Lainey Feingold is a long-time Berkeley resident, a disability civil-rights lawyer, and an author. She has worked with the blind community for more than two decades to increase access to information and technology. Feingold, her co-counsel, and clients have negotiated deals with Bank of America, Major League Baseball, CVS, the City of San Francisco and dozens of others – all without filing a single lawsuit. Now she tells the story of how that happened – and how others can use her method — in her new book, Structured Negotiation, a Winning Alternative to Lawsuits.
Berkeleyside recently caught up with Feingold to learn more about her work and her new book.
What is Structured Negotiation and why did you want to write a book about it?
Structured Negotiation is a way to resolve legal disputes without lawsuits. I’ve used the process for 20 years so I know that it is capable of achieving great results. My cases focus on digital and information access for blind people – things like accessible websites and mobile applications, talking prescription labels, accessible pedestrian signals, and Talking ATMs. But the process is suitable for other types of claims as well. The method is cost-effective, builds relationships, and avoids so much of the conflict and stress that is part of a typical lawsuit.
Lawsuits play a very important role in society, and they are an important tool in any advocate’s toolbox. I wrote my book to offer advocates and lawyers another tool.
Are any of the stories in your book about Berkeley?
Many! Almost two years ago Berkeleyside covered a story-telling forum organized by Berkeley resident Joshua Miele who is a scientist, inventor and activist. Called Berkeley, City of the Blind, it was a great evening of stories about Berkeley’s influential role as a hub of activity around blind activism. I was invited to share a story and talked about how some of the country’s first Talking ATMs were right here on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley as a result of Structured Negotiation.
Our first three Structured Negotiation cases were with Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citibank. My clients and I, along with co-counsel Oakland civil rights lawyer Linda Dardarian, held a great press event with Citibank. It was in that beautiful building on Shattuck, now converted to an Indian restaurant. We were announcing the first touch screen talking ATMs in the world! Later, the Washington Mutual branch on Shattuck, now a Chase Bank, had one of the world’s first ATMs that spoke in Spanish. The Wells Fargo and Bank of America Talking ATMs all over Berkeley are the legacy of those first Structured Negotiations.
I also tell a story in the book about how banks initially thought braille labels would make an ATM accessible. Structured Negotiation lets people really talk to each other, so we could explain that braille could not make an interactive machine accessible. By trying to use an ATM with only braille, blind advocates could show bankers during Structured Negotiation meetings that the braille was useless. How useless? In the mid-1990s, when Josh Miele was a Ph.D student at UC, he ordered a “Don’t Believe the Braille” rubber stamp and surreptitiously posted its bright red message in the center of local ATM screens.
What case has been your favorite?
That’s a tough one. I couldn’t name one favorite, but certainly at the top of the list is our negotiation with Major League Baseball. As I explain in the book, blind baseball fans from across the country wanted to listen to games online and access statistics, stories, and other content on their computers and iPhones. Before Structured Negotiation, MLB’s digital content was not designed so everyone could access it. (Blind people can use websites and mobile applications when content is designed to well-established accessibility standards.) MLB became a great negotiating partner and we worked with them to improve their website, mobile applications, and the sites of all 30 baseball teams.
The Talking ATM cases – which Linda and I and other lawyers did all over the country after success in California – are also at the top of my favorites list because they were first. And also because, as I describe in the book, the blind community was able to contribute to the creation of brand new technology. It was fun to be part of that. I’ve also worked to get pharmacies to offer talking prescription labels. This is so important to blind people being able to take medication safely, so those cases are my favorite too.
I have had the privilege of working with great clients, co-counsel and negotiating partners for twenty years in Structured Negotiation. All without lawsuits and without the usual stress that is so common in my profession. So in that way you could say that all my cases are favorites!
Is your book just for lawyers?
Absolutely not. One reason it took me five years to write the book was that I wanted to be sure it would be useful to anyone interested in a cooperative, win-win solution to resolving legal claims. Readers who are not lawyers have already told me that they’ve learned negotiating strategies from the book that they are using at work and other parts of their lives.
The public deserves alternatives to lawsuits that are less costly, less stressful, and more cooperative. Clients need a forum where their stories matter and they can be (and feel) heard. Structured Negotiation is that process.
The responses to Feingold’s book have been good. Jessie Lorenz, the executive director of San Francisco’s Independent Living Resource Center, said: “If you are a lawyer, an advocate or a person who would like to learn how to reduce conflict in situations where people share vastly different perspectives, you’ve got to read this book.” Bay Area mediator and author Daniel Bowling writes, “I honor Lainey for her years of thoughtful development of this process and the hard work it takes to write such a terrific book.”
Feingold launched her book launch at Berkeley’s Ed Roberts Center and recently spoke at the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation. On Jan. 24, she will be speaking at her alma mater, Hastings Law School, and in early February she’ll be traveling to Toronto for two days of book-related talks and events. More information about these and other events on her website.
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