Mr. Coughlan has a wide range of experience mediating cases since 2015, including areas outside his practice as a trial lawyer. The following areas are specific types of cases related to his previous experience as a trial lawyer:
Legal malpractice cases lend themselves particularly well to mediation. The cases are often emotional, expensive to litigate, and risky for all parties. There are often insurance issues, especially related to burning policies.
For the last 25 years, a high percentage of my practice involved defending legal malpractice cases and related claims of breach of fiduciary duty and fee disputes. The cases were often factually complex: They involved the unique facts and law of the underlying matter (the case within the case), the facts related to the lawyer’s handling of the underlying matter, and expert opinions concerning the standard of care in disparate subject areas. The cases often involved legal ethics claims and related issues. Legal malpractice law has its own unique case law – the legal defenses are complex and often dispositive. The lawyers on both sides are usually experienced and highly skilled.
For several years before retiring from active litigation, Best Lawyers named me the “Lawyer of the Year” in San Diego in legal malpractice and professional liability cases. I was certified in California as a specialist in Legal Malpractice cases.
Lawyers and clients sometimes have disagreements over billing. The county bar provides an arbitration process, but that process, unlike mediation, turns the decision over to a third party, not the parties themselves. Open and full discussion through mediation helps the client and lawyer understand each other’s concerns and often results in restoring trust, friendship and an economic agreement.
Breach of Fiduciary Duty
Many legal malpractice claims include allegations of breach of fiduciary duty based on the California Rules of Professional Conduct and provisions of the Business and Professions Code. The claims and defenses involve legal and factual analysis of ethical responsibilities.
Many business disputes also involve claims of breach of fiduciary duties.
Such claims raise emotional issues. They are dangerous for defendants but often difficult for plaintiffs to prove. They require close analysis based upon the law and experience. Resolution in the courts is particularly unpredictable in these cases. Mediation relieves the parties of these risks, the attendant expense and mitigates the emotions.
Internal Law Firm Disputes
Law firms sometimes require assistance in resolving internal partnership disputes, usually concerning compensation, partnership status or dissolution. Neither party benefits from public airing of these disputes. They are terribly disruptive of the law firm environment and lawyers’ practices. These disagreements are best resolved by coming to an early agreement outside the public eye, often with the assistance of a neutral mediator.
Civil Rights/Criminal Issues
In ten years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C. and San Diego, I defended Bivens cases and prosecuted criminal cases. In private practice, I defended business and political criminal cases for over 35 years, including many high profile cases. I was plaintiff’s counsel in several civil rights cases including Carlson v. United States. In my practice, I often provided legal advise about potential criminal issues in civil cases.
As a mediator I can help the parties sort out criminal issues, understand criminal investigations, possible charges and risks, and help to evaluate police and citizen interaction and conduct.
Commercial Litigation, Contract Issues, Business Disputes
These cases present novel and complex factual legal issues in nearly every case relating to customer or vendor complaints, intellectual property, trade secrets, contract and agreement interpretation, and claims of fraud. Each case is unique. The cases are particularly expensive to litigate, the issues are often complicated, both on offense and defense. Predicting an overall outcome in trial is difficult. There are also often insurance issues at play.
Mediation is particularly useful in these cases to help the parties sort out their commercial interests, evaluate the claims, save enormous expenses, avoid business distractions, and take control of the outcome.
Various conflict of interest provisions (e.g., Government Code 1090), election issues, and contract provisions provide the bases for a variety of claims between governmental entities, elected officials, candidates, and citizens. The matters often involve ongoing relationships among the parties. Resolution through mediation saves the parties time, expense and heartache, and allows them to move forward without the continuing distraction of litigation.
Ongoing Business Disputes; Family Issues
Issues frequently arise in ongoing businesses among owners, partners and/or contractors. It is in the best interest of the parties to work out these differences at an early time and in a way they can each live with going forward with their business relationship. Mediation is particularly valuable to help the parties avoid endless clashes and reach satisfactory compromise.
Family issues arise as to many events affecting the ongoing family relationship. Mediation at an early date can help the family members jointly solve the problems, and improve the relationship permanently.