Ivan Alter is a collaborative attorney and mediator with offices in Westchester County and New York City. Practicing law since 1994, Ivan previously had a career as a commercial and matrimonial litigator before discovering the understanding based model at the CUC. Since then, Ivan has focused all of his professional energies on practicing, promoting, and teaching mediation and collaborative law. He is member of the New York Association of Collaborative Professionals, the Family and Divorce Mediation Council, the International Association of Collaborative Professionals, and Northern Westchester Collaborative Divorce.

I always imagined that being a lawyer would mean helping people out of a difficult place and into a better one. But too often during my years as a litigator, I found that the process designed to resolve the conflict instead caused it to escalate and deepened the divisions. This was especially heartbreaking in cases involving families.

Learning about understanding-based mediation from Jack Himmelstein and Katherine Miller was a revelation. And my response was to hang up my litigator’s hat immediately and immerse myself in mediation and collaborative law. Aligning my work with my values and beliefs has been a source of great satisfaction for me. And its a message and a process I can’t help but share.

Can you please share a little bit about your background? How did your experiences lead you to joining the CUC board?

I come from a family of litigators and I learned to value the power of persuasion. But sometimes “making a good case” didn’t solve the problem, and I found that solving the problem was ultimately much more satisfying. And even though I worked hard and advocated for my clients, I couldn’t shake the thought that there was a way in which I could do better for them.

That realization, along with the birth of my children, led me to realize that if I was going to involve myself in the lives of families, I had better dedicate all of my efforts to really understanding and trying to solve their problems. Mediation training with Jack and Katherine made everything fall into
place. And I knew I would never litigate again.

I am thrilled to serve on the board of the CUC because it gives me the opportunity to spread the word about the powerful change that understanding can bring.

Can you share an experience using the Understanding-based model?

Learning to listen and try to understand has informed both my work and my personal relationships. Once I realized that the things that matter most deeply to people are often not about what they say they want but why, it changed everything.

What is one key piece of advice you’d like to share with other conflict resolution professionals?

For me I think its to try not to smooth over every conflict or flare up. Initially I thought that it was part of my job to suppress the tension, but I learned that when I do that I often fail to listen to what someone is trying so hard to tell me.

What are some important issues for today’s conflict resolution professionals to be connected with?

I think balancing what mediation is with what people think it is can be a challenge. I find that there is not widespread understanding of what we actually do and people often come to the process with expectations and assumptions that we first need to overcome.

What is something you enjoy doing with your free time?

I have a degree in landscape design and I love to imagine and create outdoor spaces, even if its mostly in my mind these days.