Monday, February 22, 2021

Meet D1's Neutrals - Melissa Dewey Brumback

Meet Melissa Dewey Brumback! She is an experienced arbitrator, with over 22 years of practice, based in North Carolina.  Although she grew up in New York state, she is now a double Tar Heel, having obtained both her undergraduate and her law degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.  In her practice, Melissa works with construction industry professionals of all stripes—architects, engineers, contractors, and developers.  However, she considers design professionals among her favorite parties to represent, and has a blog devoted to their particular legal issues: Construction Law in NC.  We sat down (virtually, of course!) with her and learned about her arbitrating style. She also shared some practical tips for her fellow ‘dispute resolvers.’ D1, meet Melissa! 

Click here for a short video intro from Melissa!


When and why did you choose to become an arbitrator?

Becoming an arbitrator chose me, actually.  I was asked to arbitrate a dispute involving a construction business dispute by some parties that had agreed to a private arbitration.  It was rewarding being the decision maker for a change—and it got me hooked.

Can you describe your arbitrating style?

As I am usually an advocate, I know what frustrates folks, and that is an arbitrator that is unfair—that is, when an arbitrator has a bias or has pre-determined which side is more trustworthy.  I strive to stay as open-minded and neutral as possible until all the evidence is in the record.


What is the most important skill to have as an arbitrator?

Willingness to make tough calls.  I had one case where a party didn’t produce documents ahead of time, despite discovery obligations, but wanted to use those same documents in the hearing.  You need to force parties to keep to the rules they agreed to at the start.


What should drafters consider when drafting an effective arbitration clause?

The most important consideration for arbitration is how much discovery to allow.  If you allow full discovery, there is little point to having an arbitration.  On the other hand, you want to be able to know the general facts before you get to the hearing.  Carefully crafting those discovery limitations is vital.


What measures do you take as an arbitrator to ensure arbitration is less costly and more efficient than litigation?

One of the benefits of arbitration is the speed and lower cost.  I don’t believe that strict rules of evidence are necessary in the arbitration setting.  Forcing attorneys to follow strict document admission requirements, for example, is generally unnecessary.


What geographic area will you serve as a mediator/arbitrator?

Generally I will arbitrate anywhere North Carolina—from “Manteo to Murphy” as they say.  If you are in the Tar Heel state, I’ll be there.  (I’m not opposed to arbitrating in neighboring states, but haven’t had the opportunity.)


What is your experience and thoughts regarding virtual ADR?

I have not yet participated in a virtual arbitration, although I have participated in numerous virtual mediations and hearings, and I imagine it is similar.  I think it is a good tool to consider when folks are far away so that you can have testimony without breaking the bank.


How can ‘dispute resolvers’ better resolve disputes?

The most important way for 'dispute resolvers' to better resolve disputes is to be open to new ideas, new methods, and new theories.  Every other lawyer you meet can teach you something—either how to do something or how not to do something.  Don’t just do the “same old, same old” when handling a dispute, but carefully craft the theory and method for the particular case. 


How does the Forum and Division 1 relate to your mediation and arbitration practices?

The Forum is both fun and rewarding.  I know lawyers from across the country that I can call with questions or send clients to when necessary.  I learn a lot of hands-on, topical information from being an active part of the Forum.   I like to say it is a cult—but a good cult!


What was your first Forum meeting?

My first Forum meeting was the Scottsdale, Arizona and was called “My Favorite Mistakes.”  The brochure pictured a guy wide awake and stressing about his case at 3am.  I could relate, so I had to go! 

What hobbies, activities, or interests do you have/do outside of work and the Forum?

I love to read and all things books.  I am in a few different book clubs, enjoy finding little free libraries, and my idea of a great afternoon is one spent in a used book store.  Pre-COVID, I also loved to travel with my family, and hope to get back to that as soon as the world returns to normal.  (Iceland is next on my bucket list!)


As the litigation and dispute resolution division of the Forum, our members regularly serve as arbitrators, mediators, and other neutrals who resolve disputes. In an effort to promote and educate our membership about our talented neutrals, D1's Incoming Chair, Tom Dunn, decided to spearhead a series here on The Dispute Resolver blog to feature our Division 1 Neutrals (email him at if you'd like to be featured!).


Melissa Dewey Brumback is a litigation partner with over 20 years of experience, whose practice is focused on construction law and business disputes. She primarily represents architects and engineers, advising them on contract proposals to limit risks and defending them when litigation does arise.

Melissa’s cases have included construction administration and management claims, plan defect claims, testing failure claims and delay claims. Her practice includes the defense of all sizes of claims, from private commercial buildings to large, multi-million dollar public projects. She defends clients in State and Federal courts as well as in binding arbitration.

In addition to construction cases, Melissa handles commercial litigation, business torts, contract negotiation, medical negligence claims, product defect liability, premises liability, title insurance litigation, and director and officer liability.

Since 2009, Melissa has written and edited Construction Law in North Carolina, which is dedicated exclusively to the design professional community. The blog is critically-acclaimed at the national level, and has been awarded the “Best Construction Blog” prize by Design and Construction Report.

Outside of work, Melissa can be found with her nose buried in a good book or checking out the newest restaurants in the Triangle with her husband and daughter.

Contact Melissa: | 919.881.2214 

Editor Lexie R. Pereira is a third year J.D./M.B.A. candidate at Boston College Law School and Carroll School of Management, studying to become a litigator, with a specialty in construction law. Currently, she works as a Law Clerk at Consigli Construction Co., Inc., serves on the Editorial Team of the ABA’s Forum on Construction Law’s Dispute Resolver blog, and acts as the 2020 Student Liaison of the ABA's Forum on Construction Law. At school, Lexie is the President of the Real Estate Law Society and the President of the Eagle-to-Eagle Mentoring Program. Lexie grew up in the construction industry and has spent time working as an estimator, field engineer, laborer, and, of course, in the legal capacity at Consigli and formerly Hinckley Allen as a Summer Associate. 

Contact Lexie: |

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