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Labor Lawyer Lands a Labor of Love - Planting Mediation Firmly in Indian Soil

October 01, 2013

​Victor Schachter, co-chair of Fenwick’s employment practices group, was featured in the ABA Journal for his pro bono work establishing the first court-annexed mediation centers in India, as well as a foundation that is expanding the concept into other countries. 

Thanks to Schachter’s work, more than 150,000 cases have been mediated in India since 2006, the article reported.

“Settlement rates range from 55 to 65 percent, depending on the nature of the case,” Schachter said. “That reflects the major impact on literally hundreds of thousands of people as these cases are being processed and settled, rather than having them linger in the courts in a state of disarray.”

Schachter’s global mediation work began in 2002, when he filled in for another Fenwick partner and showed visiting Malaysian judges the procedures involved in American alternative dispute resolution. He was subsequently invited to discuss mediation and case management in Brazil, Turkey, Malaysia and then India.

“One focus was to explain how court-annexed mediation works to unjam backlogged court systems,” Schachter told the ABA Journal. “The second aspect was to work with judges on case-management procedures, which in the United States we take for granted and are pretty strictly managed from the court. In many countries, however, it’s lawyers who manage cases. They get completely out of control with the backlog.”

In 2005, Schachter and his wife moved to New Delhi for two months, where Schachter helped create two mediation centers.

“Our first court was in Tis Hazari with four floors, 200 judges and hundreds of monkeys running around stealing food and occasionally biting people, which was no small matter because of the infections that might ensue,” he said. “It was chaos.”

Schachter subsequently did similar work in the Indian cities of Bangalore, Kochi and Hyderabad.

“We trained judges for 40 hours, set up the physical center, and then trained administrators on how you receive people and process cases—and, if there’s a settlement, how you make it enforceable,” he said. “We had to set up procedures in coordination with the court so that within 24 hours, the settlement went to the court and was an enforceable judgment.”

While Schachter was initially concerned about handling divorce cases in mediation, a justice on the India Supreme Court insisted such disputes were culturally important to address.

“You’re dealing with human rights,” Schachter noted. “A woman who’s divorced in India is tainted for the rest of her life without the right to marry. The women I ran into, even if abused, didn’t want a divorce. Often husbands would try to throw them out of the house and wouldn’t give them a divorce.”

Mediating marital disputes in India also involved more than just the spouses. “You have people in extended family relationships, and everybody piles into the room,” Schachter explained. “You could be dealing with a woman who’s physically abused, and there are both criminal and civil matters that may have been pending for five to 15 years. We had one pending for 24 years. We bring the community and family in, and arrange for maintenance and for the women to go back to be credible members of their community so they can put their lives back together. We’re settling these cases at an astounding rate of 50 percent.”

After he turned 70 in 2013, Schachter told Fenwick that he wanted to devote a major portion of his practice to his foundation. Firm leaders not only agreed, they also made a major donation to the foundation and offered to provide pro bono counsel as well.

While Schachter is focused on further expanding the programs in India, he’s also been contacted about building mediation programs in Kazakhstan, South Africa, Turkey, Macedonia, Kosovo and Eastern European countries.

“The key is sustainability,” Schachter says. “What’s critical is to build what’s sustainable when we leave. We respect the nationalism of these countries. We get in, build it and get out.”

The full article is available here​.​