New Mediation Clinic Offers Alternative to Costly Litigation, Helps Build Life Skills
Sept. 24, 2008
Written by Donna Emert
As seen on TV, courtroom confrontation often further polarizes disputing parties. Mediation – allowing disputants to hammer out their own solution – can have a different effect.
“Mediation is a tool to give both parties a sense that they’re being heard,” said Charissa Eichman, third-year law student as the University of Idaho. “It allows people to talk it out. Both parties feel like they are invested in the outcome, so even if they don’t get exactly what they want, they still got to make the decision.”
University of Idaho law students, like Eichman, have been providing pro bono mediation services through the College of Law for several years, under the guidance of College of Law professors Pat Costello and Maureen Laflin. The College of Law opened a new Mediation Clinic this fall to provide academic credit for and structured oversight of that work, offer a broader range of mediation opportunities for students and bring much needed help to disputing parties who cannot afford to pay court costs.
The clinic focuses on mediation ethics and techniques. Students are eligible to participate only after completing a course in basic mediation and a course in trial advocacy.
“They’ve seen the spectrum,” said Laflin. “Our goal is to allow students to apply the skills they already have learned. We can help them refine those skills, but we don’t want to start at ground zero.”
Eichman said she learned a lot from her experience as a mediator that she may not have picked up from a textbook, including, “How it actually works,” she said. “There’s a difference between learning the theory and applying it. People just don’t always act the way they do in books.”
Among the skills mediation helps students hone, Laflin and Costello list communication, facilitation, negotiation, organization, ethics, insight into cultural difference, and deeper understanding of confidentiality and attorney/client privilege.
Mediation falls under the banner of alternative dispute resolution or appropriate dispute resolution. The role of the neutral third party mediator is to encourage negotiation and cooperation, and to keep the discussion civil and goal oriented. Mediation is commonly employed to settle commercial, legal, diplomatic, workplace, community and family disputes.
The cost of litigation can be both financial and emotional. The mediation process is particularly valuable to disputants who must continue to live or work together after a resolution is reached, including families in dispute. For example, keeping negotiations civil and goal focused is a particular advantage for families impacted by divorce.
The advantages of mediation to clients also include speed, cost savings and a more durable resolution, Costello said. “If they have a tribunal, like a court, impose an agreement on them that they both are dissatisfied with, the theory is they are less likely to comply with it than if they craft a resolution that they both view as meeting their needs, at least to the minimal extent that they are able to agree to it.”
Facilitating communication and mitigating conflict are skills that both clients and students benefit from learning, Eichman noted. “The mediation experience let me have another alternative to resolving disputes that I can use personally and in my professional career. There are a lot of techniques that you can apply in your daily life.”
The vast majority of legal disputes are settled outside the courtroom through negotiation, mediation and other informal dispute resolution mechanisms, Costello and Laflin noted. Having and honing those skills makes students that much more marketable after graduation.
“A lot of issues can be dealt with just by talking to the other party,” Eichman said. “It’s not about proving a point or making someone pay. It’s about achieving a solution that everyone can live with.”
College of Law Legal Aid Clinic cases are selected on merit and on their educational value to students. To access mediation services and other pro bono legal aid, call (208) 885-6541 or toll free at 877-200-4455. Walk-ins also are welcome at the clinic, located in Room 10, University of Idaho College of Law, 6th and Rayburn in Moscow.