An interview with John Derrick
”How long have you been mediating cases?”
I started in 2008 when I went on the Court of Appeal mediation panel in Los Angeles. I have also been a Settlement Master at the Santa Barbara Superior Court since 2019.
“What qualifies you as a mediator?”
I completed the nationally top-rated, intensive mediation training course for litigators offered by Pepperdine’s Straus Institute of Dispute Resolution. It’s an outstanding program, which teaches cutting-edge techniques in addition to grappling with ethical issues that come up in mediation. But as well as formal training, I have decades of experience in the real world — and not just as a lawyer. Before I became a lawyer in 2002, I successfully started and ran specialized publishing businesses on both sides of the Atlantic. And I negotiated deals as a party. In fact, I was a client of lawyers long before becoming a lawyer myself. But once I became a lawyer here in California, I threw myself into that profession and achieved a leadership role in my chosen area of practice, serving as the Chair of the State Bar’s Committee on Appellate Courts. My broad life experience — operating over the years in two countries and with a very diverse group of people — is one of the reasons I am effective as a facilitator of dispute resolution.
“What are some terms that describe you as mediator?”
“Diplomatic,” “well prepared,” “empathetic,” “persistent.”
“What sorts of cases do you mediate?”
Appellate lawyers tend to be subject matter generalists. The specialization is in the art of the appeal. And the same goes with appellate mediation. As for the “size” of cases, as in my practice as an appellate lawyer, I try to set my mediation rates at a reasonable level, so that my services are affordable to a wide range of litigants caught up in the appellate system. In many appeals, there are issues at stake that could have life-changing consequences to those involved. So I do not measure the “importance” of a case simply in terms of the amount of money at stake or the fame of the parties. Some people have an impression that appellate litigation is some sort of an ivory tower, shielded from the human dynamic of litigation. I am very aware that this is not the reality and that in many appeals, there are people facing an issue hugely important to them at a personal level.
“In your law practice, have you generally represented plaintiffs or defendants?”
I have always been plaintiff/defendant neutral. My law practice as an advocate has long consisted only of appeals. And in appeals, there are no “plaintiffs” or “defendants.” There are ”appellants,” the parties bringing the appeals — who might have been plaintiffs or defendants in the trial court. And there are ”respondents” or “appellees” — the parties defending the appeal, who, again, might have been on either side of the case in the lower court. And, as a lawyer, I represent both appellants and respondents/appellees — and parties who were previously both plaintiffs and defendants. So unlike trial lawyers, who often do have a distinct “plaintiff” or “defendant” background, I have absolutely no subliminal bias caused by my type of law practice.
“What is your approach to mediation?”
I avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. I try to get under the skin of every case, to understand the real interests of the parties. In some cases, the parties are looking for a somewhat evaluative approach, although that's not necessarily the best way to settle a case on appeal. In many cases, what’s needed is a facilitator of communication. And some call for a creative approach, helping to identify interests that may have been overlooked. Most really require a subtle blend of techniques. Ultimately, my role as a mediator is to lead a conversation about making decisions, often in the face of uncertainty.
“Do you handle regular mediations involving cases not on appeal?”
I prefer to be a go-to mediator in my area of specialization. So I limit my private mediation practice to cases that are being appealed or are clearly headed there or that are caught up in writ proceedings in an appellate court.
“Do you still litigate appeals as a lawyer?”
Yes. I have a separate website for my practice as an appellate lawyer: www.californiaappeals.com.
“Is it true that you have a British accent?”
Yes. But — contrary to what people in the U.S. sometimes tell me — trust me that this does not make what I say more erudite. Brits are capable of talking ”rubbish” (as they would put it) as much as anyone else. So judge me on the substance of what I say, not on the accent that delivers it. Maybe, perhaps, the fact that I’m obviously from somewhere else somehow helps bolster me as a “neutral.” But I’ve lived in California for more than a quarter of a century. And my kids were born and raised here. So I think I understand the place, even if I sound like I just got off the plane from London.