By Greg Katz
Daily Journal Staff Writer
LOS ANGELES - Mediator Robert M. Tessier thinks of himself as a study in contrasts.
Tessier grew up in a blue-collar Los Angeles family but works in a white-collar field.
He attended liberal Loyola Marymount as an undergrad and went on to the conservative Pepperdine University School of Law.
Out of law school, he started doing defense work, then switched to the plaintiffs' side.
Those juxtapositions, he said, make him a good mediator.
"You need to be able to appreciate the values that all sides bring to the table," Tessier said in a recent interview at his office in the San Fernando Valley.
Attorneys have taken note of that quality in the mediator, as well.
"He surprises with just how much he knows," said Albro Lundy, a partner in Baker, Burton & Lundy in Hermosa Beach. "He's got a very broad knowledge base."
Lundy used Tessier on a recent product liability case involving an exploding candle.
"There were three different areas of scientific analysis to that product liability case, but he was a very quick study on it," Lundy said.
Tessier's busy practice sees him taking on as many as 23 cases a month, and Southern California dispute resolution provider Judicate West recently enlisted him for its panel. He starts with the company Jan. 1.
Tessier, a boyish-looking 47 and quick to joke, said he went into mediation as the result of an epiphany in 2004, after 17 years in practice.
He recalled lecturing his two daughters over dinner, telling them that they should try to get jobs that they really look forward to doing, rather than jobs that would just pay the bills.
"Of course, Dad, in his pontificating way said, 'The best life is the life where you wake up in the morning and do what you would do whether you got paid or not,'" he said.
Afterward, discussing the lecture with his wife, attorney Terri Tessier, they both realized that they didn't want to wake up to any more lawyering.
She had always wanted to work with children and do psychology. He wanted to be a mediator.
"Maybe the cynics would call it a midlife crisis," the easygoing neutral said with a laugh.
After that talk, both Tessiers set out on new career paths. Tessier wound down his law practice, laying off his staff in 2005. His last case settled earlier this year.
Meanwhile, his wife now works with special needs children at an elementary school.
Tessier has another story for his beginnings in law. Playing in a rock band and a jazz combo while an undergrad, he was familiar with being both a starving student and a starving musician, he said.
At one of his gigs, he saw a full-time musician stuffing his pockets with complimentary barbecue ribs and decided on a career: "I said, 'I'm going to law school.'"
Once out of school, he went to work for defense firm Murchison & Cumming in 1986.
After two years there, he switched to the plaintiffs' bar, going to Greene, O'Reilly, Broillet, Paul, Simon & Wheeler, where he worked under prominent plaintiffs' lawyer Brian Panish.
Tessier left that firm in 1990, and two years later founded his own, Rowell & Tessier. In 1997, he set up a solo practice, where he worked with his wife.
Early on, working with Panish, Tessier realized he would never be a truly great trial lawyer, he said.
"I never considered myself a great trial lawyer - good, not great," Tessier said. "With all humility, I've got great in me as a mediator."
Tessier said his style is culled from the 100 mediations he sat in as an attorney. Mediators would do things that rubbed him the wrong way, he said, and he is careful to avoid those mistakes himself.
He begins mediations with a very brief description of the process, explaining it for less than two minutes and emphasizing that it will remain completely informal. When mediators go on too long at the start of a mediation, Tessier said, lawyers "want to jump out the window."
Attorney Timothy R. Windham of Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith in Los Angeles said he appreciates that lack of pretense.
"He doesn't get particularly enamored with himself about following formalities, in terms of having to give speeches to everyone," said Windham, who has used Tessier on 10 cases. "Bob tends to get right to the heart of the matter very quickly."
Tessier said he rarely uses joint sessions to begin his mediations, seeing little reason for the parties to get together and "sing 'Kumbaya'" in many disputes.
"I can play the guitar, I know the song, but it's too risky for me," he said.
Attorneys also praised that decision.
"You can't let the attorneys start posturing in front of their clients," said Todd A. Daley of Hawkins, Prata & Daley in Los Angeles. "He's good at keeping everybody separate, happy and comfortable, and gets to the issues."
Nonetheless, attorneys said that Tessier excels at handling clients.
"Normally, I don't let my clients talk to the mediator," Lundy said. "With Bob ... it was a good thing to have him with the clients. He had a good feel and was able to do a good job of getting them where they needed to be, along with the analysis of the case."
Tessier said he was particularly proud of one recent mediation that included four family members in a battle over three trusts, care of their mother and the next generation's role in those issues. The dispute included decades-old family dynamics.
"You can imagine being the youngest sibling in the group and the last holdout for a position - and being right," Tessier said.
But the contentious case got settled after 10 hours.
"At the end of the day nobody sang 'Kumbaya,'" Tessier said. "But it got done."
In 2005, he founded Centres for Excellence in Dispute Resolution with fellow Los Angeles mediator Charles Parselle. The two met when Tessier offered Parselle a ride home from a case in San Diego, and he was impressed with Parselle's tales of world travel, including one particularly memorable story from a trip to Africa: "Oh yes, I was in the Congo, and I was held at gunpoint by French soldiers," Tessier said, slipping into a pitch-perfect impression of the British mediator.
The two began training mediators together after that car trip, a class that proved popular - "here's this young jerk from L.A. and, like, this college professor from Oxford," Tessier said - and they went on to create the mediation company together.
Tessier will leave that project when he starts with Judicate West.
Though his mediation practice is busy, Tessier rarely does arbitrations. That's because, as a longtime Los Angeles lawyer who's dealt with over a thousand attorneys in mediations, complete disclosure of his past relationships with attorneys would be nearly impossible, he said.
Right now, he joked, he's also too young to be thought of as a respectable arbitrator. "Maybe when I'm old, I'll be really old and crotchety - and then I can be an arbitrator," he said.
Tessier did not leave his musical pursuits behind in college. He is in two bands, including one unnamed project with Los Angeles attorneys Kent Mariconda, Anthony Amoscato and Richard Gagliano. The four lawyers play mostly covers and a few originals.
Tessier said they try to keep their repertoire current, and recently learned a hit by Tennessee rock band Kings of Leon. That song came on the radio recently while he was driving in the car with his daughter, and she said she liked it. But her opinion changed when he told her that he had picked it up on bass and was playing it with the band of lawyers.
"She goes, 'Oh, whatever,'" Tessier said.
Affiliation: Judicate West, beginning Jan. 1
Specialties: Personal injury, product liability, professional liability, business, real estate, construction defect, probate and trust
Rate: $400 an hour
Attorneys who have recently used Tessier's services as a mediator include Albro Lundy, Baker, Burton & Lundy, Hermosa Beach; Timothy R. Windham, Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith, Los Angeles; Todd Daley, Hawkins, Prata & Daley, Los Angeles; Craig Dunkin, Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith, Los Angeles; Randy H. McMurray, the Cochran Firm, Los Angeles; Julia Swanson, Swanson Law Firm, Beverly Hills; Robert Morgenstern, Maranga Morgenstern, Los Angeles; Arlan Cohen, Cohen & Rudd, Pasadena; and Fred Glantz, Law Offices of Fred G. Glantz, Los Angeles.
This article appears on Page 1 of the Verdicts and Settlements