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Bridging Law and Mediation With Rick Williams

Bridging Law and Mediation With Rick Williams

December 27, 2023   |   Written by Gladiator Law Marketing
Rick WilliamsRichard “Rick” Williams is a Partner at Gray•Duffy, LLP, a law firm specializing in representing businesses, insurers, policyholders, and individuals, with a focus on litigation and alternative dispute resolution. With a career spanning over four decades, Rick has extensive experience in complex litigation, including class action matters, and has tried over 40 cases to verdict in state and federal courts. His expertise encompasses a broad range of legal areas, such as personal injury, employment, business and contract disputes, intellectual property, and professional negligence. As a mediator, he has successfully resolved over 1,000 cases, contributing to his reputation as a skilled negotiator in collaborative mediation processes.
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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • What does Gray•Duffy specialize in?
  • Rick Williams talks about his career path and his specialization in litigation
  • What captures Rick’s interest and motivation after 45 years as a lawyer?
  • Balancing science and art in trial attorney work
  • How Rick’s practice evolved from trial lawyer to mediator
  • Streamlining the litigation process through mediation

In this episode…

Navigating the intersection of law and mediation requires a unique blend of skills and experience. How does one transition from the adversarial nature of trial law to the collaborative environment of mediation? According to Rick Williams, a distinguished lawyer and mediator, the key lies in understanding and managing the emotional dynamics inherent in legal disputes. He emphasizes the importance of empathy and confidentiality in mediation, noting that these elements create a more humane and effective resolution process. His approach, blending rigorous legal knowledge with a keen sense of human interaction, has proven successful in resolving a vast array of complex cases. In this episode of 15 Minutes, Chad Franzen speaks with Rick Williams, Partner at Gray•Duffy, LLP, about his journey from trial law to mediation. They explore the nuances of mediating legal disputes, the transformative power of understanding emotions in conflict resolution, and Rick’s unique insights into the evolving landscape of legal mediation. This episode offers a compelling look into the art and science of bridging law and mediation.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Gladiator Law Marketing, where we deliver tailor-made services to help you accomplish your objectives and maximize your growth potential. To have a successful marketing campaign and make sure you’re getting the best ROI, your firm needs to have a better website and better content. At Gladiator Law Marketing, we use artificial intelligence, machine learning, and decades of experience to outperform the competition. To learn more, go to or schedule a free marketing consultation. You can also send an email to

Episode Transcript

Intro  0:01   You’re listening to 15 Minutes, where we feature community leaders sharing what the rest of us should know but likely don’t. Chad Franzen  0:13   Hi. Chad Franzen here, one of the hosts of Share Your Voice where we talk with top notch law firms and lawyers about what it takes to grow a successful law practice. This episode is brought to you by Gladiator Law Marketing, delivering tailor made services to help you accomplish your objectives and maximize your growth potential. To have a successful marketing campaign and make sure you’re getting the best ROI, your firm needs to have a better website and better content. Gladiator Law Marketing uses artificial intelligence, machine learning and decades of experience to outperform the competition. To learn more, go to where you can schedule a free marketing consultation. Rick Williams is a trial lawyer and mediator who’s been practicing in Northern California since 1975. He has run his own practice, been a senior partner at a large multi state litigation firm and currently as a partner and manages the office of Gray Duffy LLP in Redwood City, California, after 48 years of trying a wide variety of cases, from medical malpractice, personal injury, personal injury, employment, class actions and business and contract disputes. He currently devotes his time to acting as a mediator, resolving cases for parties and their counsel through the collaborative negotiation process of mediation. He has successfully mediated and arbitrated in excess of 1000 cases over the past 15 years. Rick, thanks so much for joining me today. How are you? Rick Williams  1:33   I’m doing very well. Chad, thanks for having me. I appreciate it. Chad Franzen  1:37   Hey, I as I as I read in your intro, you there’s a lot we could unpack and talk about, but why don’t we start by if you could just tell me a little bit about what Gray Duffy does and kind of kind of specializes it. Rick Williams  1:51   Okay. Gray Duffy is a small boutique firm with two offices, one in Woodland Hills, Southern California and the office here in Redwood City that I am part of and that I run. We handle all types of litigation from injury and insurance litigation to plaintiff injury and plaintiff business work. I would call us a small boutique trial firm, with a lot of lawyers like me that have a lot of experience that have earned a little gray hair and have been in practice for a while. And we enjoy a good broad spectrum practice. From from the business side to the to the insurance side to the injury side. Chad Franzen  2:42   How did you How and when did you know that you wanted to be an attorney. Rick Williams  2:48   I graduated from college, not knowing like most young people when they graduate from college, what direction I was going to take and what I was going to do. And at that time, I had an older brother still have an older brother who was just graduating from law school. And I was motivated by that. Obviously, there’s competition between brothers. And you know, I had friends that were lawyers. My father had been in the Navy in World War Two and had been accepted to law school to Harvard Law School, actually. And then when he got out of the Navy, he found himself with two little kids and no money. So he never went to law school. So he encouraged me along with an older brother, who was already a member of the bar to give it a shot. So I did. It was It wasn’t something I dreamt about since I was a kid. But it was something that just kind of looked like it’d be better than teaching history, which is what I was a major in, and I’m still a history buff, but it just kind of happened. Let’s put it that way. It was sort of a natural progression, or what have you. Chad Franzen  4:07   What was if you can think of it what was most attractive about being an attorney at the time about potentially being an attorney at the time? And what have you most enjoyed about it, you know, in the 40 plus years since. Rick Williams  4:18   You know, at the time, I really didn’t know because I really didn’t know much about it. It has a glamorous reputation, obviously like, like medicine, or engineering. I mean, it has a reputation for certain things. I think what I thought I’d like about it and it turns out I have liked about it is the fact that you’re dealing with people and you’re dealing with people’s problems and you’re trying to help people resolve problems regardless of what side of the dispute you’re on. It’s a people oriented profession, and I’m a people person. Always have been I’d like to try and help people like to try and resolve disputes, which is why I do mediations now in part. And so I think that’s what I was looking for going in. And it hasn’t disappointed me over the almost 48 years I’ve been practicing. It’s still all about people. And you know, every time I get a new mediation or a new case, it’s new people, it’s new facts. And I find that exhilarating, I find it, it keeps my interest up, and it keeps me motivated. Chad Franzen  5:30   What was your first job in the legal industry? Rick Williams  5:35   My first job in the legal industry was after my second year of law school, I got a job as a law clerk with a small, a boutique firm a lot like the firm I’m with now up in Sacramento, where I was going to law school with a medical malpractice defense firm that was defending doctors and hospitals in malpractice claims. And I spent almost three years with that firm as a law clerk. And the gentleman who, whose firm it was, really was like a coach and a mentor to me. And actually, I sat second chair with him and about six trials, before I even graduated from law school. And so it was a it was a fabulous job and a fabulous training experience. And that was my, that was my entree into the law and probably why I became a trial lawyer in the first place, because I had been exposed to it as a law student. Chad Franzen  6:35   And you are at what point as your own as your own practice, tell me about that, and how that came about. Rick Williams  6:43   I came back to the Bay Area after four years in Sacramento, and started working for a small insurance defense firm. On the San Francisco peninsula, I worked there for what four years, getting my feet wet, trying cases and learning the business. And in 19, gosh, it would have been 1980 1979 1980, I left that small firm and started my own practice down in San Jose, California. And after having three kids, I decided that it might be a good idea to have some partners that a little bit larger organization than my own shop. So I ended up joining a firm that I was with for almost 30 years. So that I could raise my family and enjoy some partnership with other lawyers who were similarly situated. Chad Franzen  7:40   Yeah, sounds good. So you, you were a trial attorney for a long time. What would you say? Is that? Would you say that being a trial attorney is kind of an exact science? Or is it more of an art? Rick Williams  7:50   No, it’s the latter. I mean, there, there is a little bit of science to it. I mean, you got to follow the rules of evidence, and there are certain things that you need to do. But it’s really an art, it’s a, it’s a skill that you develop over time. presenting a case to a judge or a jury is really an art that it takes a long time to perfect. It’s, it’s a very subtle thing. I think being you know, you can take courses, and you do take courses in law school, and after you get out of law school, in different trial techniques or practices, but it’s really about learning how to present yourself to a jury or to a judge in the best way to represent your client. And that’s something that just evolves as as you mature in the practice. Chad Franzen  8:47   Is that presentation difference dependent? Like would you go into the presentation different if it was just before a judge? Or if it was trying to connect with a jury? Rick Williams  8:56   Yes, absolutely. You know, judges are lawyers. And so most judges, they have similar training to what you have as a lawyer in, they think, probably more like you do as a lawyer. So you can tailor your presentation to someone who knows the law and knows the rules of evidence. And you can streamline it more and focus it more to a judge in front of a jury. You have to keep people interested. You have to hopefully convince them to believe your client and you and like your client and you and that’s a completely different undertaking than standing in front of a judge who’s sitting there with a robot. It’s a lot more fun to try case in front of the jury. And in many ways, it’s a lot more challenging because there are so many variables because you’re dealing with 12 people and usually some alternates Those who don’t know you don’t know the law, don’t know your client. don’t know anything about your firm or what you’ve done in the past or as a judge probably will have some history about you or your firm or your client. And so there’s not as much of a learning curve with the judge as there is with the jury. So it’s a very different dynamic, very different dynamic. Chad Franzen  10:21   You have to worry about what the potential jurists might think of you during jury selection. Rick Williams  10:26   Oh, yeah, absolutely. Jury selection, as I’m sure most lawyers would tell you is one of the if not the most important parts of a jury trial. And you want to educate the jurors on what your case is about at the same time, trying to find out if they’re willing to listen and willing to be open minded and willing to be fair, and if they have prejudices that might affect their judgment, what they are, and can you identify them and figure out a way to either get them to acknowledge it or convince the court that they’re not right for the, for the jury panel in your particular case. And as you know, you have a certain amount of challenges you can use. You want to try not to use those challenges if you don’t have to. But it’s it’s a very interesting experience, picking a jury, and I think it’s it along with the closing argument are the two most important parts of most jury trials? Chad Franzen  11:32   What would you say? You know, I’m sure in law school, you learn all about the law, and you’ll learn how to formulate an argument and all those things. But in terms of the ability to connect with the jury, like, what would you say, to a new lawyer, is the key to be able to being able to do that is to be yourself as to as appear as honest as possible and be as honest as possible? And what do you think? Rick Williams  11:53   Well, you know, all the all the treatises that you read, and all the textbooks that you read, say you have to be yourself. And that’s absolutely true. If you try and put on airs, or be something you’re not people are gonna see it right away. And so you’re going to start with, you know, behind the eight ball already. You just have to what you have to believe in your client and your case, because if you don’t, you’re never going to convince 12 people to believe in your client or your case. And to, you have to be honest with the jury, you have to acknowledge the weaknesses of your case, and every case has weaknesses, or failures, you have to acknowledge those and deal with them. And you have to, I think, try and come across as honestly and directly. And as what’s the best word as quickly and as expeditiously within the time constraints as possible. You don’t want to bore people. You know, a lot of people get stuck serving on juries, and they don’t want to be there. So the easiest way for them not to like you is if you waste their time, they already don’t want to be there. Now you’re wasting time with a lot of fluff that isn’t necessary. So I think a straightforward, honest, direct presentation is always the best way to go. Always. Chad Franzen  13:14   How long have you been with Gray Duffy now? Rick Williams  13:17   Let’s see 14, 13 and a half, 14 years. Chad Franzen  13:21   So you have been, you’re doing mediation now tell me about how your practice has kind of evolved from, you know, being a trial lawyer to a mediator. Rick Williams  13:32   Mediation really started to become popular, and part of the system of resolving litigation, oh, 25 years ago, maybe 30 years ago, late 80s, early 90s, mid 90s. By that time, I had gotten a lot of trial experience. And I would sit as a judge pro tem for the superior courts, handling settlement conferences for them, which a lot of judges do. Most courts have systems where they bring in experienced lawyers to hear settlement conferences to help the judges out because they’re understaffed. The courts are I started to get calls from other lawyers saying, Hey, I’ve got this case, would you mind seeing if we’d like to hire you to try and be the settlement conference judge privately to see if you can resolve this case? And I did that, you know, a few dozen times over a several year period. And I decided and I watched how the the alternate dispute or ADR practice, alternate dispute resolution practice, as it’s called, was evolving, and starting to grow and I thought, this is something I think I’d like to do. I’m relatively good at it. I’ve got to repeat Patient people know me, they know I’m a fair minded guy. They’ve been against me or with me in cases on whatever side they were on. And it’s just kind of evolved. And I started doing more of it. And I talked to some very close friends of mine who were retired judges, were working for some of the big mediation arbitration outfits. And they recommended I get some training, I went down to Pepperdine law school in Southern California, where they have a fabulous program, where most of the big ADR outfits sent there, they’re retired judges and the lawyers that they hire to get training anyway, I went down and got training. And I just started, you know, getting the word out there that I was going to try and transition into this. And it took 5678 years of continuing to practice and continuing to handle mediations to to get a mediation practice going. And it just kind of evolved. As I aged. And as my practice grew, it just became something that I decided I wanted to do basically full time. Chad Franzen  16:12   What are some elements of the mediation process, maybe from a practical or a philosophical standpoint, that help it, streamline the litigation process, and make it more humane? Rick Williams  16:25   Humane is a good word. Litigation is is a tough, rigorous, ugly business, especially for the parties involved. Most disputes settle, ultimately, as you probably know, most of them settle either on the courthouse steps or during the course of the trial, or before the trial at a settlement conference or a mediation. Mediation is voluntary, which is a very important thing, if if you have parties that are willing to sit down and talk, you can usually forge a resolution of some kind. So I think, and I think, trying to get your handle, or your arms around the emotion involved in the litigation, and there’s always a motion, regardless of the type of dispute, whether it’s business or personal, there’s, there’s always emotion. Those are the big things, making it a humane process to use your word is the biggest and most important part of the process, in my opinion, along with confidentiality, which is very important, for obvious reasons to all sides of a dispute. And mediation is voluntary, it’s completely confidential. If the case doesn’t resolve in mediation, nothing said or done or produced during the mediation can be used in the ultimate trial if it has to go to trial. So you get this compact process that allows you to bring this all the sides together in an informal setting, in a confidential, informal setting, and it’s a very productive method methodology of resolving disputes. And and it’s, it’s gotten to be more so as it’s become more popular, because a lot of folks like me that have strong litigation backgrounds have gotten into it. And we take the skills and the knowledge we’ve picked up over the years. And we throw it into this process, and it works. You know, I probably settled 95% of the cases that I’ve mediate during the mediation, sometimes there’s follow up required to get the details done, but it works. The process works. And it’s much, it’s much better for society as a whole because judges don’t get tied up in civil trials that can go on for months. And they can attend to the other business of the courts, which unfortunately, in today’s world is primarily criminal matters. So it’s it’s a, I think it’s a very necessary adjunct to the overall judicial process. Chad Franzen  19:07   I as I mentioned in your introduction, you have successfully mediated and arbitrated more than 1000 cases over the last 15 years. How would you describe your success rate in terms of handling these or mediating these difficult cases? Rick Williams  19:23   You know, it’s funny, some of the simplest cases, you know, like a fender bender or personal injury case can be the most difficult to resolve. And some of the most complex cases, technology cases or employment cases where there’s a lot of emotion, or a very serious injury or wrongful death case, and be the easier cases to resolve. But I would say as I think I alluded to a moment ago, I probably settled between 90 and 95% of the cases that I mediate, if not during the first session, and most of my cases only go one session. I try not to waste a lot of time, I try not to tell too many horror stories, especially with people that have used me before they’ve heard them already. And, you know, if a case doesn’t settle, I don’t let it go, I follow up. I contact the lawyers by phone by email, whatever and, you know, continue to push and prod and poke and, and until I get it settled, I would say overall, including cases that I have to follow up on that don’t settle at the mediation session itself, I probably settle 9697 98% of my cases, it’s the rare one that doesn’t ultimately settle. And frankly, even if the mediation process doesn’t settle it most of themselves by the time they get to the courthouse steps, because we’ve developed avenues during the process that the parties can use, then they get the case settled. Chad Franzen  20:56   What would be kind of like a garden variety scenario where somebody is just like, I’m not settling it just they’re just that confident in their case, or what would that be? Rick Williams  21:07   Well, one of the things you do as a mediator, at the outset of a mediation is trying to figure out what the interests of the parties really are. And if you have a party who is intransigent like that, and is to say, I don’t care what they offer me, I’m not settling, I want to see those jerks in front of the jury, and I want to put on my case, you need to learn that early on, and you need to try and educate that person or lawyer or whoever it may be, or business as to why that is not the right approach to take. But that approach is ultimately not going to be productive, and that they have to get past that you have to figure out a way to get through that stubborn attitude or that emotion and talk to them and show them why there are good reasons why they should compromise. And why compromise is a better thing for them in the long run, whether it’s a better business solution, or there’s an emotional reason why they need to get closure and compromise will get them there. You need to grab on to that type of a, an intransigent party right away and just keep massaging and to keep working and keep it you know, those mediations can take a long time, sometimes they take more than one session, but you just need to keep, keep working it and ultimately, you know, you have your bag full of tricks. As a mediator, you keep throwing different things out there. And ultimately, something sticks, so to speak. It’s like a bowl of pasta, you throw it up, and hopefully something will stick and that means it’s done and you get a settlement. Chad Franzen  22:49   Are there some other some moments during your time as a mediator that you’re you’re particularly proud of. Rick Williams  22:59   Some of the most difficult cases I’ve mediated besides horrible injury or wrongful death cases, have been employment related cases, or harassment or discrimination cases where there’s a lot of emotion, just deep seated injury because someone has been discriminated against or harassed or attacked. And I find it very satisfying to get cases like that resolved, that are so emotional, because you can see the release in the parties involved. As the mediation process unfolds, you can see what I think is a positive effect and how it’s affecting those people. And you know, where they’re going to go with a settlement for the rest of their lives. I find that the cases that involve real people, as opposed to corporate disputes are more satisfying, because you can see an immediate positive effect on an individual or on a family. And I find that very satisfying. Chad Franzen  24:10   I have one more question for you. But first, tell me how people can find out more about Gray Duffy. Rick Williams  24:15   Well, our website is You know, like, like all firms, we have a website that will tell you who our lawyers are, what we do, and lots of pretty pictures like everybody has. That’s the best way to do it. They can pick up the phone and call me at our office in Redwood City or they’re in Southern California, they can call our office in Woodland Hills. And, you know, we’re out there like everybody else. Chad Franzen  24:43   If people can see your background, my last question for you if people can see your background, they can see Stanford University that looks like a beautiful campus. You went there and you played you played football there. Is there anything that you learned from your experience? You know, that’s a pretty unique experience to play division one football Is there anything you learned from that experience that you have carried with you throughout your career in the legal industry? Rick Williams  25:06   Probably, perseverance and humility. I learned a lot from the education process at Stanford, which is obviously a fabulous school like, you know, all the schools on the West Coast. Least the PAC 12 schools, we like to think like the Colorado Buffaloes, because I see you’re sure, yeah. Yeah. I was humbled by my experiences in college. And I think that experience has carried through my, my professional practice for the last almost half century. And I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to the point where I’m, I’m ahead of myself, and, you know, I look back and think, Hey, you’re pretty cool, man. I think I’ve been able to maintain a sense of humility and who I am and that I’m just, I’m no different than the next guy on the street. I think. I think that’s what it did. For me, quite frankly. Chad Franzen  26:06   Yeah. Well, I would think, I mean, just being a student at Stanford would be incredibly challenging. I would like to be an athlete and a student there would be, you’d have to have, you’d have to be pretty self disciplined at a pretty early age. Rick Williams  26:16   It was it was a unique experience. It really was. Yeah, yeah. You know, like any student athlete at any institution, whether it’s Stanford or any other school, you learn the discipline and and you learn to respect people that do that, that go through what you went through, or going through what you went through. And, and I’ve tried to carry that attitude over to my professional practice. You know, and I think I think that’s something that we can all try and emulate, you know, as we age and grow into our professions. Chad Franzen  26:51   Hey, Rick, it’s been great to talk to you. Thank you so much. Really appreciate your time, your insights and sharing your stories with us. Thank you very much. Rick Williams  26:58   Chad, thanks a lot. I look forward to talking to you again. Chad Franzen  27:01   Absolutely. So long, everybody. Outro  27:03   Thanks for listening to 15 Minutes, be sure to subscribe and we’ll see you next time.

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