Why should law students be concerned with learning about dispute resolution?

Question
 
 

Dispute Resolution

Over 95% of lawsuits never make it to trial. Most settle. Lawyers skilled at and knowledgeable about negotiation, mediation and arbitration obtain the best results for their clients.

The History of Dispute Resolution at ASL

In 1996, when it began developing the law school, ASL's original Steering Committee envisioned a graduate who would emphasize problem-solving skills and adhere to high professional ethics. The graduates would represent a throwback to an earlier generation of lawyers, who were more than hired guns, and instead were esteemed leaders in their local communities. The Feasibility Study called these types of lawyers "community based generalists."

The Steering Committee explained that the school should emphasize an ADR curriculum because: "[O]ur federal and state courts have become overburdened with litigation and the [litigation] process has slowed dramatically and become costly." The Committee also suggested that litigation had caused the legal system to become too confrontational. It hoped to graduate lawyers who "are willing to serve the public as well as [the] client and who seek to resolve rather than heighten conflict." The report noted that only two years earlier the ABA had organized a new section on Dispute Resolution, which quickly attracted 5,000 members. Just recently, the ABA reported that the section now has over 10,000 members, which itself shows the increasing role of ADR in the practice of lawyers.

The Program

ASL's dispute resolution curriculum is unique in several ways. The curriculum offers students a unique opportunity to become leaders in the field of ADR. ASL's founders created the first and, perhaps, only law school established with an ADR focus. Only nineteen law schools, including ASL, require all their students to take an ADR survey class. The curriculum reflects the realities of lawyering in an era of the so-called "Vanishing Trial." Research shows that ASL students who take only the required survey course likely have more training in ADR than most practicing attorneys. This training creates more employment opportunities for students and allows graduates to more skillfully represent clients.

Facilitated (typically mediation) and unfacilitated negotiation skills will continue to play a huge role in the litigation and business practices of attorneys. Statistical data consistently shows that most civil cases resolve before trial (98% in federal courts; 85% in state courts) and parties settle most of those cases. To meet the requirements of skillful practice in this era, ASL offers basic and advanced negotiation, mediation arbitration and client counseling courses to allow students to learn the framework for understanding these concepts from both a theoretical and skills-development perspective. ASL is also one of only a small handful of law schools to educate its students on collaborative law.

The program also offers specialized classes, including Environmental Dispute Resolution and Workers' Compensation and ADR.

The ADR program at ASL is led by Professor Paula Marie Young.

The ADR Society

The ADR Society is a student organization dedicated to the advancement and awareness of ADR practices, the exploration of career opportunities in ADR, and to equip students with the knowledge and skills necessary to represent their future clients effectively in negotiation, mediation and arbitration forums. The Society generally meets on a monthly basis and provides students with leadership opportunities as well as the chance to engage in scholarly writing and regional and/or national ADR competitions. Joining this Society provides students with an excellent opportunity to gain practical skills while having fun.

The Appalachian Journal of Law

ADR has been the traditional focus of The Appalachian Journal of Law's Spring Issue. This focus has allowed the Journal to establish a robust national readership base. Indeed, out of more than 550 law journals listed on ExpressO, the Appalachian Journal of Law is consistently ranked amongst the top ten (10) ADR journals. Furthermore, all of the student editors have completed an ADR survey course while some of the editors have also completed advanced ADR courses. Thus, editors knowledgeable about ADR select articles for publication.

The News & Events

  • 2L Zachary Smith and 1L Esohe Igbinedion competed in the March 21, 2014 Merhige Environmental Negotiation Competition.  They advanced to the semifinals and ultimately placed third (3rd). ADR Society President Christopher Schumacher (3L) served as assistant coach.  Professor Isaac was the team's faculty coach.
  • Congratulations to Professor Young for being elected the President of the Virginia Mediation Network for calendar years 2012 and 2013.
  • Congratulations Candace DuVernois and Sarah Campbell, both 3Ls, for winning the intra-school negotiation competition and making ASL's Alternative Dispute Resolution Negotiation Competition team! These two ladies will be traveling to Richmond, Virginia on March 1, 2013 to represent our school in the National Robert R. Merhige Jr. Environmental Negotiation Competition.
  • Professor Isaac has been selected as a presenter at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) National Convention June 16, 2013 in Chicago, IL. He will be speaking about using ADR as a remedy for workplace bullying claims.

The Certificate & Testimonials

ASL boasts the success of its ADR-related certificate program. ASL's Lawyer as Problem Solver (LAPS) certificate program focuses on the role of the modern attorney in facilitating strategic problem-solving for clients both inside and outside of the courtroom.  This program helps students identify their gifts and develops ways to use them that will feed students' souls and allow them live a purpose-driven life.  In the last several years, approximately 20 percent of students in the graduating class earned the certificate. Below are several testimonials from students that have matriculated through the ADR program:

Joanna Zimmerman, Class of 2008

"Many times I have wanted to let you know how much I have used what I learned through your instruction. I also find when I plea bargain I am always assessing my BATNA and WATNA!"

Chris Seaton, Class of 2010

"The Alternative Dispute Resolution program is one of the best values a student attending ASL can receive for the money spent. It teaches creativity, thinking "outside the box" when solving problems, and effective communication techniques such as paraphrasing and active listening. In short, it provides students attending ASL valuable "life skills" they may not have a chance to hone anywhere else."

David Boisvert, Class of 2010

"The skill-set you develop in the LAPS Program has a breadth of utility uncommon to the typical law school curriculum; I have learned flexible strategies and techniques eminently applicable to my
professional aspirations."

David Boudreau, Class of 2010

In today's job market a new attorney needs marketable skills that employers will value. The LAPS program provides such a niche by offering extensive training in civil mediation, criminal alternative dispute resolution, client interviewing and counseling, insurance law, advanced negotiation, arbitration, and other substantive law topics.

Tina Lanning Sloan, Class of 2006

"And I cannot tell you how many of the skills I learned in mediation class I use on a daily basis. In criminal law there is MUCH negotiation! Also, all the listening skills are put to good use when speaking with clients."

Lance Thomason, Class of 2010

"I just finished with my first real mediation and it made me think of you. The attorney I work for was impressed with my familiarity with the process."

Patrick Baker (now Professor at ASL), Class of 2007

"As a litigator, I am constantly communicating and negotiating with opposing client and my client. The ASL ADR program provided me an in depth look at those skills and provided me a solid foundation that has served me well during my young career."

Christie Saunders, Class of 2003

"One of the best skills I learned in the class was active listening. Active listening not only builds rapport with clients, but helps to get to the underlying issues of the conflict. It allows you to deal with the whole picture rather than just the superficial layers. It has been my experience that the clients are more content with the outcome."

Allen Lucas, Class of 2008

"I am currently working for an attorney in New Hampshire. The second day of work he had me go with him to a mediation. I was stunned to realize that the things you taught us in class were actually unfolding before my eyes. My attitude coming out of the ADR class was one of skepticism. I have grown to appreciate the things that you tried to teach us. While I still feel that ADR is not the end to all legal issues, I now see the value of it and can appreciate it for what it is."

Katherine Kennedy, Class of 2013

"I am currently aiding in a divorce mediation and your ADR course has definitely helped. . . . I am currently helping my advising attorney understand different ADR techniques during this rather rough divorce!"