Daily Journal Profile: Greg Derin Breaks Logjams With a Magic Touch

Described by one attorney as having the “mediator’s magic,” Greg Derin employs his knowledge of entertainment, intellectual property and employment law to mediate cases.

“You’re sitting there in that room, waiting to hear how the other side’s going to respond to your proposal, and you’re saying to yourself, there’s no way they’re going to come down to the number you want,” said entertainment attorney Michael E. Weinstein, for whom Derin has settled seven cases.

“Somehow, Greg comes walking in with a smile on his face. That’s his signature thing – when he’s got that smile, you know he got them to make a big move.”

Derin is far less mystical in describing his approach to mediation. In addition to his requisite legal knowledge, Derin said he finds it necessary to have a healthy respect for the emotional aspects of the work.

“When a mediator says ‘I resolve 98 percent of my mediations,’ there’s something wrong with that statement,” Derin said. “Because the mediation is not about us, it’s about empowering the parties to find a resolution.”

Derin’s career began as an entertainment litigator at entertainment boutique Dern, Mason & Floum and he later became a partner at Del, Rubel, Shaw, Mason & Derin. He said his approach as a litigator was “never a forceful one” – different from the entertainment litigators whom he described as “burn-down-the-castle kind of personalities.”

In contrast, he said he tried to understand what the client’s objectives were, and created a strategic approach accordingly.

The win-win goal of successful mediation, Derin said, “really resonated with me – it was an epiphany.” When he began mediating cases in 2002, colleagues who knew him greeted the news with, “Well, duh.”

“Greg is one of the go-to mediators in Los Angeles,” said David Aronoff, media and intellectual property litigation partner at Fox Rothschild LLP. “I think he brings a lot of intelligence and sensitivity to the issues, as well as substantive knowledge, but I think that he has the temperament to not impose his substantive knowledge on the parties.”

Aronoff also said that Derin is pragmatic about the business and commercial realities of a dispute. “It’s not just about the law, but it’s also about the economic division of the parties and the commercial context in which the dispute is taking place — he’s very attuned to those factors as well.”

“I’ve found Greg to be smart, thoughtful, hard-working and energetic,” said David Halberstadter, entertainment litigation partner at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP. “He always maintains his neutrality in mediating disputes, he proposes creative ways to achieve settlement, and – unlike some other mediators – he reads all of the submissions and is fully prepared to engage both sides respecting the substance of their dispute.”

An understanding of not just how, but when to unsheathe certain strategies is one of the skills Derin finds crucial. For example, giving the parties evaluative input as to the strengths of their positions is often valuable later in the process, Derin

said, but can be counterproductive if done too soon. “If you do that early in the day, you can’t go backwards – you can’t pull other tools out of the toolbox and help them find the common ground between them.”

One of the central factors for a successful mediation, Derin said, is trust – and gaining that can take time.

“It’s particularly difficult if you’re in an employment dispute and I walk into a case where the plaintiff is a woman and has an allegation she’s been discriminated against and harassed,” Derin said. “If you’ve got a bunch of male lawyers, a male mediator, and you ask somebody to trust you and they don’t know you – [that] isn’t going to happen in the first fifteen minutes of the conversation.”

Derin mentions a particularly difficult case in which he was the third mediator brought in after two earlier failures. After an attorney described something that had happened to his female client, the pivotal moment, according to Derin, was when Derin simply asked the women, “How did that make you feel?”

The client, who had sat with her arms crossed for three hours, turned to Derin, and “just opened up with all kinds of information,” Derin said.

“It was as if in two prior mediations nobody had ever asked her what this whole controversy was about,” he said. “After that exchange, she

Alexander Drecun / Special to the Daily Journal

was ready to get to a place of bargaining.”

Weinstein further praised Derin’s ability to succeed where others had failed. “There are certain mediators who are going through the motions, and certain ones that I call closers,” he said. “Greg is definitely a closer.”

Derin freely acknowledges the emotional framework around the work he does – something which others often underestimate – yet tries to remain mindful of the professional context of mediated disputes. “Most of my cases are litigated or are on the verge of litigation, so they take very seriously the context in which they find themselves, and they’re not ready to dance around the fire,” he said. “You can’t live in a complete kumbaya world with these litigators because they won’t sing and dance with you – although I have gotten hugs.”

Here are some of the lawyers who have used Greg D. Derin’s services:
Michel E. Weinstein, Lavely & Singer P.C., Los Angeles; Jeffrey G. Huron, Dykema Gossett PLLC, Los Angeles; Bruce Isaacs, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, Los Angeles; David Halberstadter, Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, Los Angeles; David Aronoff, Fox Rothschild LLP, Los Angeles; Diana Torres, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Los Angeles; Harrison Dossick, Reed Smith LLP, Los Angeles.