The Negotiator

Louis Kushner believes any two parties can reach a settlement

Published in 2009 Pennsylvania Super Lawyers — June 2009

Louis Kushner is the first to admit he's not exactly Johnny Excitement. "I'm the most boring person you'll ever meet," says the amiable 67-year-old partner at Rothman Gordon in Pittsburgh. "I've had one job, one wife, one house." And one reputation: as the level-headed guy who reaches settlements.

"Lou shows that you get more bees with honey than vinegar," says Judge Lawrence W. Kaplan, who left the bench last year after 30 years of settling divorce and custody cases in the family division of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, and is now a colleague of Kushner. "He brings years of wisdom and understanding plus a personality that permits him to communicate in a way that is not offensive or presumptuous."

After 40 years as an employment and labor attorney and mediator, there isn't a lot he hasn't seen. His secret to getting to the handshake? Treat everyone with respect.

"In labor law, there is always an ongoing relationship between the two parties, and Lou showed me that you try to deal with one another in such a manner that you don't make enemies," says Stephen H. Jordan, a Rothman Gordon partner who has worked with Kushner for 32 years. "Even when he had an arbitration hearing in which one side won and one side lost, he always did it in a fashion so as not to make enemies.

"Lou has built a reputation as someone who is beyond reproach," continues Jordan. "Before I was officially on staff, he let me follow him around like a puppy and see the process firsthand. And once I had my own cases and was writing briefs, he would be there rewriting until midnight."

 

These days Kushner handles a wide gamut of mediation cases, from employment to construction to commercial contracts while still practicing as an employment and labor law attorney. Lawyers in the Pittsburgh community know to call only if they're serious about settling. "I consider it a failure not to settle. I've been there until two or three in the morning. I've sat at a lot of collective bargaining tables. Negotiating all night used to be a regular day's work. I'm used to that," he says.

Kushner has kept many a client off the picket line. He takes pride in the fact that the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, a longtime client, hasn't gone on strike since the 1970s. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra musicians union either: no walkouts for a quarter century. Much of what he learned during those grueling years of labor negotiations he uses now as a mediator.

"Mediation found me," he says. "In labor disputes, no one really wanted to fight. They wanted a settlement. It's the same in mediations. Everybody walks out a little happy and a little unhappy. Nobody gets everything they want."

Kushner is equally solution-oriented when it comes to community service. He's traveled to the Soviet Union to meet and counsel refuseniks, Jews in the former Soviet Union who were refused the right to emigrate and, in some cases, were imprisoned, and last year he joined fellow Pittsburgh mediator Robert Creo on a 10-day trip to Ghana and Liberia to lecture on dispute resolution. The trip was part of the group called Mediators Beyond Borders that Creo co-founded in 2006.

"I got a voice mail from Bob one day saying, 'I'm in Liberia and I need your help. I'll talk with you when I get home. Goodbye.' That's how it happened," Kushner says.

"It was quite shocking and emotional. Liberia has been devastated by civil war. There is no central electric system. There is no central anything. It was a life-changing event."

Kushner met his wife, Sandra, while both were at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. They married soon after and settled into the Squirrel Hill home where they raised three children and still live today. They see each other at work, too: Sandra is a trial attorney at Rothman Gordon. Kushner warns his opposing lawyers, and he does so only half-jokingly, that if they can't reach a settlement, they may have to face his wife in court. "You don't want Sandy to try a case against you," he says. The couple agrees not to discuss work at home, a pact he says they manage to maintain 98 percent of the time. "When there is leakage, there's a real problem," he says. They recently celebrated their 40th anniversary.

He likes to stay busy outside of the office. When he isn't working or volunteering, he trains for marathons (he's completed 16, including one in Athens with his son Ryan), mountain-climbing expeditions (he's conquered Kilimanjaro) and ski trips. Don't expect him to slow down anytime soon. "I enjoy it all too much," he says.

Doesn't sound boring at all.

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