January 2, 2013

FINRA Dispute Resolution Director of Arbitration Retires

By Jill Gross

Ever since I learned that George Friedman would be retiring at the end of 2012, I struggled to write a fitting tribute to him and his many accomplishments as Director of Arbitration at FINRA for the past fourteen years.  In lieu of continuing my struggle, I reproduce below a wonderful tribute authored by Rick Ryder at the the Securities Arbitration Commentator, which appeared in the Securities Arbitration Alert 2012-48, distributed earlier this week on Dec. 31, 2012.  (Thanks Rick, for saying it so well.)   I just add that I consider George a friend, a role model and a mentor, and thank him profusely for all he has taught me about securities arbitration law and practice, and more importantly, about leadership, diplomacy and humility.

Tomorrow, January 1, 2013, George H. Friedman, Executive Vice President and Director of Arbitration, FINRA Dispute Resolution, Inc., steps down from a post he has held for the past fourteen years to start a new phase in his life and career. We have been told that phase is “retirement,” but we harbor our doubts and would predict that arbitration will continue to benefit and progress from the further contributions George Friedman may yet make to the field.

His contributions to date have been manifold and diverse, beginning with a career with the American Arbitration Association that introduced him to arbitration, to mediation and to dispute resolution techniques in general in an organization that acknowledged his talents and ultimately elevated him to the position of Senior Vice President (1994-1998). George has also taught arbitration, as an Adjunct Professor at Fordham Law School since 1996, and has contributed to the field in many other ways: as a member of several bar associations and as past Chair of the Committee on Alternative Dispute Resolution, New York County Lawyers Association; as a seminar panelist-lecturer; and as an author of articles that have appeared in numerous law reviews, law journals, and the Securities Arbitration Commentator newsletter.

George is an original member of SAC’s Board of Editors, agreeing to join while he was still with the AAA. Even then, his interest in securities disputes was evident and, in his role at AAA, he formed an AAA Task Force on Securities Arbitration, comprised of public, industry and neutral members who assisted AAA in developing a separate set of Securities Arbitration Rules. Then, in 1998, he became Director of Arbitration with FINRA-DR’s predecessor, NASD Dispute Resolution, under Linda D. Fienberg, and the two of them have built a forum that may only be criticized for bending over backwards to be fair to the public investor.

At the New York State Bar Association’s November 2012 “Securities & Mediation Seminar,” arbitration defense counsel on one of the panels expressed his belief that most industry lawyers would rather be in court today than FINRA arbitration, a back-handed tribute, perhaps, but grudging acknowledgment that FINRA has strived to be an exemplar of fairness in consumer arbitration.  Barbara Roper, Director of Investor Protection for the Consumer Federation of America and an arbitration gadfly, has been quoted as saying, “Consumers
in credit card arbitration would think they died and went to heaven if they went to FINRA arbitration.”

We asked George Friedman for his help in listing his proudest accomplishments during his term at FINRA. He offered five: (1) Greatly improved relationships with key constituents, such as PIABA, SIFMA, NASAA, and SICA; (2) Improved perceptions of the forum’s fairness (see our comments above); (3) Key rule changes; (4) Enhanced technology; and (5) Serving as a mentor. One can see George’s style in some of these choices alone: a diplomatic, persuasive and even-handed approach that mirrors the informal and facilitative nature of his chosen discipline.

As for the more objective selections, key rule changes and enhanced technology, the developments in these fields are manifest. FINRA did not just make Awards publicly available; they are word-searchable and retrievable as PDFs online. Online claim filing and the MATRICS computer system, including the computerized NLSS arbitration selection system, are fully  operational, while the anticipated portals, first for arbitrators and, next, for parties, are beginning to come on-stream. Single arbitrators, once limited to disputes involving $25,000 or less (who remembers $2,500 or less?) now decide matters involving up to $100,000. Arbitrator classification rules, the introduction and overhaul of the Discovery Guide, the Code of  Arbitration Procedure simplification project, the motion to dismiss limitations – all of these are products of the Friedman-Fienberg regime.

Typically self-effacing and thoughtful, George ended his message to us – as we will end this short tribute – with a paragraph that reflects his modesty, generosity and natural humor: “I have been privileged to work with an amazing group of colleagues, specifically Ken Andrichik, Rick Berry, Barbara Brady, Dorothy Popp (who is also retiring at the end of the year), Jim Schroder, and the regional directors, Katherine Bayer, Scott Carfello, Laura McNamire and Manly Ray, and, of course, Linda Fienberg. And others who had the good sense to retire before I did: Liz Clancy, Jean Feeney, and Judy Norris. And the rest of the dedicated men and women of FINRA Dispute Resolution, who day in and day out carry out FINRA’s investor  protection mission by operating the fairest, most efficient arbitration program there is. As I’ve said many times, they make me look good!”

 We will miss George Friedman. We are both grateful for knowing him and witnessing his accomplishments and eager to see what he will undertake next!

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