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Monday, February 14, 2011

5 Questions for a Practitioner: Elizabeth A. Marcus '97, EEOC Mediator

Elizabeth A. Marcus hails from Stamford, Connecticut. She was awarded a Juris Doctor from New England Law | Boston in 1997, and is a member of the Massachusetts Bar. Since completing her formal education, she has worked exclusively in the area of employment law, initially with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and then with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In addition to mediating thousands of employment discrimination complaints, Attorney Marcus has completed formal mediation training with New York University School of Law and Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She serves on the Greater Boston Federal Executive Board’s Diversity Committee, chairs a newly-formed Shared Neutrals Committee, and mediates cases for the Shared Neutrals Program. Attorney Marcus also performs federal sector mediations for the EEOC Administrative Judges. 

1. How did you get started as a mediator with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission? 
After completing law school, I worked as an investigator at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. From there, I moved over to an investigator position with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. While I enjoyed the neutral role of the investigator, I was making determinations of past events. The mediator position was of interest to me, because in mediation I retain the neutral role, but also work with the parties to look forward and plan future events and outcomes. As the mediator at the time became an Administrative Judge, the position opened. I first detailed to the job, meaning I was selected to try it out for 90 days. Details come up from time to time in the federal sector and are fantastic opportunities for professional development.  I then competitively applied and was selected to be the mediator on a permanent basis.

2. What is a typical day like for someone in your field?
I have three typical days.  The first is a day with a mediation session, which typically lasts 4-5 hours.  If I am in the Boston office, I spend the time around the session preparing for the case, and responding to party inquiries. If the case is in another New England location, I spend the time around the session traveling.

The second typical day is an office day.  I spend my time moving approximately 130 cases through the program.  I spend a lot of time on the phone educating parties and answering questions about mediation and the agency process, and then scheduling mediation sessions all over the New England area.

The third typical day is an outreach day.  This may consist of educating employer or employee groups about mediation, it may consist of training people how to mediate, it may be a career forum or a brown bag lunch.

3. Are there certain personality traits candidates should have in order to do well as a mediator?
To be a mediator, you have to be forward looking, moving beyond disputes of fact and law to focus on interests and options for resolution. You have to be able to put aside any personal feelings you may have on a particular issue, including  issues pertaining to race, color, national origin, gender, age or disability. You also have to be “on” the entire time, so there is no room for an off day where you don’t feel like talking to people. Other traits of importance are patience, comfort with all kinds of people, and strong listening skills. 

4. Were there any particular law school experience(s) that especially prepared you for this work?
The skills I learned in law school and use daily as a mediator are to stay organized, focused, identify key issues, and not get distracted by red herrings. It can be far easier to get off track in a live conversation than on paper, so these skills really help.
5. What advice do you have for law students interested in pursuing a career with the federal government?
First, create an account on USAJobs and apply often and early. Even if you are not ready to apply for jobs, the weekly job posting updates will give you a sense of what is out there. The application process can be daunting, but the more you do it, the better you become at navigating the system. Second, work with your career services office to identify federal employee alumni and see if you can schedule informational interviews with them. Internships in the federal sector are also helpful as agencies will be more comfortable with you knowing that you have had previous exposure to the federal sector.