See It to Be It : Mediator & Arbitrator (w/ Rebekah Ratliff)

On the twenty-second installment of our See It to Be It podcast series, Amy C. Waninger chats with Rebekah Ratliff, a credentialed insurance expert and founder and president of Capital City Mediations, LLC. Rebekah offers some insights into her career as a mediator and an arbitrator and shares where she finds community in the unique space that she inhabits professionally.

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Amy: Today’s See It to Be It guest is Rebekah Ratliff. Rebekah is a former commercial complex casualty insurance professional with 25 years of experience. She is now the president of Capital City Mediations, a national mediation, arbitration and consulting firm. She’s a highly-sought after presenter and lecturer in the insurance and legal industries. Rebekah holds a degree in psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and operates internationally. Please welcome Rebekah Ratliff. Thank you so much for being with me today. How are you?

Rebekah: Hi. I’m fine, Amy. Thank you. How are you doing today?

Amy: I am doing well. I am so glad to have you on the show today because you do something that is unique within our industry, and I was wondering if you could tell me just a little bit about that.

Rebekah: Sure. Well, I am a mediator, arbitrator and consultant. I have a background of over two decades in the insurance industry as a complex casualty claims adjuster, so that’s where I developed my subject matter expertise on the areas that I mediate and arbitrate in. And so clients from across the country, they call upon me to consult with them about their cases, tell them what their cases are worth. I do quite a bit of lecturing at law schools and colleges and speaking for legal and insurance associations.

Amy: Now, when you say mediation and arbitration, those are a little bit different from each other. Can you explain, for people who are not familiar with those terms, what mediation is and what arbitration is?

Rebekah: Yes. Thank you for that. There is a distinction, and it’s important. Mediation–I always say in opening statements, “Mediation is successful because it’s effective, because it’s collaborative and confidential.” As a mediator, I am a facilitator. So I pass the messages back and forth between parties, and I help them facilitate a resolution, but free will is the key in mediation, and mediation is self-determining–that’s one of the big cannons of mediation. I don’t get to decide and I don’t convince. I don’t act in the capacity of an adviser. I am a neutral. In arbitration I’m also a neutral, but I get to decide. I make the decision. I ask for–I can subpoena records and subpoena people, and I ask for evidence. I bring the parties together, consider the evidence, and then I make a decision. And then there is non-binding arbitration and binding arbitration, and non-binding, if the parties don’t like my decision then they can have it vacated, but in a binding arbitration they don’t have a choice so my decision stands, and in arbitration my messages get reversed less than a judge’s decision might. Very hard to get a decision reversed in arbitration.

Amy: And so what is the training–I know that you mentioned that you had complex casualty adjusting experience, but what is the training or the licensing or the education necessary to do the kind of work you do in mediation and arbitration? Do you have to be an attorney, for example? What are the rules?

Rebekah: I am not an attorney, so you do not have to be an attorney. In some states parties prefer having an attorney, but what’s nice about my background is that it’s equipped me to facilitate compromises from the perspective of the payer, because I was the adjuster, and so I know if insurance is on the defense side I know what they’re thinking, but the training here in Georgia was 40 hours of mediation training and then arbitration it was–I think it was 5 days for mediation and then for arbitration it was a little less than that, but then I registered with the state. So I am Georgia Supreme Court certified or registered as a mediator and arbitrator, and there are firms around here in Georgia and in most states where they will train you for mediation and arbitration. It helps to have the subject matter expertise because you can understand the issues that come to you in the hearings.

Amy: Okay. So do you work exclusively with insurance cases, or do you work also with marital arbitrations or divorce solutions and those sorts of things?

Rebekah: I am actually certified as a civil and domestic mediator and arbitrator, so I can do family matters, parenting plans, you know, disputes, marriage dissolution assistance where the terms are being worked out through mediation or arbitration, I can do that. And the civil areas are medical malpractice, commercial premises liability, auto and trucking, personal injury, wrongful death, [?], construction, nursing home litigation, municipal liability. So some of the cases that you’re seeing in the news, I’m the consultant on. For instance, the Las Vegas mass shooting case, the $800 million settlement that was reached, I was the consultant for one of the attorneys on that case. So I enjoy applying the knowledge that I have from insurance to these cases and consultations. Mostly my clients are insurance companies and then of course lawyers bring their clients, their defense lawyers, if they’re hired by the insurance carrier, but they just bring their clients to me. I generally don’t work with parties who are not represented. It is just so much harder to work–I have, but that’s very rare. It’s harder to work with clients, because of the emotional involved, especially in domestic matters, ’cause you’re the neutral but you’re also a referree in a way that you really don’t want to be. So I am also a minority business enterprise and a woman enterprise, so I am certified to–I’m vetted for corporate and government work as well.

Amy: Congratulations on your certifications. Those are not easy to get. It’s a lot of paperwork. They don’t mess around. They want to see everything you’ve ever done financially. It’s an ordeal. I went through that as a certified Women’s Business Enterprise [?], and it was nice because for me I’m also an LGBT business enterprise, and the certifying arm for that is the NGLCC, and they will–basically take what you did for the [WeBank?] certification, and you say, “Here. I have this certification, and here’s why I also qualify for your certification,” which is great, but there aren’t a lot of them that do that, that have that reciprocity, and so some of these are lengthy are difficult. So congratulations, because those are not easy to get, but they certainly open doors that are hard to open otherwise. Okay, so I want to get back to this mediation and arbitration thing. This is super exciting. So you’re kind of in-between–and if I understand this correctly, you’ve got two opposing parties, and then they hvae attorneys that kind of calm them down and then bring the facts and not the emotion to you, and then you work with the attorneys to come to an agreement that is mutually agreeable in terms of mediation or that is fair based on precedent in terms of arbitration, right?

Rebekah: That’s very well-explained. The only thing that I would add is I do see emotion because usually the attorneys bring their clients with them, so I do… yeah, they don’t just show up as the representative. I do see the clients, and the thing about mediation, if you’re talking about civil mediation, the emotion is mostly on one side, because if you’re dealing with an insurance carrier on the defense side it’s a business decision. But in domestic both are emotional, because they may be arguing–you know, they’re quarreling potentially over the kids and maybe even the dog. Sometimes there’s a lamp or piece of furniture in the house that is sentimental, heirlooms that people are fighting over, and it can get pretty contentious. So yeah, that was more than you asked for, but that was well-said. You got it.

Amy: Okay, great. So in the work that you do, do you have the experience a lot of times of being the only in the room?

Rebekah: Uh, yes. [laughs]

Amy: I would guess that that’s the case. It’s probably not very often that you show up and it’s like Black Women Court. Have you seen that video?

Rebekah: I haven’t.

Amy: It’s a meme where all the women are–you know, the judge is a Black woman, both attorneys are Black women, the stenographer, the bailiff, like, everybody. They’re like, “Hey, look at us.” So I’m guessing that’s not your day-to-day.

Rebekah: No, that’s never happened to me actually. There are so many times, especially as a commercial adjuster, I got to handle cases that were in the millions, in almost all 50 states, and internationally. I was a global consultant for one of the commercial carriers, and I’ve also [?] at the primary and [?] levels. So millions and then the next layers of the millions, millions on top of millions. So I had quite a rich experience in deciphering-you know, as the adjuster you are the investigator, evaluator, negotiator, and so imagine me walking into a room as an African-American female, a young African-American female, and I’m the person with the pocket book. So I’ve had people not want to shake my hand on the other side. Yeah, it’s been quite the experience, but it toughened me. I don’t take it personally. I’m still the person with the money, whether you like me or not, so it helped me develop a posture that was important for the work that I do now in arbitration and mediation.

Amy: And so that must get lonely too though, so where do you go for community? Because you can’t–I’m guessing, and, you know, I’ve been–as a woman in IT I’ve been the only woman on the team, but I know that when you have the intersection of race and gender, you know, as an other in those kinds of situations, it gets lonely, demoralizing, and you’ve got to have a place where you go where you’re around people who know what you’re going through and that can kind of build you back up. So where do you go for that?

Rebekah: So that’s a great question. Okay, so to add… okay, so we have African-American female. Add the insurance industry, which is historically pale, male and stale, and then add not being a lawyer mediator and arbitrator. So where I go is I just jump in, because I go where I want to go. So I am the secretary of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Section of the National Bar Association and for the American Bar Association I am the co-chair of the Dispute Resolutions Diversity Committee. So I just seek to do good work. I don’t worry about where I’m invited, because once they meet me they’ll invite me the next time. So I belong to organizations–well, first of all let me start here. I have a great family. I have parents who taught me that nobody was better than me and that I could do anything I set out to do, and if I say I’m going to do something I do it, and that’s what people know about me. So let’s start there, but then I have great siblings. My parents taught us to love each other. We couldn’t say shut up to each other. We had to play fair. We couldn’t cheat each other. I had old school parents, so we couldn’t cheat each other if we were playing a game of Sorry or Scrabble or whatever it was. We couldn’t cheat each other. They taught us, my dad especially–he was just really a stickler for treating people well and The Golden Rule. So I build relationships pretty easily, you know, unless you have some ill intent we can get along. So I’ve joined these organizations, and the relationships that I’ve built have afforded me amazing and extraordinary and unique opportunities in the legal and insurance industries. I mentioned to you I speak, you know, quite a bit in–even as a lecturer at law schools. I mean, how does that happen? So I really do give credit to my faith. I believe that God has allowed me to be placed in the work that I’m purposeful in. I believe I’m walking in my purpose, and so I kind of have a tough skin. It is lonely sometimes, but I have a sister or two who travel with me when I go to some of these conferences so that I don’t have to on 10 the whole time. You can’t be on 10 the whole time. Sometimes you just need to decompress. So I have little mechanisms that I employ to make sure that I’m emotionally healthy when I’m moving in and out of these circles that I work in. It can be pretty contentious, but again, the relationships I’ve built, I have a great support system. Second to none.

Amy: That is so fantastic to hear, and I think we all need that, and I know you and I actually met in these down spaces in the conferences, in the unwind. I think we–full disclosure–we met in the hotel bar, but it was so great to meet in you in that way because we were sitting there over drinks and we just, you know… we got real real quick, didn’t we?

Rebekah: It was relaxing.

Amy: It was a really good way to meet and connect and, you know, I think we built a life-long friendship over a mojito. So tell me a little bit about, you know, as you look toward the future of the work that you do, mediation and arbitration, where do you see the talent needs headed? Do you think this is gonna be in higher demand? I mean, this doesn’t seem like a job robots will take over.

Rebekah: No. A robot cannot connect with people and understand the human condition and help to facilitate compromises. You have to use every active listening skill you’ve ever learned in mediation and arbitration. Those areas of work are becoming more popular, very, very needed, and there’s so many different areas that people are specializing in addition to the traditional areas that you hear about. We didn’t talk about criminal, but there’s also people who have mental illness. [They] need special attention in a mediation and arbitration setting. I dealt with a matter a couple of months ago, and it was a full circle moment because the company that I left to launch my own practice as an entrepreneur hired me to do a mediation as a couple months ago, and the plaintiff on the other side was “pro se,” which means he did not have a lawyer, and I got some information before the hearing to make sure that he would have capacity. He was a PTSD-diagnosed veteran, and I wanted to know if he even had the capacity to be in that hearing. But I have a psychology degree from the University of Illinois, so I don’t have a graduate degree in psychology, but I understand people very well. I have a discernment of people. But I just took my time with that case, and I assured him that I didn’t have anywhere else to be that day, and I found out before we did the joint opening sessions whether he even wanted to have a joint opening session or did he just want to speak with me, and he wanted to have his day at the hearing. He wanted to be heard. He wanted to be able to express himself. And trial was imminent, so I wanted to give him that opportunity because in trial he’s got the rules. You know, you can’t just talk emotion. You’ve got to stick to what the judge has told you that you can talk about in that case. So we were able to work through that case, and it was very gratifying to me to help him reach the resolution, because I really didn’t think he could endure a trial, and I was able to, as a neutral, just facilitate the messaging back and forth, keeping in mind that everybody… you know, people really don’t want to be in dispute. People don’t want to be in dispute, and most people who come to alternative dispute resolution sessions, they are coming because they want to settle the matter and move on. So I had the opportunity to emphasize–and I believe it was an opportunity for me–to emphasize to him how important it was for him to move on and spend time with his granddaughter, who was clearly the most important person in his life, but I made it clear to him that it wasn’t my decision that day. There would only be a resolution if both parties agreed to it. But that day, it really meant something to me because at the end of the hearing, after the settlement, he thanked me and he said, “I know I was really hard on you,” and I said, “We’re okay,” and I had actually sat at one point in a private session with him and watched him have a conversation with a voice in his head and wondered for a moment whether or not I was even safe in the room with him, but we were able to get it done. So I just think your heart has to be in the right place if you are a professional who is interested in alternative dispute resolution. You have to keep in mind that the most important things, the messaging be accurate, and that people have the opportunity to get out what they want to say and how they feel. Each party has to have some of their interests met. It’s a compromise, and everybody has to give and take, and I’ll say in my hearings that nobody is supposed to feel like they won in a mediation. In a mediation, everybody gets a little–the defense is supposed to feel like they paid too much and the plaintiff is supposed to feel like they didn’t get enough. That’s a successful mediation in my book. But I would have to say–so there are opportunities coming. Certainly the industries recognize that mediation and arbitration are important, and you know that because in your cell phone contract there is probably a mandatory arbitration cause. You’ll see now that companies are using mediation and arbitration more, but in addition to that, I have to say, the insurance industry is the best-kept secret. Careers in insurance are the best-kept secret. I am part of an effort through an organization that I lead–I’m the president of the Atlanta association of insurance professionals, and that is the local chapter of NAAIA, the National African-American Insurance Association, and NAAIA presidents are doing some important things in the industry to bring diverse talent in, because we have 400,000 insurance professionals aging out. The baby boomers are aging out of the industry, and there are gonna be jobs available in the next 5 to 7 years with companies where youn g people coming out of college can build transferable skills for a lifetime. The skills that I havee to be an effective mediator and arbitrator came from my career in the insurance industry of 25 years, so I want to also emphasize gaining subject matter expertise as an underpinning to go to something like dispute resolution, because insurance touches everything. It’s recession-proof. Again, you build transferable skills. It’s lucrative. You can have longevity, and there are trade associations that will support a career in insurance. One of the things that I’m very proud of recently is I’m the president of NAAIA Atlanta. There is the president of NAAIA Hartford and the president of NAAIA Florida, and they’ve teamed up with me, and we do have some other professionals who are supporting what we do, but we are going after the talent at HBCUs. It’s the Impact program. It started at Morehouse. The Atlanta chapter had the opportunity last year of meeting a young man at Morehouse. We did a session where we took some professionals over for our panel, but it was homecoming week so it was a bad idea, and not that many students showed up, but the ones that were supposed to be there were there. And we met a young man who we offered support in getting an adjuster’s license over Christmas break, and he did that. His name is Courtland Mallory, and he has been the face of the Impact program. He went Christmas break and he got his licensing in adjusting. We supported him through the program. We have a member in our chapter who owns–well, I have two people who own insurance schools here in Atlanta, and he went to the one closer in proximity to where he was. He got his license in adjuster and then went on and took his test for agency, and he’s a licensed life agent as well. So this kid graduated from Morehouse in May and he’s working in our industry. I named that program Impact. I like acronyms, so the acronym stands for Insurance Mentoring Program Advanced Career Track, and so we basically took that model and rolled it in–me and the other two presidents I mentioned have started programs at FAMU and also at The [?] Cookman University of Daytona Beach. We launched those programs in October, the IMPACT program, and that’s the mother program. We named those programs individually. Now we’re going to Savannah State University and North Carolina Central in the spring, and so we have the opportunity to sew good seed. I believe if you sew good seed you’ll reap good seed, so we are going after the diverse talent at the historically Black colleges and universities or HBCUs to ensure that those students have some education and information about career opportunities in insurance. And then there are trade associations available like NAAIA, like RIMS for risk management, CLM–claims litigation management. I’m very good friends with the president and CEO. We’ve got some damage we plan to do in the future, some collaborations coming. So there is support. There is support for developing skills where you can make money, and you can major in anything and be in the insurance industry. That’s what people don’t know. You don’t have to have a risk management insurance program at your school. We partner heavily with Georgia State University here. I sit on the risk management foundation advisory board for Georgia State. We also have a great relationship with the University of Georgia here, and they have great risk management programs, but there are schools that have a business school or don’t have any of that, and we are spreading the love. We’re getting around and making sure that those students have exposure to the information for careers in insurance.

Amy: And I love what you said about the industry, you know, the jobs being the best-kept secret, right, because they are invisible jobs. People don’t see them, right? There’s no game show on TV, “Who Wants to Be An Insurance Adjuster?” Nobody talks about it, and unfortunately I think there’s a stereotype, that is to some extent true, that a lot of folks in the industry, right, underwriters, actuaries, they go sit behind a desk and they don’t talk to anybody, and if they don’t talk to people nobody knows what they do. So we have to use our loud mouths, those of us who are extroverted and have been in the industry, right, to say, “Hey, you guys. Come on. There’s great work to be done over here,” and you can make a great living and do good doing it.

Rebekah: That’s exactly right. It’s a huge network, and most people–now what we’re discovering is most people, you know, of course they know about auto insurance, home insurance, life insurance, health insurance. So when I would say to somebody “I’m an insurance adjuster,” they were like, “Oh, I want to talk to you about this health claim that the insurance company doesn’t want to cover,” and I’m like, “I don’t know anything about that. I’m a casualty adjuster. I handle the heavy stuff–” Not that if you’re having health problems that’s not heavy, but civil matters, casualty matters that are not dealing with criminal insurance supported matters. So people have no idea. They just don’t know. So we’ve got out there, and we’ve been out touching these schools, and we have the career centers working with us, and we will be on the campus of [?] here in Atlanta. We just want to bring more faces of minorities into these industries, because I’ve made a great living as an insurance adjuster, and so it was–you know, it was my destiny really to transition at some point, but there are people who have been in the insurance industry for 30 or 40 years before they retire, many, especially if you worked for a good company with benefits, like profit sharing and supportive ERGs. That’s becoming a big thing now too. So there are companies that know they need to support work-life balance. There’s a lot of support behind that now, and so there’s just great things happening really in the insurance industry and also in the dispute resolution sector.

Amy: That’s fantastic, Rebekah. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise and journey with us. I have just two more questions for you. The first is – “When do you feel included?”

Rebekah: I feel included when I’m asked to serve. I believe that servants are sometimes the least thanked. It’s thankless, but it’s very gratifying if you understand that you’re supposed to do it. Service is a no-brainer for me. I’ve raised a son who is a servant as well. He is a leader and servant. So I feel included when I’m asked to serve.

Amy: And when you feel included, what are you capable of?

Rebekah: When I feel included, I can bring value. I feel like it opens up the potential for me to think creatively and to collaborate and to make amazing things happen with good will and with the amazing people that I’ve been able to meet. So yeah, I get to leverage my network, and there’s nothing better than that.

Amy: Rebekah Ratliff, thank you so much.

Rebekah: Thank you so much, Amy. Thanks for having me.

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