Off the Books with Irving Feldman: Keeping Conflicts Out of the Courtroom – ADR at Work

As a Qualified Mediator and President of Sloan Group’s Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Practice, Springbok ADR Services Inc., Irving Feldman helps businesses and families resolve financial and estate conflicts.


Tell us about Springbok, the ADR, service you spearhead. Why the name?

South Africa’s national rugby team is known as the Springboks – a team that has had significant historical influence over the post –Apartheid nation building in the country. The racially integrated team made its World Cup debut in 1995, when the newly democratic South Africa hosted the tournament, and became a champion and a symbol of national unity for the new South Africa.

When I started this ADR service, I decided to call it “Springbok” after the famed team because this is what alternative dispute resolution is all about: bringing people together.


Why did you choose to start an ADR practice?

For a lot of people in my profession, it’s about more than counting beans. I’m focused on providing sound business advice to my clients together with building professional relationships. I’ve developed clients and friends, some of whom I’ve been working with for over 40 years. In addition to a trusted business adviser, I’ve become their private confidant and we talk about marriage issues, should they buy or lease a car, etc. in addition to business advice.

The financial statements that we as accountants prepare are platforms to provide a much larger service to help people make big decisions or solve problems in their day-to-day business lives.

I don’t know how many disputes I’ve helped resolve amongst clients over the years, it just goes with the territory. This includes dealing with a diversity of issues such as partner/shareholder disputes, debtor/creditor disagreements, and succession and estate conflicts. Springbok ADR Services Inc. is a natural extension and formalization of my professional experience and capabilities in these areas.


What is the difference between mediation and arbitration?

As a mediator, what I really am is a facilitator. Two (or more) people are fighting, there’s an issue, and they’re not getting anywhere, so I get appointed by the disputants.

A mediation is “without prejudice”. The mediator’s job is to facilitate and use skills to bring people together, but not give an opinion. If I give an opinion, I’m not a neutral party anymore.

Sometimes mediation fails and can lead to arbitration. Arbitration is basically the two (or more) parties asking the arbitrator to adjudicate their dispute. The disputing parties present their case, with or without expert witnesses. In some arbitrations, a jury-like proceeding can take place. One party appoints one arbitrator and the other party appoints another. Then the two arbitrators appoint a third, so a jury of arbitrators is formed. The three of us, as arbitrators, are on the same team and we collectively hear the case and tell the disputants what our opinion is, and help them structure a resolution.

Many agreements and contracts have binding arbitration clauses as a remedy to resolving disputes.


Both Mediation and Arbitration are a much less expensive and often a more efficient way to resolve issues than going to court. What kind of disputes have you been engaged in professionally?

People fight about money; there’s all kinds of disputes going on in our business community. Judges no longer want to listen to fighting and arguing, and are asking disputants to sort their issues out before going to court. There are mandatory mediation rules applicable in certain circumstances, designed to help free up the courts’ priorities that require you to at least attempt to resolve disputes before heading to court.
My ADR engagements often involve disputes between shareholders/partners, debtors/creditors and family/succession and estate matters.


Why should someone use a mediator instead of going to court?

Using a mediator and resolving issues out of court can save a lot of time, money, and energy. As a mediator, I help disputants resolve their issues by ensuring that each party has had the chance to explain their own issues, listen to and understand the opposing party, and be fully aware of their options. With this information, often the disputants are able to come to a mutually beneficial agreement and make life a lot easier for themselves, saving themselves time and legal fees, and often being able to rescue important business and personal relationships in their lives in the process.


Part of your practice involves financial counseling for people in employment transition. Tell us a bit about that.

Often, when someone retires or loses their job, they are in need of professional financial counseling. The financial loss of income and lack of security is, of course, challenging but often, in this type of transition you’ve also lost an important part of your identity, and sometimes your social standing and self esteem.

We’ve been working very closely with a prominent HR Outplacement Firm for many years and continue to provide financial counseling to numerous individuals who are dealing with job-loss, retirement and career transition.


How do you advise someone who just lost their job?

We meet with these individuals and we talk, in a confidential environment, sometimes for a couple hours, sometimes it takes several sessions. We help them understand their financial position, present and future, including income tax matters relating to severance packages, pensions, budgets, and other financial and tax-related areas.


You’re also a volunteer with Baycrest Foundation (Geriatric Centre.) Can you tell us about your work with Baycrest?

Baycrest is one of the finest institutions in the world focused on aging. It has some tremendous research going on, and it’s the world’s renowned foremost authority on the study of the brain.

I co-chair the Professional Advisory Group of the Baycrest Foundation, and our focus is on understanding how aging affects our friends, relatives and clients in the business community. We have a series of seminars throughout the year and we present speakers that are experts on relevant topics such as wills, estate/tax planning, elder abuse, ethics, philanthropy, etc. Our goal is to proliferate knowledge on aging so that lawyers, accountants, financial advisers, and other professionals that are in positions of influence, can deal with and react to the issues of their aging clientele.


Can arbitration or mediation help you? Learn more about Springbok ADR.

Irving Feldman, (Q. Med), CPA, CA, BA, has been providing professional services to the business community for over 40 years. Contact Irving to access the services offered by Springbok ADR Services Inc..

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