Plans to launch a low-cost mediation service for Valley attorneys have entered the home stretch toward becoming reality. Adam Grant, a partner at Alpert Barr & Grant APLC in Encino and president of the San Fernando Valley Bar Association, and Myer Sankary, a mediator with ADR Services in Century City, are spearheading the non-profit venture, which is named Valley Bar Mediation Center. The center is designed to take the place of services previously offered by Los Angeles Superior Court. The program reduced the caseload of the courts by handling more than 10,000 cases a year countywide, but a budget crunch killed it in 2013. Sankary said there are two funding issues for the service: the hourly rate charged by mediators to sit down and negotiate settlements, and the administrative cost to run the program. The center plans to work with mediators who will charge a reduced fee of about $150 an hour to clients for the first three hours. While there are private alternative dispute companies in the market, their prices are on the order of $400 to $500 an hour. “A lot of people can’t afford that,” Sankary said. “Also, we acknowledge that some are needy, so some mediators won’t charge anything for the first three hours.” However, Sankary emphasized the service isn’t limited to low-income clients. For example, the court system’s mediation service was used extensively by insurance companies to settle routine auto accident or medical bill cases. To pay for the new organization, Sankary is securing donations from foundations, Rotary Clubs and community organizations. The estimated annual budget of $100,000 to $150,000 will include the salary of an executive director, maintenance of a website where attorneys can find mediators and marketing expenses for the service. The center will begin with the most popular types of mediation cases, such as insurance, landlord-tenant disputes, personal injury and employment law. It will not include family law, since the court still maintains a family mediation program. The new center should be up and running by June. It will be housed at the offices of the San Fernando Valley Bar Association in Tarzana, with Sankary serving as unpaid president. Industrial Focus Michelman & Robinson LLP’s growth plans took a major step forward recently with the hiring of nine attorneys at its Encino headquarters. The firm’s strategic business plan projects a payroll of 135 attorneys by 2018, a considerable jump for its current roster of about 75. But willy-nilly growth isn’t an option either, said Ron Camhi, partner in charge of the advertising, media and marketing practice. “It’s not just a body count because that’s easy,” he said. “We are looking for a combination of people who are well known in a particular industry, rather than a practice area.” For example, Camhi might look for an in-house counsel at a major hotel chain as an addition to the firm’s hospitality practice. Even if the attorney hasn’t worked at a law firm, he or she would know the culture, major players, lingo and business methods particular to the hotel industry. “We assess what gaps and needs are in the marketplace. We might have to beef up our real estate expertise in the hotel space, or maybe employment law for that industry,” he said. In addition to hospitality, health care and Internet marketing law are hot-button issues now, according to Camhi. The recent new hires include four health care attorneys, one in Internet marketing, and three in commercial litigation. Stacey Zill, a new partner in the health care group, said the industry-focused approach was impressive as a recruitment tool. “I was looking for a firm with a renowned health care practice,” she said. “M&R has a notable reputation in that regard, and Andrew Selesnick, chair of the health care practice group, is highly recognized in the field. I had previously been on the opposing side of various cases with Andrew and was in awe of his advocacy.” On the Docket Linda Northrup has joined the board of Habitat for Humanity of Ventura County. The partner at Westlake Village firm Northrup Schlueter represents clients in real estate, construction and business litigation. In her capacity as a board member, she will advise the non-profit organization on legal matters. … Kevin Cruz has joined the firm of Alpert Barr & Grant APLC as a senior associate. He will work in the business and real estate litigation, insurance law and construction defect practice. Previously, Cruz worked at Gray Duffy LLP in Los Angeles, where he was lead attorney for a trust representing 30 investors that sued a real estate investment firm. The suit was settled with an arbitration agreement that gave $15 million to the trust. Cruz also has criminal experience from working at Alternate Public Defender in Los Angeles. … Los Angeles Lawyers Philharmonic has scheduled its annual concert on June 14 at Disney Concert Hall. The repertoire will include the greatest movie sound tracks of all time in a “Salute to Hollywood.” Tickets start at $20, with half the money funding legal aid organizations. Staff Writer Joel Russell can be reached at (818) 316-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org.