In the 1980s, when alternative dispute resolution became more common in U.S. courts, Missouri was a bit behind the curve, said Robert Litz, president of United States Arbitration & Mediation, a St. Louis firm.
But Michael Geigerman served as a pioneer in using the procedure to resolve disputes in the state, said Litz. He started as a mediator in 1985 and has conducted more than 4,500 mediations.
“The biggest difference that Mike has made is he allows the lawyers and the parties to be heard,” said Litz. “The parties use mediation like their day in court. They want to be heard, and Mike will have the patience and create the sense of trust with the parties and lawyers.”
After spending about a decade in private practice, Geigerman connected with USA&M when he represented the plaintiff in a lawsuit concerning an automobile accident. The plaintiff had always been told that her aches and pains were due to diabetic neuropathy.
“We settled the case. She felt validated — and heard for the first time — in this settlement, and I realized then that there was a better way in life for me,” Geigerman said.
He joined USA&M as an outside mediator and became a full-time mediator in 1998.
“You get to help people in difficult situations, plaintiff and defendants,” said Geigerman. “The last thing they probably want to be in is litigation, and this allows them to escape that difficulty.”
Geigerman mediated priest abuse cases, which he said were the most challenging.
“Whether they were the parents or they were the child involved in this, that loss of faith affected them in many ways,” said Geigerman. “Both sides tried to find the most honorable way of dealing with this … it taught me that I had to be much more free thinking and flexible in the manner in which I dealt with people.”
About 13 years ago, Geigerman started to volunteer in an initiative that became the St. Louis Mediation Project, a nonprofit that helps tenants and landlords, among others, solve housing disputes. The organization now employs eight to 10 mediators who provide their services to solve disputes for free. The group also can provide financial assistance to tenants.
The aim is “keeping people in the unit,” said Geigerman, who serves on the project’s board. “It’s about stability and keeping the children from moving from school to school.”
Geigerman also helped build the next generation of mediators. He taught a mediation class as an adjunct professor at the Washington University School of Law and taught students participating in an American Bar Association mediation competition.
He helps young attorneys and law students “hone their skills as advocates in mediation,” said Litz. “Mentoring young lawyers on their advocacy skills really makes them better lawyers, and I think he’s played a tremendous role in that area.”