Too much (courtroom) drama in your life? Try dispute resolution.
When asked to imagine a legal action, most people probably envision a scenario involving a judge, opposing lawyers, a jury, a plaintiff, a defendant—in other words, all the typical actors in a traditional courtroom drama. Yet this litigation scene is playing an ever-diminishing role in the legal profession. Growing in popularity are alternative forms of dispute resolution: arbitration, mediation, negotiation, and international conflict resolution, all of which are, by definition, less adversarial than a litigated case. Fordham Law’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Program, founded 30 years ago, finds the School’s professors, students, and alumni studying, practicing, and engaging in legal matters without the bluster and braggadocio that sometimes accompany a court case.
“It’s a peacemaking approach to problem-solving,” said Professor Jacqueline Nolan-Haley, who directs the program and oversees many of its components. “The program teaches students to solve problems through dialogue rather than with cutthroat tactics.”
The Law School’s ADR Program, recently ranked 13th in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, comprises extensive coursework, unique study-abroad opportunities, hands-on clinics, and distinguished dispute resolution student teams. It also has a history of groundbreaking international involvement.
Northern Ireland in the 1990s was brittle—a region still very much near a breaking point due to the Troubles, the decades-long violent conflict over the area’s constitutional status. What was unbreakable was Fordham Law’s commitment to the volatile region; the School proved instrumental in helping bring peace to the people of Northern Ireland.
A series of events involving John Feerick ’61, former dean of Fordham Law, catalyzed the Law School’s involvement. In 1993, a call from the Secret Service prompted Feerick to offer his office to President Bill Clinton during a visit to New York. Around the same time, Feerick was also receiving requests to host lunches for prominent Irish and Northern Irish figures, including Dick Spring, a leader of the labor party in the Republic of Ireland, and John Hume, the Irish dignitary who would later win the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize with David Trimble (whom Fordham also later welcomed at the request of the British Consulate). Hume was impressed by his Fordham hosts, and at the end of the lunch he told Feerick, “I appreciate the lunch, but I want more from you. Please come and visit Northern Ireland.”
Feerick immediately set to work to forge deeper Fordham-Ireland relations. In addition to establishing an alumni travel program to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland with Robert J. Reilly ’75, assistant dean of the Feerick Center, he teamed up with Nolan-Haley to develop a program to host prominent Northern Irish citizens in New York City. Collaborating with John V. Connorton ’71, Maria Volpi of John Jay College, and Seamus Dunne of Ulster University, Feerick and Nolan-Haley arranged for social workers, personnel managers, teachers, police officers, union members, and legal and judiciary officials to come to Fordham, where they attended workshops on mediation and other forms of conflict resolution.
President Clinton awarded Fordham a United States Information Agency grant of $150,000 for the proposed program, the sole grant awarded for Northern Ireland. Notably, Clinton had invited Feerick and others to join him on his November 1995 visit to Northern Ireland, the first time an American president visited the country. Feerick also attended two major speeches that Clinton gave in Dublin on the same trip.
The program launched in June 1996. The participants, equal numbers Catholic and Protestant, learned skills including active listening, nonjudgmental questioning, perception analysis, trust-building, and cross-cultural understanding. Remarking that they had never been able to have such productive conversations on their home turf, they brought important skills back to Northern Ireland with them.
Afterward, Feerick and Nolan-Haley traveled to the region to discuss American arbitration and mediation and to meet with former participants who continued to develop their skills through their “Fordham Belfast Conflict Resolution” group.
In 1999, after discussion with faculty members, Feerick developed the idea of a summer law program in Belfast and Dublin. Feerick and Professor Martin S. Flaherty collaborated with Dean John Jackson of Queens University Law School in Belfast and Dean Paul O’Connor of University College Dublin—the first partnership of its kind between the major law schools in Belfast and Dublin—to launch Fordham Law’s first summer-abroad program in 2001. Hosting visits from prominent figures such as Senator George J. Mitchell and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the program has drawn around 600 student participants. In recent years, participants have also hailed from other U.S. law schools and Irish law schools, which have an additional opportunity to send students to intern in the superior courts.
Today, under the direction of Professor Michael W. Martin ’92, the summer program continues to flourish and strengthen international relations.
“The summer program is the opportunity for hundreds of future leaders of our political system to know the real Northern Ireland,” said Martin.
A One-of-a-Kind Conference
Committed to fostering international understanding, the ADR Program also sponsors the Fordham International Arbitration and Mediation Conference, held annually at the Law School. While international conferences on the subject are not uncommon, most are sponsored by arbitral institutions and therefore must adhere to those institutions’ rules. In contrast, Fordham’s conference is free to assemble programs that the organizers believe speak to issues central and current in the world of arbitration and mediation.
“There’s no other conference quite like it in the world,” said Louis B. Kimmelman, partner and co-leader of global international arbitration practice at Sidley Austin LLP. Following in the footsteps of conference founder Arthur W. Rovine, Kimmelman and fellow co-chair Edna Sussman, independent arbitrator and mediator and distinguished practitioner in residence at Fordham Law, attract panelists from across the globe to speak on topics pertinent to the field.
After the conference, some speakers have the opportunity to publish pieces in the Fordham International Law Journal, either based on or related to their panel discussions.
The most recent conference, held in November 2017, featured panels on cultural and gender issues, mock trials, arbitrator duties, third-party funding, the role of the expert in determining value, and arbitration remedies. The Hon. Charles N. Brower, who served for over 34 years as a judge on the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal and who currently sits as an ad hoc judge on the International Court of Justice and acts as arbitrator member of 20 Essex Street Chambers in London, delivered the keynote address, during which he critiqued the EU’s proposed international investment court.
“We had great panelists,” said Kimmelman. “They have a lot of experience in the field and made the discussions dynamic.”
The conference, which is co-presented with the School’s Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics, grants the opportunity for various legal personnel to gather together to share insights and learn from each other’s experiences. Every year, the large conference room is packed with arbitrators, mediators, arbitral practitioners, professors, and students keen on grappling with the key questions.
“It’s important that the conference is open and attracts all those people,” said Kimmelman. “The students in particular gain important knowledge of the field.”
In addition to learning about the latest developments in ADR through events such as the international conference, Fordham Law students are given ample opportunities to cultivate and hone dispute resolution skills. One of the program’s hallmarks is the Dispute Resolution Society, which draws together approximately 60 students and hundreds of alumni dedicated to promoting and engaging in arbitration, mediation, and negotiation. Every year, the DRS students compete in various competitions worldwide.
“The DRS is the jewel of the ADR program,” said Nolan-Haley, who lauded the students for their success in the competitions.
Established in 2001, the DRS is a rigorous and competitive program; it accepts only 15 percent of 1Ls and 2Ls who try out for the student team. These students participate in six competitions globally: the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot, in Vienna; the Willem C. Vis East Moot, in Hong Kong; the Fordham Pre-Moot, held at Fordham Law in preparation for the Vis competitions; the Judith S. Kaye Arbitration Competition, organized by the American Arbitration Association; the ABA’s Representation in Mediation Regional Competitions, which Fordham Law hosted this past February; and the InterNational Academy of Dispute Resolution International Mediation Tournament.
“Hands-down, DRS has been my favorite part of law school,” said 3L Nicole Comer, the group’s executive board chairperson, who recently traveled to Chicago to mentor and support competing 2L students. Comer herself won a top award for individual mediation at the 2017 INADR tournament in Glasgow, Scotland. From this tournament Fordham Law also took home prizes for top advocate/client team and for top
The competitions not only lead to trophies for the School but also nurture a close-knit community among the society’s members, who also host a weekly negotiation teaching program at Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Manhattan. During the program, they teach students dispute resolution techniques and inspire them to pursue higher education.
“The DRS is more than a competition team,” said Comer. “It’s a family.”
The Clinical Side
Fordham Law offers two legal clinics involving alternative dispute resolution: the Mediation Clinic and the Securities Litigation and Arbitration Clinic.
Established 30 years ago, the Mediation Clinic is Fordham Law’s oldest. Directed by Nolan-Haley, the clinic allows students to mediate various cases in New York’s small claims courts throughout the Bronx, Queens, and Manhattan. The proceedings, which typically involve landlords and tenants, employers and employees, and defective goods and services, give students firsthand experience assisting New York City
families and other parties in need.
“It gave me confidence in my ability to speak to all kinds of people,” said 2L Joelle Marchon, who noted the stark difference between learning in class and serving in court.
The type of disputing party varies, though typically each comes from a financially insecure background. The stakes of each case also vary: sometimes parties want total reimbursement from someone who has financially exploited them; other times they simply want an apology. Almost always, the cases are emotionally charged, especially when a dispute involves members of the same family. The emotional atmosphere prompts the Fordham Law students to combine reason with empathy.
“It taught me how to empathize with people without taking sides,” said 3L Joseph Milano, who has also recently coached the DRS negotiation team in Chicago. He explained how it’s also challenging to explain the nature of mediation to parties, who often come to the court thinking that a judge will administer a verdict. The students must explain to the parties that their role is not to judge but to guide the parties to their own resolutions.
Though the cases are challenging, the students’ hard work and patience often pay off. Many cases do, in fact, reach settlements. In the future, according to Nolan-Haley, the clinic hopes to expand mediation beyond the small claims courts to other areas that urgently need problem-solving.
Students interested in arbitration can choose to join the Securities Litigation and Arbitration Clinic, where members represent investors by bringing claims against brokers. Supervised by Paul Radvany, former deputy chief of the criminal division for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, students typically represent elderly and retired clients whose brokers either stole their money or negligently invested it.
“My goal is for students to leave the clinic with an ability to represent a client,” said Radvany, who added that the students learn skills in litigation, decision-making, and professional judgment in addition to earning the satisfaction of helping people in need. “They find this work really rewarding. They help people get their hard-earned money back.”
The clinic has been successful. With an incredibly high rate of achievement, the clinic has settled or won an award in 10 cases where their client has received at least all of their money back. The success is all the more striking given that students face off against practicing lawyers. This semester, four clinic students were preparing for an arbitration that settled on the eve of the hearing.
While many clinical cases do not reach arbitration, some do. Just recently, the clinic went to arbitration in April for a case on which students have worked for almost two years.
2Ls Sanzana Faroque, Michael Syku, and Vincent Tennant, who have worked on various stages of the case, had much to say about their appreciation for the clinic.
“The hands-on learning is really useful,” said Syku. “The fact that you have to work with a team to make your points clear helps you hone your craft for the future.”
Addressing some of the challenges she has faced, Faroque explained how the cases have helped her think on her feet and deal with adversarial opposing counsels. She also shared how working on a team can be very rewarding. “Everyone approaches an issue from a different perspective,” she said.
Tennant shared his surprise at finding that one’s judgments constantly shift as one learns more about a case. “Your theory of the case keeps evolving as you learn,” he said. “You have to adjust arguments as you go.” He stressed the importance of imagination in succeeding with these cases.
Above all, the students are grateful for their experiences with the clinic.
“You can’t really get this skill-based learning in many other places,” said Syku.