Lucie Barron started ADR Services Inc., a legal dispute resolution company, when she was a newly divorced mother of seven children and needed a way to support her family. That was 14 years ago, and although she wasn't an attorney, Barron learned how to deal with the complexities of the legal profession and eventually grew ADR Services, an enterprise with 45 employees, and 140 judges and lawyers who work in six offices throughout California and Nevada. Barron was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany after World War II to a Ukrainian mother and Russian father, and they immigrated to Australia when she was 4. She grew up in Adelaide and moved to Sydney to study psychology, then left Australia for Canada and earned her M.B.A. from McGill University in Montreal. She came to California in 1980. Barron retains a hint of an Australian accent and decorates all of ADR's offices with treasures she finds from her vacations abroad. She met with the Business Journal at her Century City office to discuss the challenges of running a law business without a legal background, her youth in postwar Europe and Australia, and her family and travels.


Question: How did you come up with the idea to start ADR Services?

Answer: I had gotten involved in some litigation. When my husband and I were getting divorced we fired a property manager, and he sued for wrongful termination. I had never been in litigation. And I thought there has got to be a better way to resolve disputes.

Q: So, you decided to learn about alternative dispute resolution?

A: I went to UCLA's law school, I would go there and read, and go home and study. It was really hard, I didn't know the law. I didn't know the anatomy of a lawsuit.

Q: After learning about it, you decided you could do it?

A: Yes. I was housed in a law firm. I had permission to use their conference rooms for mediations and arbitrations twice a month, which is like nothing, but I made enough to pay the rent. It was really grueling.

Q: How difficult was it getting the company started?

A: The first year, we barely broke even. I could have made more money working at McDonald's. I was doing everything on credit cards and just switching money around. I used to be here until midnight. But I was short on money, so I figured I would do the work of two people.

Q: Was it difficult to get people to have faith in your services?

A: At the beginning, I didn't want to tell people that I owned ADR because I thought if they knew, they wouldn't take me seriously. I would give myself different titles, like the manager of ADR, the director or the executive director.

Q: And you still don't have a law degree. Why not?

A: I think it is an advantage to not have a law degree because I think lawyers tend to be linear thinkers, which is not as good for running your own business. When you are running your own business, you need to be more of a visionary and have a greater capacity for strategic planning, and in business school you are taught that.

Q: What is your educational background?

A: I have an undergraduate degree in psychology, and a master's degree in clinical psychology. I was registered to practice as a psychologist in Canada and Australia, and I did practice as a psychologist in Montreal. But I decided that I wanted to get out of that field. It's just very emotionally draining.

Q: Does your training as a psychologist help you run ADR Services?

A: It helps you understand people, and a lot of this business is about understanding people.

Q: Was it tough to go back and get your M.B.A.?

A: I applied to McGill, and luckily I got in. I was having kids at that time, so it was kind of a good time to go back to school. The degree took me three and half years, instead of the traditional two years to finish. I had four kids at the time.

Q: Did you have plans to start your own business?

A: No. But if I had the chance to do it over again, without the kids, I would have liked to go to Wall Street. I wanted to get into business, but I didn't expect to become an entrepreneur.

Q: Do you remember your childhood in postwar Germany?

A: I have vague memories. I was born in a displaced person's camp in Hanover. It was one of the cities that was bombed pretty badly during World War II. It was very desolate. I remember being hungry and cold.

Q: When did you move to Australia?

A: We moved to Australia when I was 4 years old. We got on this ship and it took us about two and half months to get there.

Q: Why did your family go to Australia?

A: It was the only country that would take us. My father was older and he didn't speak English, and other countries wanted young families with one child because they thought they would integrate better. I had a brother and a sister.

Q: What was your childhood like in Australia?

A: We moved to Adelaide, which was a nice place to grow up. It's called the city of churches, and it has a little river that runs through it. I grew up in an immigrant community and we were not a very popular nationality even in the immigrant community. They all hated the Russians. It was hard.

Q: So did you find it difficult to establish yourself in Australia?

A: Yes, I couldn't wait to get out of Adelaide. I left as soon as I could; I went to Sidney. I didn't talk about my Russian heritage at all, it was something that I wasn't necessarily proud of because I wanted to fit in, and I wanted to be Australian.

Q: Did you always have plans to go to school in Sydney?

A: No, I didn't even think I was going to go to university. I wanted to go to work because we had no money, and I wanted to buy clothes and makeup.

Q: Why did you stay in school?

A: My father encouraged me to go to university. He encouraged me because he could see that education was the only way out of the poverty level.

Q: And why undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology?

A: I had to do something, or get some kind of master's degree, to become a different kind of professional. The only thing I could think of, because women didn't get business degrees in those days, was that I wanted to understand people so I chose psychology.

Q: What did you do next?

A: I immigrated to Canada and I got married there. I met an Australian in Canada, in Montreal of all places. I got married there and then we immigrated to the United States.

Q: Did you always want to live in the United States?

A: I have always wanted to come here, and particularly California. When you were growing up in Australia, you would give your right arm to come to the United States and you would probably give both arms to come to California.

Q: Did you became an American citizen?

A: I have never taken an American citizenship. I would lose my Australian citizenship because I wasn't born in Australia. I always wanted to keep my Australian citizenship, because I feel like I am homeless, I don't really have a county that I belong to. But the closest is Australia.

Q: What is your typical day at ADR like?

A: I handle a lot of the back-office operations. I still do all of the recruiting and I still attend a lot of the events in the legal community, with bar associations and law firms.

Q: You have seven children. Did you ever imagine you would have such a large family?

A: No, my first three children were girls and I was determined to have a boy. I wanted to have a boy because my brother had died in an accident in his twenties. It sounds kind of weird, but I always thought something might happen to my son like what happened to my brother, so I wanted to have insurance. I had three girls, one boy. I wanted another boy, but I had three more girls.

Q: All of the ADR offices are named after and decorated like different places throughout the world. Do you like to travel?

A: I love to see the rest of the world. It opens up your eyes. I traveled to Africa, and in particular Johannesburg and Botswana.

Q: Where have you been recently?

A: Last year, I went on the Trans-Siberian railway from Vladivostok to Moscow and then we went into St. Petersburg. I had never been to Russia before. In some of those towns, you still felt a sense of fear because this is a country where people were told by the government what to read and what to eat. The older generation is still very fearful, and when I spoke to them in Russian, they were suspicious.

Lucie Barron
Title: Founder and President
Company: ADR Services Inc.
Born: 1947; Hanover, Germany
Education: B.A., psychology, University of Adelaide in Australia; M.A., psychology, University of Sydney; diploma of clinical psychology, University of Sydney; M.B.A., McGill University in Montreal
Career Turning Point: Deciding she didn't want to work for a corporation even though she had to feed seven children
Most Influential People: Leslie Stahl, Diane Sawyer, Eleanor Roosevelt
Personal: Lives in Westwood; divorced; seven adult children
Hobbies: Reading, skiing and traveling

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