Karen R. Washington: Putting Conflict Aside

Karen R. Washington

“You don’t always settle a mediation by having someone write a check. Sometimes it involves more of an examination of options. I like helping people get to the end of conflict,” says mediator Karen R. Washington.

“There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to legal challenges and you can’t always plug away with the same old ‘tried and true’ methods just because that’s the way things have always been done. A smart attorney is open to approaching a situation from a fresh perspective to meet that challenge, and the same holds true for a mediator,” she says.

Washington says that mediations typically begin with all participants sitting at the same table, giving them an opportunity to talk and share. At the appropriate moment the parties separate and have the opportunity to employ a negotiation strategy. “That way we avoid acrimony that may do more harm than good, and give parties a safe space where they can both brainstorm and vent. Our end goal is an agreed solution to the challenge, not to win a bar fight.”

Washington recounts a case in which the parties were arguing over unfair competition. During the mediation, the company revealed that contrary to what the individual thought, the company actually held him in high esteem. Delving further into the situation they figured out that the company could really benefit from his services. Before the day was over, the parties had not only negotiated a resolution to the lawsuit, but they had also come to terms on an employment agreement for the individual to work for the company.

Washington says, “Each case is different because the facts are different, the personalities are different, and the interests of each party are different. A skilled mediator will look for the right approach for the case at hand. Lawyers can do their clients a service by discussing issues and personalities with the mediator in advance.”

Washington is an attorney-mediator and arbitrator with experience in employer and employee relations, business associations, owner or client disputes, contracts, and insurance claims in more than 1,000 cases. Her areas of special interest in her own practice are contracts, severance agreements, discrimination, FMLA, FLSA, wills and probate, and negotiation, mediation and arbitration. She is proficient in Spanish.

Washington is a magna cum laude graduate of Texas Tech University with a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish. She earned her Juris Doctor from the University of Texas. She is admitted to practice in all Texas State Courts, U.S. District Courts in all districts of Texas, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court. She is a member of the Neutral Panels AAA for mediation and arbitration of commercial and employment matters and FINRA for arbitration of securities and employment matters.

She is a certified independent hearing examiner for the Texas Education Agency. Her duties include presiding over evidentiary hearings and making determinations relating to school district decisions for termination or nonrenewal of employment contracts.

Just five years out of law school, Washington was elected partner of a prominent Dallas law firm. Her career path includes being a founding member of Thorpe, Hatcher & Washington PLLC, a shareholder in Godwin Bowman Martinez P.C.; a Dallas assistant city attorney; and, briefing attorney for the Fifth Court of appeals.

Numerous experiences during her career path pointed her in the direction of dispute resolution. “I was a litigation attorney and people had become so embroiled in the process of litigation and billable hours that they sometimes forgot to ask, ‘Why are we doing this and does it really draw us any closer to a resolution of the conflict?’ Dispute resolution is a way to help people,” she says.

Washington is an involved member of numerous professional organizations. She is a master in the William “Mac” Taylor American Inn of Court and a member of the American Law Institute. She currently serves as a uniform law commissioner and is on the drafting committee for the Uniform Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Act.

She is an adjunct professor at Texas A&M University School of Law, and a mentor at the University of North Texas School of Law. She volunteers with the National Institute for Trial Advocacy Deposition Program.

“I believe the most effective attorneys and mediators in the long run are those who have a healthy balance of work and family. We need the right mix in our physical, mental, emotional and moral make up. I am committed to my clients, my work and my family,” Washington says.

She and her husband, Bruce, have been married 30 years. They have four daughters ranging in ages from 15 to 25. The family enjoys being together. For holidays, it isn’t unusual to have a gathering of 30-40 extended family members. “We like to travel. We like to go places and try new foods and see new things. When we’re away, we really focus on each other.”

Leading a balanced life includes making time for civic and community service, especially when it can involve the entire family. “I like to cook. I’m proud to say that every member of the family is quite capable in the kitchen. We’ve found a way to use that interest for good. Once a month, we bake cookies for the Austin Street Center, a homeless shelter. Our family has also made a tradition of serving Thanksgiving dinner there. It’s a reminder to all of us that ‘There but for the grace of God … ’”

Washington supports other nonprofit organizations around town through her membership in Altrusa International Inc. of Downtown Dallas and the Richardson Symphony League.

Washington says, “I really feel like I’m helping people. That sounds hokey, but I really do feel like I’m helping people because conflict isn’t good for the soul and if you put conflict aside you can be healthier and happier.”

“I believe the most effective attorneys and mediators in the long run are those who have a healthy balance of work and family. We need the right mix in our physical, mental, emotional and moral make up. I am committed to my clients, my work, and my family,”

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