Businesswoman Barbara Allen brings infuses Texas legal system with innovative solutions
When folks turn onto the gravel driveway at Barbara Allen’s sprawling 52-acre ranch in Florence, they’re likely to notice horses grazing in the pastures, a ranch hand hauling hay, and dogs barking in the distance. Barbara’s big Texas smile and faint New York accent welcome guests to her one-story ranch house. Right away, her larger-than-life personality and zeal shine through. They’ve shined in all aspects of her life, from her days growing up the oldest of six kids in Brooklyn, New York, to attending Yale Law School and working as a lawyer, law professor, international mediator and venture capitalist, to running her nonprofit foundation, Mrs. Allen’s Rescue Ranch.
Barbara’s gained a world of knowledge and accomplished many goals in her life, but now she’s building a legacy that’s helping to transform the Texas legal system.
A Texas-size problem
Weeding through the Texas court system is often an expensive and time-consuming process. Civil cases, such as divorce, may stretch out for months or years, involve multiple disputes, and end up leaving a trail of exhausted and frustrated people. Alternative avenues to resolve cases, such as mediation and arbitration, haven’t provided a consistently successful record in alleviating the courts’ choked dockets.
Mediation and arbitration are processes in which a trained, neutral third-party helps to settle a civil dispute between two or more parties. In the former, the mediator helps the parties reach a mutually agreed upon decision while an arbitrator hears everyone’s side of the matter and then renders a decision or award. Ten years after Barbara moved to the ranch with her husband and daughters, she started Austin Texas Mediators LLC in 2014 to address two key components she felt were deficient in Texas’ mediation and arbitration process: perseverance and diversity.
Barbara says typically, a mediator would arrive, and just thirty minutes later, “if the parties couldn’t agree, they’d all go home and play golf. Our philosophy is that you stay and mediate,” she explains. “Perseverance is the biggest trait. You have to want to do the job, like the job, and be creative and stick with the process until, hopefully, everybody can come to a conclusion they can live with.”
Barbara observed a lack of women and minorities among mediators and arbitrators. In a state with a richly diverse population, having a mediator or arbitrator that clients can relate to on a personal level often fosters a more understanding and communicative environment. Barbara gathered people from a variety of backgrounds and they got to work.
More than a business
Six months after starting her business, Barbara’s company outgrew its “Austin” designator and became Mediators of Texas. In the past three years, her team has blazed through the Texas courts, offering a fresh take on mediation, and their 95% success rate in resolving cases proves their methods are working—methods such as co-mediation, where two mediators work in tandem to resolve issues, and incorporating a variety of communication and sensitivity techniques.
But for Barbara, success means more than closing cases and growing her business; it’s about giving back to the community. MOT sponsors and partners with a variety of nonprofit organizations. The group sponsors dove hunts for veterans, partners with Barbara’s family foundation, Mrs. Allen’s Rescue Ranch, to provide service animals to veterans and those in need, and recently worked with the Red Cross during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
The team is also focused on making mediation better in Texas. In 2015, MOT began teaching mediation/arbitration courses to anyone wanting to learn their common sense, practical approach. “My goal, whether they’re attorneys or non-attorneys, is that every student who comes out of my classes be ready to rock and roll and mediate the next day if they have the confidence to do it,” Barbara says. MOT offers a variety of communication, sensitivity, and diversity classes for the general public, too.
“I think it’s the responsibility for people like us, women like us, to share our knowledge, to share what we’ve learned with younger women and younger men,” Barbara explains. “I think it’s really important that we leave a legacy.”
And that’s the main force that drives Barbara. “This is my legacy. I want this company to survive me,” Barbara explains. “I love Texas, moved to Texas, and I want to leave Texas with some of the knowledge and some of the experience I’ve gained over almost sixty years.”
And she’s far from finished.
A wide-open future
This past November, the newly renamed and expanded Mediators and Arbitrators of America (MAA) partnered with Judge Bill Gravell to launch the United States’ first Online Dispute Resolution system. “It’s staggering to get to be the first court in America to do that,” Judge Gravell explains. “These defendants will have a chance to work out their issues [online], and if they can’t, the mediator that’s coming in will be MAA. If we can reduce our court to just a few cases that are civil matters and we can resolve these other disputes online, I think it’s brilliant.”
MAA is expanding services nationally and contracting with governmental and non-governmental agencies to teach their alternative dispute resolution techniques to help resolve workplace conflict. They’ve also started spreading their reach internationally.
Not long ago, Barbara flew to England to learn more about England’s mediation process and share what MAA is doing. While there, she visited Highclere Castle, home of the Earl and Countess Carnarvon and the set of Downtown Abbey.
Never having seen the show, Barbara walked right up to the Countess Fiona, who was wearing a riding habit, and said, “Hi, I’m Barbara Allen from Texas, and I’m not sure where we’re supposed to go. What would you like us to do?” The Countess politely asked, “Do you know who I am?” Barbara replied, “No, do you know who I am?”
The introduction turned out to be the beginning of a new friendship born out of their mutual love of horses and wide-open spaces. This past November, Barbara returned as a guest to Highclere Castle, where she spent several days enjoying gracious company and the English countryside and keeping an eye on England’s need for skilled mediators.
But no matter how far Barbara takes MAA out into the world, Texas will always be home. It’s where she’s raised her children, runs her sprawling ranch and family foundation, and it’s where her heart is. Barbara’s determined to help make the Texas legal system better and build a sprawling legacy to match the state she loves.