Getting to Know Meditator & Arbitrator Jim Cooley
Jim is an active, highly engaged, and persistent mediator committed to bringing peace to the combative nature of disputes. With over 30 years of litigation experience, Jim has represented clients in hundreds of mediations and arbitrations and specializes in complex business disputes and class actions. In addition to his mediation practice, Jim serves as Senior Partner in the Charlotte office and is a member of Womble Bond Dickinson’s 40-lawyer Financial Services Litigation Team. When Jim is not actively participating in the development of dispute resolution, you can find him gardening, golfing, or reading.
What made you want to become a lawyer?
I was a high school and collegiate debater, and law school—and trial work in particular—seemed like a natural transition. While I explored graduate school in several areas, and actually attended seminary for a “trial year” on a Rockefeller Foundation Award, I gravitated away from more academic pursuits to a move active, engaged profession.
What is your area of specialization?
Complex civil litigation (see my profile), although early in my career I handled a number of high profile criminal and civil rights cases.
What are you most proud of with respect to your career?
Serving as a mentor for a number of very accomplished lawyers.
Why did you become a Neutral?
I have a long history of engagement in the development of dispute resolution, in NC in particular. It was a natural progression from advocate for, to practitioner of, mediation.
What does ADR look like in 10 years?
As we are learning at present, it will often be virtual. And as we already see, many small disputes will be resolved utilizing AI. For neutrals, it will be more highly regulated, as is beginning to be the case in NC, and entry into ADR will be more demanding in terms of training and demonstrated skills.
What is your conflict resolution style/ approach?
Active, highly engaged, and persistent.
What do you hope to accomplish through your ADR practice?
Bring peace, or at least a truce, to lots of little “wars” in which there are usually no winners.
How would your clients describe you?
Active, highly engaged, and persistent.
Where did you grow up?
Small town NC; extended family are all farmers from upstate SC.
What do you do in your spare time?
Read, mostly non-fiction; golf, sometimes competitively; garden; teach Sunday School to adult learners.
How do you unwind?
Cocktails in the garden with friends.
What characteristic do you admire most in others?
What was your first law job?
Law Clerk, U.S. Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit.
How did you decide to branch out into ADR?
Encouragement from other lawyers already actively mediating.
If you had to identify a passion for a particular area of the law, what would it be?
How does your experience help you add value to conflict resolution clients and their disputes?
I have been fortunate as a “generalist” in civil litigation to be involved in a wide range of complex civil disputes in many different form. That depth and range of experience enables me to better understand the specific dispute before me. While it’s not exactly “been there, done that,” I am usually able to identify with the variety of clients and issues that a mediator must be able to manage.
What is the importance of alternative dispute resolution?
By bringing peace, or at least a truce, it saves significant resources—not just money, but time, and personal anxiety.
In your estimation, why do clients like working with you?
Because they recognize that I am highly engaged in their dispute and that I am persistent at getting a resolution.
How does ADR help make lawyers more successful?
By oftentimes producing clients who are more satisfied that their voice was heard and their dispute taken seriously. A satisfied client tends to come back again.
If you had to teach a subject, what would it be?
What is your favorite holiday and why?
Thanksgiving, if observed according to its name. Less hoopla; more family time.
What is something your clients would never guess about you?
That I have a strong political viewpoint.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
To be actively engaged on behalf of my clients’ interests and persistent in the pursuit of those interests.
If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be?
A golf travel writer.
If you could have dinner with anyone person, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Socrates. So that he could lay bare all of my pretense about who I am (see questions 1-26 above) and reshape by thinking about what, if anything, I believe to be true.
What is your favorite book? Why?
The Bible, including various books that did not make it into the canon but which shaped those which did. It is an endlessly fascinating book, which I have spent much more time exploring than any other. I “enjoy” reading other books, fiction and non-fiction, but there is a reason why I have been engaged in the 40+ year process of trying to teach this book, even though I often do not enjoy the experience.
Do you have a favorite quote?
“I know that I am going to die someday, but I am never going to retire.”—Margaret Mead. Also, from the Countess in Downton Abbey, “Does it ever get cold up there on the moral high ground?”