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Harlan: Not a typical day in Las Vegas

December 22, 2012|By Jeffrey Harlan

It was a strange place to hear the news.

I was taking a quick break in the small, 11th floor conference room when I casually glanced down at the headline on my iPhone and saw the words, "Massacre at Connecticut Elementary School." I slowly picked my head up, barely noticing the expansive Las Vegas skyline outside the windows, and took a deep breath before heading back into the mediation.

For the past three hours I had been observing my friend mediate a fairly straightforward legal dispute. As the result of a "squeeze out" merger, a group of minority shareholders brought a lawsuit seeking fair value for their shares from the former chairman and chief executive of the company, now privately held by him alone.

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Seven plaintiffs, from all over the country and with motivations all across the map, were seeking a resolution based on fairness. The defendant, by contrast, was solely concerned with the size of the check he might write this day. Both parties, however, came to the mediation genuinely open to the idea of resolving the dispute.

As expected, the group dynamics, distinct personalities and initial posturing led to painfully slow progress in the morning. It was difficult to get everyone to buy into a process that could be followed to arrive at an acceptable compromise. And no one wanted to make the first move.

By mid-afternoon, my friend and I had come to a brief pause in the negotiations. The barely perceptible forward momentum had not stopped, just idled for a period. We watched the storm clouds gather in the desert — really a beautiful, albeit ominous, sight — and tried to keep our focus on the task at hand.

I didn't need to say anything; both of us understood that at times like this, a horrific event provides much-needed perspective. As parents of children in elementary school, we could not help but think of the real tragedy that was happening across the country. Bargaining over share prices didn't seem to have the same value as the safety of our kids and our communities.

Oddly, no one involved in the mediation even mentioned the situation in Newtown, Conn. For almost 12 hours all of us were wired to the world. But it was as if the insulated cocoon of a nearby hotel casino — where one is carefully and artificially removed from reality — was transferred to our collection of conference rooms. There would be no outside influences here.

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