How I Practice-Debra Vey Voda-Hamilton

Debra Vey Voda-Hamilton

1. What are your areas of practice?
I was a litigator. Now my practice focuses on mediation of conflicts between people over animals. Animals impact lives every day in divorce, landlord-tenant issues, vet malpractice or service disagreements. You can use mediation to tell your side of the story.  In mediation everyone who has a claim/complaint gets to be a part of the solution. If the conflict doesn’t resolve the parties can always litigate. After mediation the litigation is often less contentious.

2. Describe a typical day for you?
There’s no such thing as a typical day for a mediator of conflicts over animals! Most clients who call my office want to litigate. It’s all they know. I stop and listen to their story. They often stay with me because they feel safe and respected for their view of the facts. I make sure they are heard, respected and understood. I help them to stay focused on the animals. I also help them listen to the other side’s version of the facts in a more effective way.

3. Where do you practice? Do you have a stand-alone office or home office?
I have a home office. I started there so that I could bring my dogs into work, which has effectively helped to take the heat out of conflict. I always ask my clients, “Would you like me to include a dog in the room?” Often the mere presence of the dogs in the room help them focus on the animals they are in conflict over, not their egos and winning.

4. What is the most rewarding thing about having your own practice?
Being able to work on cases I want to work on and not have to take every case that comes across my desk. I can take cause over cash. I do a lot of writing on animal conflict mediation and its intersection with animal law, which is the fastest growing area of law. I am looking forward to having ADR become part of the animal law curriculum, but for now animal law doesn’t embrace alternative dispute resolution.

5. What are some of the challenges about having your own practice?
Being able to have people take advantage of the uniqueness of the practice. Getting both side of a conflict into mediation early and helping them work on a more meaningful solution. It’s always about the animal yet egos can get in the way. I have them respect each other for what each of them brings to the table. With animals, you think your way is the only way.

6. What are your must-have tech tools/apps?
My iPhone. Twitter and LinkedIn have been irreplaceable for me. I comment on Twitter and I’ve built a large following, who are now exposed to an alternate way to address problems they see involving animals. I use the hashtag #peacefulconversations when speaking about animals.

7. How do you market your practice? How do you find new clients?
I blog. I speak at animal law and pet service conferences all over the world. I speak to people and provide training programs on language to employ when conflicts arise as well as mediate conflicts that arise in attendees’ practices. I am also a member of the American Veterinary Medicine Association, the American Veterinary Medical and Legal Association, Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Boarding and Pet Service Association. People have to know I exist. I belong to and follow a number of NYSBA communities including Dispute Resolution, Committee on Women in the Law, Real Property Law, Trusts and Estates and Family Law.

8. If a fellow attorney decided they wanted to start their own practice, what is the one thing they should know?
They should follow their heart and really know what they want to do. When I came back to the practice of law after being away for 13 years raising my sons and being a PTA Mom, I realized I couldn’t litigate any longer. As attorneys, we are so invested in finding solutions. We should help our clients be a part of the solution. I encourage making connections with your legal colleagues. I like feeling satisfied that I am doing good and I have colleagues who have helped me get here. That’s why I do what I do.