July 06, 2012
Stonehill Alumni Magazine
by Maura King Scully
Mediator Paul Finn '71 may just be the most famous guy you don't know.
In September 2003, the media gathered outside One International Place in Boston.
TV crews jockeyed with newspaper reporters, all awaiting word of the settlement between the Archdiocese of Boston and 542 plaintiffs in the sexual abuse scandal. The two sides were gathered inside at the law offices of Ropes & Gray. Lead mediator Paul Finn '71, president of Commonwealth Mediation and Conciliation, Inc. (CMCI) and a Stonehill Trustee, was ironing out final details in the $85 million settlement.
With the original signed document in his briefcase, Finn rode the elevator down to the lobby. He walked out the front doors, through the crowd-unnoticed-got in his car and drove away.
"That was probably the coolest thing I've done in my life," he told Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, which named him 2003 Lawyer of the Year for his work on the Archdiocesan settlement. And that's not the only high-profile mediation that Finn has brokered. He's negotiated settlements in the Rev. James Porter sexual abuse scandal, the Rhode Island Station Nightclub fire and disputes over the Big Dig in Boston.
But you won't see his picture in the paper. Finn's role as mediator is definitely behind-the-scenes, and he likes it that way.
A history major at Stonehill, Finn says he always wanted to be a lawyer, "from the first time I saw Perry Mason as a kid." He earned his J.D. from New England School of Law and opened a general law practice, Berks and Finn, in Brockton in 1977. The practice eventually grew to five attorneys and did a steady stream of criminal defense, trusts and estates, divorce and product liability work.
But as the years passed, Finn became disillusioned with the practice of law. "The legal process is all about conflict. As lawyers, that's the way we're trained," he notes. With the emphasis on discovery, deadlines and filing motions, "we're so busy advocating for our clients that we rarely ever listen."
He actually flirted with the idea of leaving law all together. Finn earned a master's degree in government from Harvard University in 1990 and considered teaching. But just as he was considering taking the leap, along came a new development in the legal profession: alternative dispute resolution. Known as ADR, the term encompasses both mediation, where two sides agree to work with an impartial third party to resolve a disagreement through their own devices; and arbitration, where parties sign a contract agreeing to abide by the decision of a neutral third party.
"It's been around for hundreds of years, but only in the last 20 has it become a for-profit enterprise. I thought it had a lot of potential," he says. Finn's instincts were dead on: he left his law practice in 1992 and started mediating fulltime at CMCI. Over the past 16 years, he's settled more than 6,000 claims-averaging more than one per day. "A typical mediation today takes about four hours or longer," he explains. "You have all the decision makers at the table and they're building their own solutions, so you can get a lot more done."
This no-nonsense approach has a lot to do with his success. According to a colleague, Easton attorney Francis "Jay" Lynch, "he's able to reduce everyone down to just being people. What can take most mediators hours to say by beating around the bush, Paul can say in two minutes."
Finn is also a guy who likes a challenge. As a Stonehill student, Finn, and others, decided to start a football club. "The athletic director at the time told me it couldn't be done," he remembers. "I told him I'd send him two tickets to the first game, and I did." Finn organized fundraisers and found a corporate sponsor. He hired a coach, bought equipment and fielded a team, serving as its first captain. Though they only won one game, Finn considers the endeavor a success. "Hands down, starting that team is among the top best five things I've ever done," he says.
Through the years, Finn has maintained close ties with Stonehill. In fact, when he put together a team of mediators to hear the 542 individual cases for the Archdiocesan settlement, he recruited friends like Ernest DeSimone '72, J. Michael Janelli '71, Claire (McLaughlin) Cronin '82, James Holmgren '76 and Bernard Fitzgerald '71. The College also played a role in the final settlement: Finn gathered all 19 arbiters at the Martin Institute for two days in December 2003 to formulate the individual settlement amounts.
At that time, he did allow a few pictures to be snapped for posterity; he has photos hanging in his Brockton office of the 19-member team along with the alumni cohort. But none of these images made it to the newspapers, of course.
A Slice of Fame
There is one place, however, where you can catch a glimpse of the elusive Finn: in the coverage of the Masters Golf Tournament, held at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia in April. Since 2003, he's served as 14th hole marshal. Look carefully and you can spot him on the green behind Tiger Woods or Trevor Immelman: a stoic figure in a white polo shirt and yellow cap, standing guard to hold back spectators.
"I love it," he says. "I start at 6:30 Monday morning and work until 6 p.m. on Sunday. No cell phones-no one can get to me. I just sit in my chair and watch some great golf." Plus, there's the perk that marshals can play the famed course, which Finn does every May. Even non-fame has its perks.
For more information, contact Communications and Media Relations at 508-565-1321.