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October 24, 2008 

 

THE PATH TO RESOLUTION 
Timothy J. Corcoran Left Practice for Mediation With No Regrets 

By Greg Katz 
Daily Journal Staff Writer 

REDLANDS - Mediator Timothy J. Corcoran keeps busy five days a week, often handling two cases a day. 

 

But his beginnings in law were modest. 

 

While an undergrad at USC in the 1970s, Corcoran took a job as a gofer at O'Melveny & Myers, a move inspired by the television series "Ozzie and Harriet," in which the character Ricky becomes a clerk at a law firm. 

 

One of his more memorable tasks at O'Melveny, Corcoran recalled, was flying to San Francisco to deliver Warren M. Christopher's briefcase. When he arrived at the St. Francis Hotel in Union Square, Christopher met him and asked, "Would you like to have dinner?" 

 

Corcoran declined, saying, "Mr. Christopher, I'd love to, but I have a class tonight, and I've got to get back." 

 

"Who was to know I was sitting there with the future secretary of state of the United States?" Corcoran said with a laugh. 

 

Thus began the path that would lead him to his thriving dispute resolution practice, where he's dealt with an estimated 4,000 matters. 

 

After graduating from USC and Western State University School of Law, Corcoran worked briefly at Piazza, Bainer & Ritschell in Victorville before moving to Riverside's Thompson & Colegate, specializing in insurance defense and police misconduct cases. 

 

In 1989, shortly after departing that firm for a solo practice, he got his start in dispute resolution, arbitrating cases for the courts of San Bernardino and Riverside counties at $150 each. Often, those arbitrations would break down into more informal settlement talks. His success in settling cases led him to start up an independent ADR practice. 

 

By 1998, Corcoran's mediation and arbitration work began displacing his law practice, and six years later, he became a full-time neutral. This year, he phased out his arbitration work, focusing solely on mediation. 

His main source of business is his own shop, Redlands Arbitration & Mediation Services, in a quaint, red streetside office building off the Interstate 10 freeway. 

His conference rooms are decorated in themes that reflect his own interests. There's the "SportsCenter" room, plastered with sports memorabilia from his USC alma mater and archrival Notre Dame. The Hawaii room features mementos from trips to the Big Island to compete in the Ironman triathlon. The West Point room displays a military theme, a tribute to Corcoran's son, who attended school there. 

Corcoran occasionally travels for cases. He gets some work through Southern California ADR provider Judicate West and from the national panel Resolute Systems. 

 

Corcoran, 56, said he's found his calling in mediation and doesn't miss lawyering at all. 

"It's too bad my life's too short, because I would have done this earlier," he said. 

 

While he handles commercial cases, the majority of his practice focuses on personal injury, including the occasional multi-vehicle pileup death case. 

 

One such recent case packed the SportsCenter room with 16 lawyers. But despite the legal firepower, there was only $130,000 in insurance money to go to the family of the person who died in the accident. Some of the parties asked Corcoran to keep the families in separate caucuses, because one of the drivers involved in the fatal accident had been driving while drunk. 

 

But by bringing all of the parties together, Corcoran managed to engineer a settlement that included setting up a foundation for the decedent's siblings that will receive annual contributions. 

"We had to get creative," Corcoran said. 

 

Attorneys say that Corcoran's skill in resolving cases is what brings them to Redlands, a city not otherwise known as a mediation hotspot. 

 

"I've been able to get cases settled, and that's the reason I go up there," said W. Michael Sweeney of Temecula's Sweeney, Sweeney & Sweeney. 

 

Sweeney, a plaintiff-side personal injury lawyer, said Corcoran is popular with both plaintiff and defense attorneys, which has led him to use the mediator dozens of times. 

 

"Not only does he get things done, he's well liked with the defense bar too," Sweeney said. 

 

James Heiting of Riverside's Heiting & Irwin praised Corcoran for working to resolve disputes in a single session. 

 

"I like the mediators who get down to business and get the cases resolved and push hard," he said. 

Heiting said he and his firm have used Corcoran about 20 times. He described Corcoran as a "good mediator," but said he can be insistent about having clients involved, which Heiting said can be uncomfortable. 

 

"Sometimes I'm a little leery of him talking to my client or with having my client present," Heiting said. "He's a little bit aggressive sometimes in that way. But if I'm thoughtful about that, everything seems to go well." 

 

For Ontario-based sole practitioner Marc C. Hawkins, however, Corcoran's directness with a client in a recent mediation helped get the matter settled, he said. 

 

"It was a fairly bizarre case ... and I think he did a good job in talking to my client, the plaintiff, about how to compare the risks and the benefits if he proceeds to trial," Hawkins said. 

 

He also noted Corcoran's tendency to deal directly with clients in joint sessions. 

 

"I think [joint sessions] can kind of build some walls if somebody says something caustic," Hawkins said. "But it hasn't kept cases from settling." 

 

Corcoran described himself as a facilitative mediator who can be "evaluative when necessary." He said that in his early mediations, his experience as an arbitrator made him highly evaluative, pushing people to settle. Now, he said, he tends to let the parties guide the decision. 

 

"It's not about when Tim wants it to go," he said. 

 

Corcoran also finds time for a few hobbies. 

 

He's a dedicated runner, which was inspired by occasionally going swimming in his undergraduate days with fellow Trojan Anthony Davis, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound running back who went on to play in the National Football League. 

 

Corcoran weighed 220 pounds at the time: After he took up running, he lost more than 70 pounds and has twice finished the grueling Ironman race. 

 

Besides trips to Hawaii, his family also makes annual ski trips to Sun Valley, Idaho. A family man with four children, Corcoran has been the scoutmaster for a Cub Scout pack and a Little League coach. He describes family trips as chaotic affairs reminiscent of National Lampoon's "Vacation" films. 

"We're like the Griswolds when we travel," Corcoran joked. 

 

Some attorneys who have recently used Corcoran's services as a mediator include W. Michael Sweeney, Sweeney, Sweeney & Sweeney, Temecula; James Heiting, Heiting & Irwin, Riverside; Marc C. Hawkins, Law Offices of Marc C. Hawkins, Ontario; Dani Mouri, Halas & McDonough, San Bernardino; Steven C. Geeting, Law Offices of Steven C. Geeting, Riverside; Dennis Stout, Ewaniszyk Law Firm, Victorville; Robert S. Fink, Law Offices of Robert S. Fink, Los Angeles; Tammy Sedin, Sedin, Begakis & Bish, Glendale; Edward A. Fernandez, Fernandez & Lauby, Riverside; Gene J. Goldsman, Law Offices of Gene J. Goldsman, Santa Ana; Gregory A Paiva, Gregoray A. Paiva & Associates, Ontario; Brad J. Husen, Law Offices of Brad J. Husen, Corona; and Walter Clark, Walter Clark Legal Group, Palm Desert. 

 

greg_katz@dailyjournal.com

This article appears on Page 1 of the Verdicts and Settlements