This April, the eyes of the cycling world are on bike-mad Belgium. With the recently completed Tour of Flanders and the upcoming Ardennes classic races of La Fleche Wallonne and Liege–Bastogne–Liege, the pro peloton will toil across the soggy and cold yet beautiful landscapes of the country rightly famous for beer, chocolate and waffles. If I seem partisan, it is because I am of Belgian ancestry: My father was born in Brussels and emigrated here as a child. I still have family and friends who reside in Belgium, including my “grandfather” (long story) Jean Gillot, who serves as a judge in the business court near his home in Braine-le-Chateau and, occasionally, in Brussels. The court over which Jean presides may be probative of ways to improve the American system of jurisprudence. Contrary to the complaints that I often hear, I believe that our court system functions relatively well, but even the most ardent supporter can agree that it never hurts to explore ways to improve the system.
Gillot is a retired businessman, having worked during the years for various multinational corporations, including my sentimental favorite posting of his: Fischer-Price. As a worldly executive, Gillot amassed a wealth of knowledge about the internal and external workings of large companies. An enthusiastic learner and hard-worker, he applied his experiences to maximize the profits of his employers and thereby furthered his career.
After many happy years in the corporate world, Gillot retired with the intention of settling into a quiet life in his village. A loving father and grandfather, he was happy to spend time with his family and to indulge, like all Gillots (and Voborils), in epicurean delights. But Jean is a restless man full of energy and the retired life did not totally suit his spirit. Which was why he was delighted when he was approached to serve as a judge in the business court.
Mind you, Gillot was never an attorney and had no specific legal training. In Belgium, this is not uncommon for judges in the business court, although they do go through some basic training specific to their purview prior to taking the bench. Through the decades of his professional life, Gillot unsurprisingly encountered more than a few conflicts. He commensurately observed effective and not so effective ways to address these disputes, whether within the company or between his company and others. In this way, he had a useful perspective on the cases that were to come before him, which are all of a business nature.
Gillot has flourished in his new role, which is not at all surprising. It has made me wonder whether there is a place for a similar business court in our legal system, one that is overseen by businesspersons. As readers of this column know, I am a staunch supporter of our judges, local and otherwise. But their perspectives are largely the same: They were almost all lawyers prior to donning their robes. The risk of confirmation bias is therefore high, as judges’ interactions with other judges and with lawyers merely cement their views regarding the system.
A fresh perspective may be worthwhile, especially to businesspersons, who may prefer to have their disputes adjudicated by their own. Rather than have a decision imposed by someone viewed as an outsider, business conflicts would be settled by people with intimate knowledge of the ways businesses function. At the very least, this may serve to elevate satisfaction with the system.
This is one reason why arbitration has been a successful and increasingly popular means of alternative dispute resolution. For example, many securities arbitrators are not actually judges or lawyers, but experts in the financial industry. The same holds true for other industry-specific arbitration organizations, such as in construction. While a district court judge may have only basic background in construction, a construction professional would more deeply understand the intricacies of a large commercial project and would be best suited to render an opinion as to whether there were defects or other issues with the project.
There is a pilot project in place in several judicial districts in Colorado which is experimenting with various ways that the system can be more friendly and less costly to businesses. Anecdotal reviews are mixed, but the ideas have merit. Perhaps the addition of judges pulled from the business and not legal community may push this pilot project in the right direction. Gillot certainly believes so.
T.J. Voboril is a partner at Reynolds, Kalamaya & Voboril LLC, a local law firm, and the owner-mediator at Voice Of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, please contact Voboril at 970-306-6456, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.rkvlaw.com.