It’s not every lawyer who wants to keep people out of court, but that’s just what Leighton Detora wants to do.
Stowe town meeting regulars know Detora from seeing him behind the podium; he’s been town moderator for 10 years. But he’s also been an attorney and founding partner with the law firm Valsangiacomo, Detora and McQuesten, based in both Barre and Burlington, since the late 1970s.
Now 75, Detora retired this year, but instead of pulling out the fishing gear, he’s heading into private practice of a different kind: mediation.
His new business, Leighton Detora Mediations, will work with individuals, nonprofits, office groups and others to help them resolve differences and come to a middle ground, on everything from personal and marital disputes to legal struggles.
“Life is full of situations with opposing opinions. Those can ripen into conflict, and ripen into litigation,” said Detora, who holds a law degree from Boston’s Suffolk University Law School. “The fact that there are differences and even conflict, that’s life, but the real issue is how you deal with them. I think mediation is a quick, efficient and effective way to deal with conflict.”
Detora says mediation can save people time, money and energy that would have been spent on lengthy and expensive litigation.
“The most important thing is that you create the solution, as opposed to a court or hearing panel, and as opposed to letting things fester,” he said.
Detora says decades spent as an attorney gives him plenty of experience. All of those years growing up in a large, blended Italian-Irish family didn’t hurt either.
“I used to see them sit at a table and there’d be some issue and they’d holler at one another and bang on the table and accuse one another, but they solved it right then and left it there and walked away,” Detora said. “For the most part, if you sit at a table and go back and forth, you can resolve an awful lot of things.”
His law background also gives him a “sense of what a court might do with any given case,” he said.
“It’s like being town moderator in some ways,” he said. “The purpose is to help people do what they want to do. If somebody has a difficult time asking a question, you help them. If they don’t understand the situation, you help them. … That is a role which takes a complete understanding of the issues, sensitivity to people’s rights and needs, and the ability to control the flow of the discussion.”
Plus, he makes house calls.
While some mediators don’t care about the outcome, as long as the parties agree, Detora takes a different approach. “If you get the sense that one person is too weak to help themselves through it and are giving away everything, I would feel some obligation to step in and say, let’s think about this,” he said.
When Detora first sits down with people struggling over a problem, he asks them to share their reasons for choosing mediation, and what they want out of it.
The goal then is to find common ground and look for compromises.
When tempers flare, Detora separates people and works one-on-one before bringing them back together.
“It’s a people world,” Detora said.