Douglas Yarn, professor of law and director of the Consortium on Negotiation and Conflict Resolution, has incorporated innovative aspects of learning to his mediation seminar and alternate dispute resolution (ADR) course to help enhance student’s practical experience. Students compare what they are learning in class with how practicing attorneys approach mediation and ADR.
The mediation seminar combines mediator training with a deep dive into theory. Each student observes and interviews a lawyer-mediator.
“The focus of this year’s study is upon the analytical techniques, most notably case prediction, that mediators use internally or externally with parties,” Yarn said. “Engaging students in applied research is a valuable experience and window into actual practice.”
Andrew F. Prater (J.D. ’18) is interested in pursuing a career in family, elder and land-use law. He enrolled in the mediation seminar to better understand the mediation process, so he can best represent clients during that step in the litigation process.
“I had no idea that there are so many styles of mediation. Before the course, I pictured mediation to be someone telling each party what would probably happen if the matter went to trial,” Prater said. “I learned that mediators encourage conflict resolution in several different ways. Each mediator uses different techniques depending on their particular style. I think that all attorneys would benefit from a better understanding of the mediation process.”
Prater found the applied research aspect of observing and interviewing a lawyer-mediator to be inspiring and fun.
“The class discussion about our observations allowed me to better understand how clients can benefit from mediation and how attorneys can help clients through the process,” he said. “Since each student observed a different mediator, the class was able to discuss and critique several different techniques used within each style of mediation.”
While interning at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Renate M. Walker (J.D. ’18) observed a few mediations. She enrolled in the mediation course because the mediators’ jobs seemed rewarding, and by observing mediation in the course, she gained another perspective.
“Observing a real mediation was interesting because it allowed me to see how difficult it can be for a mediator to balance multiple parties’ competing interests, some of which were not obvious at the beginning the mediation,” Walker said.
The EEOC internship also piqued her interest in Yarn’s ADR course, which includes a strong skills development component.
“Each student interviews a practicing attorney toward the end of the semester to compare the negotiation strategies and tactics we study and practice with the strategies and tactics practicing attorneys say they use,” Yarn said. “Ultimately, students can assess the efficacy of certain types of negotiation in various contexts – comparing how our classroom experiential experience comports with real world practice.”
Walker, who plans to practice employment law, interviewed Bob Stevens, partner at Seyfarth Shaw, and found that his strategies and tactics were closely aligned with what she learned in the course.
“I was somewhat surprised by this because he indicated that he has not received much formal training in ADR but has just picked things up through his work experience. That tells me we are learning very practical skills in the classroom, which will be readily transferable in the real world,” Walker said.
Stevens was happy to share his experience with Walker, as he feels students can benefit significantly from observing and speaking with practicing attorneys.
“Reading a text book or listening to a lecture are certainly important but understanding how a lawyer incorporates their knowledge into practice is definitely advantageous. Understanding what works and how lawyers utilize ADR can only benefit students as they learn and develop their own practice,” Stevens said. “Watching a lawyer take a deposition, argue a motion or conduct a mediation are invaluable lessons for a law student. Seeing their coursework play out in real life should serve to reinforce the importance of paying attention and absorbing as much of their course work as possible.”