The pilot family mediation project of the Minnesota Court of Appeals appears headed toward becoming a permanent component of the appellate process in Minnesota.

Two years ago, the Court of Appeals began experimenting with voluntary participation in mediation immediately following the filing of an appeal. Most, including myself, were skeptical. Mediation has traditionally involved negotiation prior to trial, not after. Trial typically leaves the litigants even further at odds with one another, with litigants on appeal considered the most conflicted.

However, the Court reports that since inception, the pilot program has resulted in a 52% settlement success rate. I find that astonishing, given the temperment of those participating in an appeal.

As many have commented, it appears family court litigants continue to appreciate an opportunity to “take the law into their own hands” and control the outcome of their dispute. I say that because of the exploding trend toward early settlement of divorce cases through early neutral evaluation. Some counties report 80% of divorce cases settling through ENE.

Last week, I heard grumblings from a court administrator that some lawyers are flustered by the settlement rates. What a shame. I suspect attorneys who work at firms with billable quotas can’t stand the idea of losing out on an opportunity to bill hours for the flurry of letters, phone calls, hearings and trials that necessarily accompany conflict-loaded cases.

This appears to be a win-win-win. The courts? Fewer resources needed in family court. The clients? Less cost, less turmoil, more control. The lawyers? A more rewarding, productive practice model.

The keys to success in early resolution, in my mind, are two-fold. You need to find a lawyer with two seemingly competing characteristics: (1) a reputation for success in the courtroom; and (2) a sincere desire to settle matters early. We find that cases tend to settle early when the opposing attorney knows we aren’t afraid to (capably) try cases. But, our goal for every client is to litigate only when absolutely necessary. That combination has worked well for those we represent.

Photo of Cynthia J. Brown Cynthia J. Brown

“Some lawyers play a lot of games. That’s not my approach. There is a lot of gray area in the law, but I try to keep things relatively straightforward for my clients. That way, we can all focus on what’s really important: getting…

“Some lawyers play a lot of games. That’s not my approach. There is a lot of gray area in the law, but I try to keep things relatively straightforward for my clients. That way, we can all focus on what’s really important: getting matters settled fairly and cost-effectively. We’re certainly ready to litigate, but favor empowering clients to control the outcome of their case.”

Cynthia is a founding partner with the Brown Law Offices, P.A. She is a graduate of the University of South Dakota and William Mitchell College of Law. She publishes extensively on divorce and family law issues.

Cynthia Brown was admitted to practice in 1998. After graduating from law school, Cynthia served as the law clerk to the Honorable Timothy R. Bloomquist, retired Chief Judge of Minnesota’s Tenth Judicial District. Upon completing her clerkship, Cynthia practiced family law with a well-known firm in Cambridge, Minnesota. She founded the Brown Law Offices, P.A., in 2003.

Early in her career, Cynthia served as a prosecutor and public defender. In the last decade, however, Cynthia’s practice has focused primarily on family law. She has handled a wide variety of matters throughout the Twin Cities, and greater Minnesota, including divorce, custody, child support, alimony, paternity, step-parent adoption, harassment and grandparent rights.

Cynthia publishes extensively on divorce and family law issues. She is a contributing author to the Family Law Forum, the quarterly publication of the Family Law Section of the Minnesota State Bar Association. Cynthia also writes a bi-monthly family law column for the Minnesota Lawyer newspaper, and monthly articles for Divorce Magazine.

Cynthia obtained her Bachelor’s Degree, magna cum laude, from the University of South Dakota, Vermillion, and her Juris Doctorate from the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul.

Cynthia founded the Amigos de Guatemala Foundation in 2007. She is a former Board Member and President of the Foundation, which provided educational, health and financial resources to underprivileged Guatemalan citizens. Her interest in serving the impoverished began with a medical mission trip to Honduras in 1994.

When she is not practicing law, Cynthia enjoys scrap-booking, soap-making, beading and spending time with family. She and her husband, Jason, also an attorney, have two children.