Mediation Skills: A Must-Take Course at USD

By: Christina Phan

Four days, 32 hours, six simulations, one unit.  Mediation skills is an excellent course that all law students should take during their time in school.  Professor C. Wiggins and his lovely wife Donna are superb and extremely dynamic mediation trainers.  This course includes students from both the law school and Institute for Peace and Justice (IPJ) and enables them to learn how to become mediators.  Through simulations, discussions, and more simulations students receive hands-on experience fully mediating diverse sets of cases.  Most importantly, participants learn how to connect with individuals and pull out the emotion behind cases and look beyond law, money and anger.

In law school we have learned to always consider the bottom line: the law.  We look at contracts, statutes, rules, and the occasional standard custom.  This is the first thing we consider. We disregard emotion and push out issues of pride, reputation, integrity and other important components that drive individuals to act or speak. We have lost much of that human connection and understanding.  Though some of us still retain empathy and compassion in practice, this emotional connection is dissimilar to the emotions drawn out by mediators. Disengaging from emotions makes sense in the learning process, because students should be able to focus on the letter of the law and try to be unbiased by emotion.  The law does not care about emotion.  We sometimes ignite discussion on public policy and human realism, but at the end of the day, the base of decisions stem from law and hard facts.  Therefore, I do believe it is important to knock some of that emotion out of the initial study of law.  However, as individuals come to a conclusion of their legal education, being able to rebuild the human connection and to better understand the emotional component of the legal world will be extremely beneficial in the long-term in helping and becoming a true advocate for clients.

Through this course, students are able to remember that many times cases are litigated for more reasons than just money.  Mediation helps to understand that many times a simple “I’m sorry” makes a world of difference.  This is an important course for all students to partake in, especially during their last year of law school. When we enter into the workforce, if we are able to connect or understand our clients from an emotional standpoint, we will be stronger advocates for them in their substantive issues.  We will also be able to generate ideas outside of the box that can better meet the needs of clients rather than simply going to court. It is important to be able to balance the human aspect of the legal sector with the laws and non-emotional aspects to assist parties to come to satisfactory conclusions.

In this day and age, alternative dispute resolution has become the new norm.  Individuals prefer turning to mediation or arbitration rather than litigation because (1) it is much cheaper, (2) they have more power over the resolution of their case, and finally (3) there is less formality and more discussion of issues beyond the standard awards that a court is allowed to grant.  The majority of cases that lawyers will face during their lifetime will go through mediation or some sort of settlement conference.  Being able to understand the process and the different dimensions associated with any case is important.  Mediation Skills enables students to have a glimpse of real world, legally speaking.  We are able to see what is truly important to many clients.  This course will help any attorney to become a better advocate.

For those individuals, like myself (see who no longer want to practice law, this course may open your eyes to a new field of practice where you will be able to utilize one’s legal skills while being on the outside of the law.  This is a great opportunity to interact in the framework of the legal realm but a process driven by non-legal standards and law.  Mediators are able to address issues, deal with individuals and manage and structure situations in a way that average attorneys are not able to.  Not only do mediators consider the core issues beneath the case at hand, they are also able to encourage parties to look towards the future and come to satisfactory agreements that are beneficial for both parties.  There are no winners and losers in the mediation process; there is simply forward-thinking, positive movement.  Even if cases do not settle, there is still progress and more understanding from each party.  This is a realm that is on the rise and becoming extremely popular among potential litigants.

Mediation is a growing field with potential for one to develop a lasting and comprehensive career in.  This is a worthy class to take to see if it might be something you would be interested in participating.  Personally, I have always enjoyed arbitration.  Now, after taking Mediation Skills, I am truly considering developing a possible side practice as a mediator.

Professor C. Wiggins and Donna move the training in a very manageable and interesting manner. Students walk out of the class with a better understanding of the mediation process and confidence that they can truly mediate a case.  The outgoing, lively and immense experience of each of these individuals truly makes the training more enjoyable and encourages students to participate in open discussions and really take the simulations seriously.

For students who are interested in harnessing the skills learned at this training there is also an opportunity to participate in a mediation internship for one unit.  There is space for 16 mediation students to participate in the internship.  The program includes two components: online activities and work. Once a week, students are requested to participate in a one-hour discussion session, to keep a journal of experiences, and at the conclusion of the internship to write a short paper about their experiences.  For the work component, students are scheduled to work either one morning or afternoon a week mediating cases at the small claims courthouse.  The students will have the opportunity to immediately dive in and mediate cases and will also have mentors assisting with the process.  The internship component starts approximately a week after the end of training and last for approximately 12 weeks.

Note: I have not yet participated in the mediation internship; this information is based on the discussion with the mediation coordinators and past interns.  I am currently scheduled to begin mediation this semester.

Skills courses are excellent opportunities for students to garner hands-on experience in the legal field.  This is a great way to take everything learned in the classroom and put it into more practical situations.  Mediation Skills is definitely a course that all students should try to take during their law school career.  And if the above didn’t convince you, the short, one-unit course is completely over in one or two weekends.  Partaking in Mediation skills is a win, win, win!

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