ID’ing A Good Dispute Resolution Law Program

Let’s say you’re in the midst of a divorce. Sooner or later, you’ll need to face those dreaded decisions like breaking up assets and negotiating child custody. Such areas are where alternative dispute resolution (ADR) comes into play.

Courts often offer a variety of ADR processes to assist people in resolving disputes without having to go to court, according to the Judicial Council of California.

Experts say aspiring lawyers who want to get hired at a big law firm generally need to demonstrate some working knowledge of ADR.

Ilana Kowarski, a reporter at U.S. News & World Report, recently discussed three main qualities applicants should look for in a law program if they want to learn about ADR.

Clinics Specifically Focusing in ADR

Clinics can give students the opportunity to experience what it’s like helping clients navigate the ADR process. Eric J. Trabin, a family law and criminal law attorney, tells U.S. News that ADR clinics give students an accurate portrayal of what resolution proceedings are like in real life.

“The real world shows you that these negotiations almost never go smoothly, largely because you’ve got one side that hates the other side and that makes it a little more complicated,” he tells U.S. News.

Negotiation is a critical skill any lawyer must master, specifically in ADR, says Cathy Cronin-Harris, co-chair of the advocacy committee of the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution.

“You’ll use negotiation, rather than adversarial advocacy, during most of your waking hours in every type of law practice,” Cronin-Harris writes. “While more arbitrations proceed to final award than do court trials, many arbitrations also settle. So, it’s highly likely you’ll reach the negotiation or mediation table during litigation or arbitration. You will also be negotiating continually with adversaries over timing, meetings, exchange of materials, discovery procedures, and early settlement forays.”

Strong ADR-Experienced Faculty

Another way to gauge the strength of a law school’s ADR preparation is to look at the faculty. Specifically, applicants should analyze each professor’s resume and bio for specific experience in ADR.

“Make sure to look at their bios and see if they are people who have practiced in the field or are just lawyers who have done a few mediations (anything under 750 is a few),” Christopher W. Smithmyer, a lawyer and strategic resource development coordinator at Brāv Online Conflict Management, a dispute resolution company, tells U.S. News. “See if they are people who have practiced across the spectrum of conflict management techniques.”

Look For Specific Courses in ADR

Cronin-Harris says applicants should seek out courses in negotiation, mediation advocacy, or mediation if they want to get a hands on approach to learning ADR.

“These courses delve into “consensual” resolution: that is, processes where participants negotiate and control the resolution of their own dispute, sometimes with the help of an outsider, rather than having an outsider decide the matter for them, as in a trial,” Cronin-Harris writes. “While these courses cover many other aspects of these processes, they all stress the centrality of negotiation know-how.”

Sources: U.S. News, Judicial Council of California, American Bar Association

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