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Alternative dispute resolution: A practical skill to develop in law school


Case briefing, legal researching, exam writing, white-glove editing, and public speaking are the major skills that we, law students are expected to master by graduation. But, what can we do to distinguish ourselves and highlight the practical skills we bring to a future employer? What practical classes should we take before our time in the ivory tower is finished?

I was curious if my classmates were also seeking out Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) skills during law school. Kendra Rivas, a second-year evening student at McGeorge School of Law, offered some insights on how taking a mediation class has influenced her career search.

Regarding the mediation class you took, did it have any impact on your career choices?

I heard about mediation prior to taking the class, but I did not know exactly how it worked or what the process was. I enjoyed the class because we practiced various scenarios and applied different mediation methods. The exercises helped understand the process of mediation and see its effectiveness. I also learned that it is cost-effective, and preferable because the parties maintain control of the outcome by reaching a mutually beneficial agreement.

Before taking the class, I thought I might occasionally use mediation as a practicing attorney.  After taking the class, I realized that I will likely use mediation frequently to resolve disputes, especially because I am interested in employment and labor law.

Would you ever seriously consider including ADR practices (i.e. mediation, arbitration, or negotiation) in your future work?

Yes, ADR practices help parties avoid some litigation costs and allow parties to create solutions that help meet both parties’ interests and need beyond a surface level issue, such as a breach of contract. Also, ADR practices help preserve long term business relationships and allow for the clients to reach mutually beneficial solutions or perhaps solutions specific to their needs that would otherwise not be possible.

What do you see as the important pro and con of mediation given your exposure to the process so far?

One pro is that the mediator can facilitate options that can lead to mutual gains. This is important because finding mutual gains can help parties reach a solution and protect the relationship, so the parties can have positive future negotiations. One con is that parties often come from a long history of positional bargaining, in which a party can lock themselves into a position they feel they must defend. This type of mentality makes the whole process personal versus addressing the substantive issues. Here, the mediator might have a challenging time guiding the parties into reaching a mutually beneficial agreement.

To continue the discussion around crafting an ADR career, our The ABA Mediation Committee Subcommittee for Young Lawyers and Law Students is hosting two events in Washington, D.C. (which took place on March 21) and in San Francisco, to highlight the ADR legal careers, collect questions from young lawyers and students, and share resources.

Caroline M. B. Miller Caroline M. B. Miller is a second-year student at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, California. She co-chairs the Mediation Committee’s Young Lawyer and Law Student Subcommittee in the ABA’s Dispute Resolution Section. Caroline is a certified mediator through the Supreme Court of Virginia.