Law Students

Dispute Resolution Valuable for All Practice Areas
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dispute resolution

Summary: With alternative dispute resolutions growing in popularity over traditional trials, law students can take note of which law schools offer strong programs to help them get an edge.

Trials take time and money, something most people don’t want to deal with. Many U.S. federal cases are settled before making it to the courtroom. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts claims that 90 percent of federal criminal defendants prefer pleading guilty over going to trial, according to U.S. News.


Part of the appeal to pleading guilty comes from the plea bargains federal prosecutors put on the table, often convinces defendants to confess to the crime in exchange for a lighter sentence. This rings true for other types of cases, including tort cases and more. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that only two percent of federal tort cases from 2002-2003 made it to the end of a trial.

The attorneys in these cases explain that their clients would rather settle instead of going to trial because of the time, emotional stress, and cost required. There is also such a huge backlog in the federal courts that even the judges in these cases encourage the parties involved in civil disputes to a pretrial mediation or arbitration.

With all of these factors affecting the demand to solve a matter before trial, alternative dispute resolution has become a growing practice specialty. These alternative dispute resolutions find quick and cheap ways of solving the legal conflict before there is a need for a trial. A common form is mediation, or the negotiation between two parties led by a neutral party who helps them find a consensus. Another popular technique is arbitration where both parties allow a neutral party to listen to their arguments and then deliver a binding decision that cannot be appealed.

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Aspiring lawyers wanting to capitalize on this growing practice area and get positions in corporate law at big law firms must demonstrate a knowledge of alternative dispute resolutions. Christopher W. Smithmyer, lawyer and strategic resource development coordinator for Brav Online Conflict Management, explains that business lawyers working for large corporations must excel in alternative dispute resolutions. He says, “It’s an essential skill. It’s not an optional skill.”

What is even more important is that alternative dispute resolutions pertain to all areas of law, including family law, divorce law, education law, and criminal law. Catherine M. Michael of Hollingsworth & Zivitz said, “Not only can you often get things resolved faster, you don’t end up with a situation with the court splitting the baby, or the court issuing a ruling that nobody likes… The benefit of mediation is you can figure out something that’s really going to work for everyone, because there may be really creative solutions you can come to that are outside of what the courts are doing.”

So how can aspiring lawyers gain these skills? There are a few tips that can help them pinpoint which law schools have the strongest programs involving dispute resolutions.

  1. Look for alternative dispute resolution clinics and practicums at the law schools.
  2. Look for schools with faculty that have strong alternative dispute resolution experience.
  3. The law schools will have lessons on whether to use alternative dispute resolutions to solve a matter or if a trial is the best option.

Do you think law schools will start creating alternative dispute resolution programs? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

To learn more about the role dispute resolution plays, read these articles:



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