Janet Rubin Fields uses an intense, approachable style to overcome litigation impasses.
By Susan McRae
Daily Journal Starr Writer
LOS ANGELES – Janet Rubin Fields believes achievement in any field depends on how much you’re willing to put into it- and most people who’ve used her mediation services will agree that she gives it her all.
“When I put my heart and soul into it, people know it,” said the 55-year-old Fields, a mediator for 13 years- the last 10 at Judicate West. “If you want to be successful, you have to engage from beginning to end with no time clock.”
You also have to think creatively, she said. “I think outside of the box. I don’t limit myself to what I’m provided with. I look for what’s missing from the briefs, what’s behind the curtain.”
Lawyers say Fields’ intense yet approachable style goes a long way toward resolving the most challenging cases. They say she has a knack for bonding with clients and getting them to be realistic about their claims.
Those skills were apparent last year, lawyers said, when she resolved two emotionally charged personal injury cases that no one thought would settle. Each involved a child who suffered traumatic brain injury in an auto accident.
One case came to her after two previous attempts at mediation had failed. She spent a year in negotiations with scores of family members, their lawyers and insurance representatives, eventually settling the case for more than $10 million through a mediator’s proposal – a double-blind device used as a last resort to try to break an impasse.
The other case resolved for close to the same amount, and she’s still tying up some remaining details.
Lancaster lawyer R. Rex Parris, who’s also the city’s mayor, coincidentally represented the plaintiffs in both cases. He described himself as someone who’s not known to be conducive to settlements but that Fields was able to handle his “volatile and passionate” nature and keep him in the room.
“That’s quite a feat,” he said. “It takes a unique person to handle multiple claims with multiple defendants and weave them all together without losing track of somebody. I’ve seen her go from 8 a.m. to midnight and never seen her exhausted.
“I haven’t found anyone better.”
Peter Dubrawski of Haight Brown & Bonesteel LLP, a defense attorney in one of the cases, credited Fields’ “interpersonal skills” with the resolution of the case.”
She works hard,” Dubrawski said. “She knows her stuff, does the research necessary to know what’s required, and when it gets to mediation, she brings her interpersonal skills to bear.”
Fields said she’d rather work with savvy lawyers any day than have a “fire sale,” referring to the back-and forth negotiations some neutrals engage in to reach the lowest possible amount. “When they’re prepared, I am at the top of my game,” she said of the lawyers, “because it’s all about being engaged in whatever we’re there for.
“It doesn’t matter what the dollar settlement value is – it’s a large case for the party.”
A Los Angeles native, Fields, grew up in the San Fernando Valley. She said she became interested in law after playing the role of a lawyer in an eighth-grade civics class reenactment of the Salem witchcraft trials. Classmate Jeffrey Greenwald, who represented the opposite side in the trial and also went on to become a lawyer, remembered her as a “tough” opponent.
From that time forward, Fields said she set her sights on the law.
She worked as a legal secretary in Santa Rosa while putting herself through Sonoma State University and Empire College School of Law. Returning to Los Angeles in 1985, she joined a commercial litigation, bankruptcy and real estate firm in Beverly Hills then known as Isaac & Sands. From 1988 to 1993, she was trial attorney at Rosoff, Schiffres & Barta, specializing in plaintiffs’ personal injury, commercial litigation and securities matters. While trying a case for the firm, she met her future husband, Howard Fields, who was her co-counsel.
During the time they were married – they’ve since divorced – she helped raise his three children from a previous marriage. When she became pregnant, she decided to join her husband in his practice to increase their scheduling flexibility between work and family.
But by 1999, her schedule was about to change dramatically. She tore a knee ligament at a tennis tournament and had to have surgery. Not one to sit around, she wanted to make good use of her time. So she signed up for a course in mediation at Pepperdine University School of Law’s Straus 1 Institute for Dispute Resolution, where she could sit at a desk with her leg elevated.
The course cured more than a bum knee. She discovered a new profession. She started out volunteering for the pro bono panel at Los Angeles County Superior Court, and before long, she said her phone started ringing with requests to mediate cases for pay. She said the work improved her skills as a mediator and helped her as a litigator by giving her a larger overview of her cases. It also helped in her personal interactions with friends and family members.
After a year, she said she was earning a living as a mediator. For the next three years, she worked independently, gaining experience and building a reputation. At the end of that time, she began receiving offers from commercial ADR providers and joined Judicate West.
But Fields cautioned those considering mediation as a fulltime career to figure on having a three- to five-year cushion before being able to make living at it. The profession has always been competitive, she said, but the competition has increased over the years as the process has become a more popular. alternative to prolonged court battles.
But for her, she said the effort has been worth it. “I’m a believer that life is an about re-evaluating,” she said. “If you want to do something bad enough, you make it work, what- …”
“I decided to take the plunge and pursue a mediation career full time with the idea that if you don’t take risks, you’re never going to know.”
Here are some of the lawyers who’ve appeared before Rubin Fields in mediations: R. Rex Parris, R. Rex Parris Law Firm, Lancaster; Mark Geragos, Geragos & Geragos PC, Los Angeles; Peter Dubrawski, Haight Brown & Bonesteel LLP, Los Angeles; Barry Bradley, Tom Gmelich, Gradley & Gmelich, Glendale; Linda Savitt, Ballard Rosenberg Golper. & Savitt LLP, Glendale; Keith Bremer, John O’Mera, Bremer Whyte Brown & O’Meara LLP, Orange County and Woodland Hills; Jonathan Cole, Nemeck & Cole, Sherman Oaks.