered by watching Perry Mason and Slattery’s People on TV. By the time I entered high school, I had a vague idea of pursuing a legal career. In high school, all I got from the guidance counselor was, “Don’t apply to those Yankee schools.” I considered becoming a home builder. But I got to know a couple of the young lawyers in my church in Douglasville and thought that seemed like good thing to do.
What’s your area of specialization?
Although I started as a prosecutor and in small-town general practice, I have worked since 1981 almost exclusively in tort and insurance litigation. From 1981 to 1990, I worked on the insurance defense side. I left in 1990 to launch my own practice because I needed to make more money for my growing family and had concluded my role as a junior partner in that firm was a dead end. Initially, I thought I would do half defense and half plaintiffs’ work, but it evolved into exclusively a plaintiffs’ practice. In the past decade, most of my practice has involved commercial trucking personal injury and wrongful death cases.
What are you most proud of with respect to your career?
Perhaps I should list my presidency of the State Bar of Georgia, my book that is now in its 10th annual edition with Thomson Reuters, my triple board certification with the National Board of Trial Advocacy, the “Tradition of Excellence” award, or some great case results. But the accomplishments of which I am most proud are the clients I have helped, and who have come back years later to emotionally express how my work had transformed their lives and the lives of their families.
Why did you become a neutral?
I did some mediation and arbitration independently and in a court annexed program in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. When Ed Henning launched the first major ADR firm in Atlanta in 1995, he asked me to join the panel of neutrals. Once I flew out of Pepperdine for ADR training. By 1999, it was taking a major portion of my time. In 2003, finding that scheduling of mediations was getting in the way of scheduling in my litigation practice, I withdrew from the panel. I figured I would return to mediation at a later stage of my career after paying for kids’ college, paying off my mortgage, and funding my retirement. Later is now.
What does ADR look like in 10 years?
During the “dot com” boom of the late 1990’s, I put a lot of time and effort into designing an artificial intelligence form of online mediation, incorporating mediators’ work process into an asynchronous, scalable, online form of ADR that could be used in a wide variety of types and sizes of cases. We crunched a tremendous amount of data generated in thousands of mediations and developed statistical patterns, algorithms, and scripts. We even obtained a provisional business process patent. A venture capital firm in San Francisco was willing to fund the startup in 1999, but only if we moved to Silicon Valley. It may have been no crazier than companies like Pets.com. Looking back 20 years later, however, it seems like one of those 1930’s futuristic fantasies about flying cars and vacations on the moon. Maybe something like that will come to pass but I wouldn’t count on it.
More realistically, I expect consolidation of private ADR services into larger firms, and that mediators will have better specialized training as neutrals, and improved access to data on verdicts, settlements and case valuations to help guide parties to resolution.
What do you hope to accomplish through your ADR practice?
With 42 years litigation and trial experience on both sides, including some expensive lessons arising from my own hubris, I hope to be able to creatively help parties and lawyers to realistically evaluate their risks and the advantages of an immediate negotiated resolution.
What is your conflict resolution style/approach?
I prefer the pragmatic “toolbox” approach, whatever tools it takes to get the job done. That may combine elements of evaluative, facilitative, and perhaps occasionally even narrative and transformative mediation styles.
How would your clients describe you?
Warm, empathic, caring, but tough. In my office, I have a wooden plaque that was a gift from the daughter of an elderly client. It reads, “People won’t remember what you said. They won’t even remember what you did. But they will always remember how you made them feel. In grateful appreciation for your dedication and service to others.”
Where Did You Grow Up?
Until age 12, I lived at Mentone, Alabama, a map dot of 250 souls (now 350) on Lookout Mountain midway between Chattanooga and Gadsden. We lived in a cement block house in a pine thicket that my father and uncle, both WWII combat veterans, built one pickup truck load of materials per payday. It was across a pasture from my grandparents and within sight of my great-grandparents’ house. My early memories include the day my dad and uncle hooked up the indoor toilet and hauled off the outdoor privy.
I attended elementary school ten miles away at Menlo, Georgia, population then and now under 500. My dad was principal and mom taught, back when Menlo had both a red light and a high school, neither of which it has had in a very long time. Because of my parents’ roles at the school, I was one of the few kids in my class who always had to wear shoes to school and didn’t get to skip school for cotton picking.
By the time I entered high school, we had moved to Douglasville, Georgia, before it boomed from country town too a diverse suburb. As soon as I got my driver’s license on my 16th birthday, I was driving my parents’ cars off to Atlanta, hoping they would not check the odometer. I got by with a lot.
What’s your Favorite Book?
I can’t say that I have one favorite book. Some of those I have read recently or listened to on Audible while driving include: Collins, The Language of God; Zogby, The Power of Time Perception; Gawande, Being Mortal; Black & Willard, Preparing for Heaven; Chernow, Grant; Alexander, The New Jim Crow; Paul, Looten, Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air; Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind; Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind; Chernow, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce; Isaacson, Leonardo DaVinci; Chernow, Washington: A Life; Clar, Atomic Habits; Stutzmen, Hiking Through; Duhigg, The Power of Habit; O’Connor, The Majesty of the Law; Rehnquist, The Supreme Court; Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire, Keller, The Reason for God, etc., etc.
What do you like to do in your spare time? How do you unwind?
Regularly: read, run, and watch documentaries.
Occasionally: travel, hike, travel, backpack, scuba.
Do you have a favorite quote?
“There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.”
Shakespeare, Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224
What movie or novel character do you most identify with?
Jake Brigance in A Time to Kill
Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption.
What characteristic do you most admire in others?
Most people in our 21st century urban culture are not comfortable with the terms “holiness” and “sanctification.” Many today might view those as negative terms equivalent to being harsh or judgmental, but that is not it at all. I certainly have fallen far short of both, but my grandparents personified these qualities as well as anyone I have known. I deeply admire those rare qualities in others.
If you could have dinner with anyone who would it be and why?
My wife who departed this life too soon in 2017. You know why.