Profile of the Month – Matthew J. Segal
Matt Segal’s practice focuses on litigation, counseling and dispute resolution for public and private clients. Matt’s litigation experience spans the appellate and trial court level, with an emphasis on complex appellate matters, federal and state constitutional law, municipal law, insurance coverage, land use, public records, and media & privacy issues. Matt has appeared and presented arguments in state and federal trial and appellate courts, including the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Washington Supreme Court, all three divisions of the Washington Court of Appeals, and numerous United States District Courts including Washington, D.C., California, and Maine.
A significant part of Matt’s practice involves counseling and defending public clients. Matt’s work for public clients has included representing cities such as Seattle, Bellevue, Snoqualmie, Everett, Federal Way and Yakima; counties including King and Clark counties; and other public entities such as Sound Transit, SCORE Jail, and numerous school districts throughout the state.
Prior to the founding of Pacifica Law Group, Matt was a partner at the law firm of K&L Gates, and an associate at its predecessor firm Preston Gates & Ellis. Before entering private practice, Matt also served as a judicial clerk for Justice Charles W. Johnson of the Washington State Supreme Court. Matt also worked as an extern for the Pierce County Department of Assigned Counsel, and began his legal career as a law clerk for Rush, Hannula, Harkins & Kyler in Tacoma, Washington.
Matt served on the Board of Directors of the ACLU of Washington, is currently a vice-president on the board of the Seattle Opera, and has been repeatedly commended by the Washington State Bar Association for his pro bono legal work.
Matt earned his J.D. from Seattle University School of Law, in 1999, summa cum laude. He earned his B.A. in history from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1993. Before he became a lawyer, Matt worked as a print and broadcast journalist, including filings and submissions for the Associated Press, A.P. Network News, ABC News, the Alaska Public Radio Network and Pacific Islands Monthly in Fiji.
- How often do you have cases that involve mediation?
I end up doing at least several mediations each year. Mediation is a critical part of my litigation practice.
- What qualities do you look for in a mediator?
There are three main things I look for in a mediator: credibility, perspective and the ability to communicate.
Regarding credibility, I really appreciate mediators who have a true reputation for neutrality because these are the mediators who have a greater chance for success. All of the parties are earnestly willing to listen to what these mediators have to say.
Perspective is also very important. Most mediators work very hard, and the work is not limited to the mediation session itself. I appreciate those who take a broad view of the dispute (starting the process well in advance of the mediation) and who then reconnect if the mediation doesn’t immediately result in a settlement. The work that mediators put in beforehand and afterward is often the difference between settling and not settling a difficult case.
Communication is critical. To interact effectively with different types of people who have varying backgrounds and levels of sophistication, including lawyers and their clients simultaneously, is as much an art as a science. Determining the best way to get across critical information to all participants in a mediation is essential.
- How strongly do you push to have a mediator you propose be accepted by the other side?
I try to be very deliberate about who I propose to the other side. My objective is to select someone I believe has a reasonable chance of being accepted by all of the other parties. I really try to select someone who is right for the case. In most cases, both sides will propose a short list of options. All of the parties need to have options for buying-in into the process from the start.
- How important is pre-session communication with the parties?
It is vital. The time spent in mediation itself is limited and precious. Mediation often involves parties who are very busy, or are from out-of-town with travel schedules. If time is spent in advance, so everyone is brought up to speed, then the parties can spend more time negotiating in earnest during the actual mediation.
- How important is it for the mediator to follow up if the mediation doesn’t result in a settlement?
Follow-up is very important. I appreciate mediators who stay engaged, who check back in during various stages of the case. I have had a number of cases that did not settle in mediation, but then later, did settle in a time frame ranging from 48 hours to one year or longer after the actual mediation took place. Mediators are working through the dispute in a process to see if they can get it settled in a reasonable manner. That might take more than one session. It’s not uncommon to have multiple sessions over an extended period of time. Other things might also change during the course of a case (for example, the court may issue key rulings that change the posture of settlement).
- What ADR topics would you like to see discussed at an ADR-related CLE?
As a lawyer who participates in mediations, I like hearing from mediators how lawyers can most effectively use their clients’ time in mediation. For clients, mediation is not only their opportunity to settle the case, but also their chance to play a very active and direct role in the settlement process. It’s important for lawyers to know how to make the best use of the opportunity that presents.
- Tell me more about your practice…
I have been fortunate over the years to work on a number of large, public policy driven cases at the trial and appellate level. You would think these types of cases might not be suited for mediation, but that’s not necessarily so. Mediation is not always about who pays who how much, although that is often part of it. I always try to keep an open mind about whether a case can be resolved in the best interest of the client.
- Are there any issues or trending topics that you would like to discuss?
I have a story from just recently that is particularly pertinent to this discussion. I was in court for an injunction proceeding, where the judge commented on the limitations inherent in court budgets today and the difficulty in taking cases to trial. The difficulty in taking cases to trial is due to any number of factors, including budget cuts, limited tax revenue, growth in population without similar growth in the courts’ resources, and of course the overall expense of litigation. Sometimes, trials might be necessary, but fewer and fewer cases go to trial, and resources are stretched so thin that going to trial is often not the most realistic recourse. In light of these factors, lawyers have an inherent responsibility to work with their clients to see if a dispute can be resolved short of going to trial. Reliable neutrals or mediators can be an important part of that discussion.