By Alison James
Lawyer Cody Foote’s office and mediation rooms are full of pictures of still water, green meadows and blue skies.
“When people come to an attorney or to mediation, they’re in conflict – something is bothering them,” Foote said. “What I can do is put up pictures that help give a calming feeling.”
Foote, 73, has “been in the business” long enough to know a few tricks – 35 years, truth be told.
Multiple mediation rooms, to accommodate all sizes of groups, line a long hall in Foote’s office on South Eighth Street. One room houses shelves of books of Alabama law. Another room features a kitchen with tables and a snack bar, to facilitate a break from mediation for lunch or a breather.
Although Foote passed the bar and started practicing law in 1979, mediation is a service for which he trained and added to his repertoire about four years ago.
“The very first case I ever mediated took 13 hours,” said Foote, who was serving as a mediator as part of a program at the Lee County Justice Center. “It was a divorce case. The people were so mad they were using foul language and threatening each other – I had a deputy sheriff stand outside the door, just in case. Thirteen hours later … every single item of hundreds of different conflicting points were all settled … And this man and woman who absolutely swore they were going to kill each other when they came had their arms around each other walking out the front door. I went home and told my wife, ‘You know, I think I can be a mediator.’”
And that’s how he really got started.
Foote describes mediation as a “very confidential” means of getting two or more parties to come to an agreement about a matter outside the courtroom. It’s a method, Foote said, that is often more successful than a court-ordered settlement.
“That’s one of the main reasons mediation is such a good medium,” Foote said. “In mediation, nobody gets 100 percent of what they want … But this is the way it is in life. The reason mankind has gone from caveman barbarics to where we are now is because of one word: compromise. That’s why we live in a civilized world: because we compromise.”
Foote, a Seale native, graduated from Auburn University with his undergraduate degree in engineering in 1971 after working his way through school. An engineer at Ampex until it closed, he also earned an associate’s degree in business from Southern Union before beginning to pursue a Master of Business Administration. He completed one semester before switching to law school.
“I have always thought of myself as someone who takes personal satisfaction out of helping people,” Foote said. “Even as a kid I dreamed – I don’t know, maybe I watched too many movies – about being a lawyer: saving my client from the gallows when he was truly innocent – the true Perry Mason.”
He sought a satisfaction he said he didn’t think he was going to find in engineering or business.
“In the corporate world, you’re not always rewarded proportionately for your effort,” Foote said. “That’s part of the corporate world. If you’re an attorney and you work for yourself, the reward is exactly proportional to the effort you put in – which is what I had been looking for.”
Foote’s first mediation case, the 13 hours that finally ended in success, was his longest. Clients pay for a base two hours when they come to mediation, but Foote said he has helped clients come to an agreement in much shorter lengths of time.
“In almost every mediation, there’s a key to a door that’s locked,” Foote said. “You have to find that key. Sometimes it’s the trading of a little bit of money. Sometimes it’s the trading of an asset. Sometimes it’s shifting visitation for kids in a way they never thought about … You figure out that key that unlocks that door that has been slammed shut, and you help them see how they can use that.”
The important thing, he said, is to “show compassion without showing bias – and not just showing … it has to be real. Be a good listener.”
“Both parties have to feel like they won,” Foote said. “Nobody wins 100 percent, but both parties win enough of what they’re looking for to feel comfortable about it and say, ‘I can live with that.’”
Although his law and mediation take up much of his time, he still participates in side hobbies/jobs – perhaps most notably, teaching dance lessons.
“I had no social life,” said Foote, who was working two or three jobs concurrently at the time. “I heard about a free line dance lesson at the old Dallas Club in Columbus on Monday nights … I said, ‘I could take off one night.’”
He began those lessons, but then added a second lesson on Tuesday nights at the old Holiday Inn in Opelika.
Foote said he enjoyed the line dance lessons, but he was still taken by surprise when, after two and a half months of lessons, he was asked to fill in as teacher of the course in Opelika.
“I said, ‘Listen, there are people in that class who have been taking lessons three or four years. I just started three months ago,’” Foote said. “She said, ‘Well, Steve (the former teacher) recommended you.”
He initially agreed to only do it until they found a more experienced replacement teacher but continued to teach for some time. A line dance student asked him to take ballroom dancing with her, and a couple years later, he was teaching that too.
He now teaches ballroom dancing through the Opelika Sportsplex, at the Covington Recreation Center and at Auburn University. He teaches 21 different dances, most of them encapsulated in ballroom dancing – like cha-cha, rumba and fox-trot. His favorite is “whichever one I’m dancing at the moment.”
He also does jewelry repair for his wife Maria, who will soon move her jewelry store from Tiger Town to a building just a few buildings down from his, on the corner of South Eighth Street and Avenue B.