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Stamatelos believes in mediation


Kim Stamatelos comes from a well-known Des Moines family. Her father, Dan, was known as a lawyer. Her grandparents, Johnny and Josephine, were known for their restaurant, Johnny’s Vet’s Club, which served a legendary steak de burgo. As a young woman, trying to establish her own legal career, Stamatelos couldn’t wait to get away from her family’s sphere of influence.

Stamatelos attended Drake University, receiving her undergraduate degree in 1978 and her law degree in 1981. She then left the state to practice law in Dallas for Roadway Inns. Stamatelos explored several different means of practicing law, but after her first child was born 17 years ago, she decided to return to Iowa and go into practice with her father.

In Texas, Stamatelos had learned about mediation, and longed to put that knowledge to use in Des Moines. Texans had turned to mediation as a way to deal with clogged court dockets. In Iowa, however, few people even knew what mediation was.

“It really appealed to me because it gave people a chance to be in an informal setting and have some control over their destinies,” she said. “A mediator is a neutral party who helps opposing parties explore what their settlement options might be.”

Stametelos said mediation also appealed to her because it was “less like battle.” She said taking two people with differing points of view and putting them in an unfamiliar, formal court setting with lawyers using jargon and employing arcane strategies can escalate conflict.

“I’m not saying it’s a replacement for trials,” she said. “It’s just another option to help find a resolution.”

Stametelos eventually decided that she wanted to start her own mediation business. She approached her father for a loan, and he told her she should be a lawyer. One night, while dining with her grandparents, Stamatelos asked her grandfather for the loan. He told her to stick to practicing law. Her grandmother, however, agreed to lend her $10,000 on the condition that they keep it a secret from her grandfather. She used the funds to buy a branch of U.S. Arbitration & Mediation Inc., which she would eventually expand to Iowa, Minnesota, Northern Illinois and North and South Dakota.

Stamatelos’ first training session was made up of friends of her father’s, he had badgered them into attending the event. They were skeptical, thinking mediation touchy-feely and impractical.

“Most of them, by the end of that first session, were hooked,” she said.

Mediation can less stressful on the parties involved than a traditional trial, and it has been embraced by many businesses because it can be cheaper and quicker than assembling witnesses and extensive evidence and securing a court date.

In 1991, Stamatelos left town to work in her Chicago office. Two years later, she sold her companies and join a large private mediation firm, JAMS, in Irvine, Calif., commuting from Phoenix. After a few years, she quit to work as a consultant. Then two events changed Stamatelos’ life. Her father moved in with her and was placed in hospice care. Then she and her husband got a divorce. During the last eight months of her father’s life, they talked about their relationship and their careers. He told her he was proud of her, and that mediation reminded him of how law was practiced in the old days, with both sides sitting down together, talking an issue out, and settling things with a handshake.

Following her father’s death and her divorce, Stamatelos decided to come back to Iowa for the summer to regroup. Then she decided not to leave. She quickly found a job with Hopkins & Huebner, and the firm agreed to let her focus on mediation. Now mediation is well known in Iowa, and Polk County requires it as an early step in divorce cases.

“The issues that made me want to leave Iowa were a young person’s issues,” she said. “They didn’t exist anymore. It felt good to be home. It’s like I’m supposed to be here.”   

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