Kathleen Scanlon ’86: Shedding Light on Alternative Dispute Resolution


Kathleen Scanlon ’86 said she chose to earn her J.D. at Fordham Law primarily for its philosophy—“in the service of others”—and for its tightly knit community. Today, as chief circuit mediator at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, she lives the Fordham philosophy and remains active in the Law School community as a professor and adviser. 

After earning her J.D. and clerking for the Honorable Louis L. Stanton of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Scanlon joined Simpson Thacher & Bartlett as a litigator. During her 11 years there, she took an interest in alternative dispute resolution (ADR) practices. She had remained in contact with Professor John Feerick ’61, former dean of Fordham Law, and began seeking his advice on how to incorporate ADR into litigation.

Too often, she said, litigators will concern themselves only with the arguments necessary to win their clients’ cases without considering the clients’ needs more broadly. “I realized the client needed someone who knew how to win the case, but also how to advise them about concurrently using negotiation and mediation in an effective way,” she said.

Scanlon said she believes that litigation and ADR can inform each other—ADR will not work without a high-functioning and widely respected court system, but ADR practices can help clients avoid the time and expense of trials, and often yield better results, by transforming traditional litigators into more creative problem-solvers.

Not long after the inception of Fordham’s Belfast/Dublin Summer Program in 2001, Scanlon joined it as a professor. She said she found Northern Ireland to be a helpful model for her own mediation work. She observed that if Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland can achieve “reconciliation through hard work, persistence, trust, and setbacks, no matter how bleak a dispute may look, there is always another path to reconciliation if both parties are willing to work toward it.”

Together, she and Dean Feerick teach a course on professional responsibility in ADR, emphasizing the lawyer’s role as both counselor and litigator. Scanlon said she is inspired by the amount of interest Fordham Law students are showing in professional responsibility and ADR. “Being a part of their journey as they exit law school and go out and begin their careers is something I really value,” she said.

Today, outside of teaching, Scanlon works solely as a mediator. To remind herself that the role requires her to be an instrument of peace working in the service of others, she said she keeps the Prayer of St. Francis in mind. “To open up the dispute to bring some light into it, so that the litigants can figure it out on their own—that is the contribution I strive to make.”


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