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Ralph J. Swanson

Ralph J. Swanson

Mediation and Arbitration

Office 408.286.5800 Vcard Email

Areas of Focus:

Mr. Swanson has been practicing law since 1975 and with extensive experience in commercial and environmental litigation, he applies that experience to his dispute resolution practice. He acts as a mediator and arbitrator of business disputes, including environmental contamination and toxic contamination of real property. He is also an arbitrator for the Northern California business litigation panel of the American Arbitration Association.

Mr. Swanson’s approach to mediation comes from four decades of litigating, trying, and settling hundreds of business, real estate, and environmental disputes.  His experience teaches that too often parties to disputes—and their legal counsel—become entrenched in maximalist positions to the exclusion of what it will take to resolve a dispute before that becomes a practical improbability due to the costs already invested in the matter.  Thus, Mr. Swanson’s unique approach is to explore the underlying nature of the dispute as seen by the parties, as well as the legal and factual issues of each case. Understanding the motivating factors, Mr. Swanson can help lead each side to compromise a position and resolve the dispute that will often lead to a creative settlement that neither side could achieve by going to trial.

Mr. Swanson has made presentations on a variety of topics in environmental law and litigation and is well-respected in the community. In 2011, Mr. Swanson was recognized as a Northern California Super Lawyer in Business Litigation.

Representative Cases

  • Mediator in private mediation and court-appointed settlement judge in dozens of cases from 1985 to date
  • Arbitrator of numerous commercial and real estate litigation matters as member of Northern California Panel on Business and Commercial Litigation, American Arbitration Association
  • Resolved in mediation and later obtained judgment against defendants for failure to pay settlement of complex suit involving charges of fraud and breach of contract in multiple real estate transactions
  • Defended Fortune 100 company in soil and groundwater contamination cost recovery action involving complex state and local statutes and regulations relating to responsibility for contamination and remediation. Achieved settlement satisfactory to client after private mediation
  • Represented plaintiff, a local incorporated city, in suit against architect to recover costs of settling construction dispute with general contractor. Client alleged cause of cost overruns was poor quality of architectural drawings. Settled case favorably to client


  • Born in Iowa City, Iowa
  • Married, two children, three grandchildren
  • Avid tennis player, golfer, skier

Professional Admissions

  • State Bar of California, 1975 - present
  • United States District Court, Northern, Southern, Central & Eastern Districts of California
  • United States District Court of Appeal, Ninth Circuit


  • "The Trustee and the Hazards of Hazardous Chemicals," Professional Fiduciary Association of California
  • "A View from the Trenches: Trying Environmental Law Cases," Santa Clara County Bar Association
  • "The Need to Know: Ethical Issues in Environmental Reporting Requirements," Santa Clara County Bar Association
  • "Minimizing Environmental Liability," National Business Institute
  • "Proving the Technical Case: Soil and Groundwater Contamination," University of Wisconsin Dept. of Engineering

Activities / Memberships

  • American Bar Association, 1976 - present
  • Santa Clara County Bar Association, 1980 – present, Executive Committee; Environmental Law Section, Chair, 1996
  • Santa Clara County Superior Court, Arbitration Administration Committee
  • Symphony San Jose, Member, Board of Trustees, 2008 - 2018
  • Cystic Fibrosis Research, Inc. (Palo Alto), President, Board of Directors, 1996 – 1998; Member, Board of Directors, 1992 - 1998, 2002 - 2003
  • University Club of Palo Alto, President, Board of Directors, 2006 – 2008; Member, Board of Directors, 2003 – 2009


  • Santa Clara University School of Law, J.D., summa cum laude, 1975
  • Editor-in-Chief, Santa Clara Law Review, 1974 - 1975
  • Yale University, B.A., 1969
  • Phillips Academy, Andover, MA, 1961-1965