The Dispute Resolution Institute
by Iris Taylor West

photography by JEFF ANDERSON

Some legal matters are too important to be left to the risks and delays of our court system. For these situations, lawyers routinely turn to an experienced, well-informed and unbiased source, Harris T. Bock.

Mr. Bock, a respected leader in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), founded The Dispute Resolution Institute in 1994 to provide a forum to resolve legal disputes in a timely, private and cost-effective manner. The Institute has since grown to include a team of “Distinguished Neutrals” to accommodate the demand for private dispute resolution in areas ranging from business law to personal injury. “Participants appreciate the fact that ADR has the potential to provide a greater degree of control over the resolution of their disputes,” Mr. Bock says.

As a result, participants tend to experience a higher rate of success and a greater level of satisfaction.

As Founder of The Dispute Resolution Institute and a pioneer in the field of ADR, Mr. Bock is often selected by the state and federal judiciary as arbitrator, special master or mediator. Aside from continually building upon his reputation as a foremost expert in ADR, Mr. Bock has held numerous other influential positions within his community. For example, he is the founding Managing Editor of The Philadelphia County Reporter, as well as Adjunct Professor of ADR at Villanova University School of Law. In addition, Mr. Bock remains the President of the Philadelphia Lawyers Club, a Board Member of the American Heart Association, and he is presently a Board Member of Susan G. Komen Philadelphia and The Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania.

We sat down with Mr. Bock to hear more about The Dispute Resolution Institute and his considerable influence in the field of arbitration and mediation in the Greater Philadelphia Area.

How did you decide on mediation and arbitration as your career path?
I got into the field because I saw not only an opportunity, but also a better way to deliver justice. I saw the advantages of arbitration and mediation, so I decided to give up my legal practice approximately 25 years ago and devote myself to turning ADR from a thought to a keystone of civil practice. I became widely known in the field itself, and I ended up becoming a pioneer in Philadelphia and responsible for its increased implementation in the city. I served as the Chair of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s ADR Committee for five years, and I have done solely arbitration and mediation since retiring my other practice.

It is said that when one door closes, another opens. That appears to be the case with The Dispute Resolution Institute. How did the Institute come about?
I started it as an entity to use solely for arbitration and mediation. It was founded in 1994 to provide parties an opportunity to resolve their disputes in a private, friendlier matter. Each case that comes to us is given individualized attention needed, and there is a higher degree of control over resolution. At one point, I was the sole provider in the Institute; now we have four other Distinguished Neutrals involved that assist in deciding or resolving cases.

What is your main area of expertise?
My areas of expertise include business, personal injury, professional malpractice, employment, insurance, partnership, law firm and equitable distribution disputes. Personal injury is my primary specialty, and I also devote myself to making ADR an integral part of civil practice.

How does the standard process work at The Dispute Resolution Institute?
The majority of cases we receive are resolved through the standard ADR processes of arbitration and mediation. Lawyers, who represent two different sides (or more), decide upon myself or other members of the Institute who act as Distinguished Neutrals to hear and assist in the resolution of their case. Occasionally, there will be decide their case. Occasionally there will be a special assignment or unique need, and for those cases The Dispute Resolution Institute utilizes custom-designed procedures that are considered flexible and individualized. Unlike the judicial system, where all cases are typically handled in the same matter, the Institute’s specialized approach ensures that the best process for each dispute is used, i.e., that the “fuss fits the forum.”

What is the difference between mediation and arbitration?
Mediation is defined as facilitated negotiation and is a nonbinding process. The mediator essentially assists in the facilitation of a settlement. The mediator has an obligation to help both sides, but does not have the right to decide the case. Distinguished Neutrals in mediation prepare by gaining knowledge of relevant factual and legal issues through extensive submissions forwarded by the parties. The mediator combines diplomacy, caucuses separately with each side to discuss strengths and weaknesses and, in the end, tries to have the parties agree upon an acceptable resolution.

Arbitration, on the other hand, is a binding process, and is different from mediation in that each party has agreed to be bound by the decision of the Distinguished Neutral. The arbitrator decides the case and the final decision, rendered after the hearing is over, is final and binding.

Of your time in this field, what would you consider to be some of your most notable cases?
I was recently appointed by the Mayor, the President of City Council and the City Controller to serve as the Hearing Officer for the Philadelphia Water Department’s proposed $200 million rate increase. At the conclusion of the hearing, I had the responsibility of making a recommendation of the amount of the increase.

Another notable case involved Pier 34. This was the pier that collapsed into the Delaware River and killed three individuals and injured 43 others. I was agreed upon by the 13 law firms involved in the case to arbitrate the claims of all of the individuals.

All aspects considered, what do you like most about your career?
The most satisfying part of my practice is the joy that comes with settling a case. Each settlement has brought natural adversaries together, working in a collaborative fashion and seeing the relief of the parties in avoiding the rigors of litigation.

2 Logan Square |Suite 660
Philadelphia, Pa. | (215) 656-4374 |