A Year of Reflection and Action in the Midst of Crisis
The Center for Dispute Resolution at Maryland Carey Law (C-DRUM) strives to “promote the power of conflict resolution strategies to build a more just society.” We teach our students that crises present opportunities for learning and positive change.
I have been reflecting on our ambitious mission statement over the past year—a year marked by a global pandemic, protests and deep conversations about racial justice, and uncertainty about the future. This year, we have been challenged to reimagine our work and consider the relevance of ADR to current events and to the legal profession more generally.
In 2020, C-DRUM has put our mission statement into action in several ways:
ADR and Access to Justice: The pandemic forced us to adapt quickly to the delivery of mediation services in an on-line environment. The Mediation Clinic has shifted its work to Zoom, providing expanded mediation services in district court civil cases and employment discrimination matters. C-DRUM also has been part of collaborative efforts among courts, legal advocates, and mediation providers to develop interdisciplinary, early intervention approaches to address the housing crisis and avalanche of anticipated evictions resulting from COVID-19. Even before the pandemic hit, I joined other legal scholars, legal advocates, and interdisciplinary experts at Mitchell-Hamline School of Law to explore the role of mediation and early conflict intervention strategies to address the eviction epidemic. (Eisenberg & Ebner, Disrupting the Eviction Crisis with Conflict Resolution Strategies, 41 Mitchell-Hamline J. Pub. Pol’y & Prac. 125 (2020)).
This work suddenly became more urgent. C-DRUM has been collaborating with interprofessional teams in Maryland to develop an integrated system that connects tenants with rental assistance and upstream conflict resolution processes to reduce eviction filings, and provides a triaged system of legal services, mediation, and court processes to address rental issues.
The Future of ADR: Prior to the pandemic, I had the good fortune of joining other ADR scholars in discussions about the future of the ADR field in the legal academy. My reflections on the topics generated an article entitled, Beyond Settlement: Reconceptualizing ADR as Conflict Process Strategy, Ohio St. J. on Disp. Resol. (forthcoming 2020).
When the pandemic hit, followed by protests over the killing of George Floyd, the conversation about the role of ADR role in promoting social justice became even more salient for me. I have been thinking about the role of restorative dialogue in healing harm and working through complex issues, and the importance of a having a continuum of process strategies to de-escalate and address conflicts.
C-DRUM has been at the forefront of this work in many ways. For more than a decade, our School Conflict Resolution Education Program has trained educators to use restorative practices and peer mediation to promote positive learning environments and disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. C-DRUM recently published a report analyzing the progress of restorative practices in Baltimore City schools in partnership with Open Society Institute-Baltimore. C-DRUM is collaborating with the Maryland State Department of Education to assist schools statewide in the implementation of restorative approaches to promote positive school climate and reform school discipline. Our Levitas Initiative for the Prevention of Sexual Assault uses an innovative restorative approach to deliver a sexual assault prevention curriculum in middle schools. Our restorative justice work has taken on new meaning and urgency in recent years.
Transitions. As of July 1, I became Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Maryland Carey Law. Coming into this position at such a time of upheaval has challenged me to put dispute processing strategies into practice in new ways. In a remote environment, I have renewed appreciation for the importance of relationships and community, both at my own law school and in the broader legal academy and legal profession.
C-DRUM Associate Director Toby Guerin, who was recently honored with the prestigious Robert M. Bell Award by the Maryland State Bar Association ADR Section, will be taking on more C-DRUM leadership responsibilities. In the fall we welcomed our newest team member, Ati Herisi, LLM. Ati brings a diverse background in dispute resolution to the new position of Staff Attorney-Mediator.
I have been grateful that technology has allowed us to stay connected in some ways. I long for the day when we can reunite safely and completely. When we do, we will have learned new lessons about how ADR theory and strategies can be applied to address complex problems and promote a more just society.
Best wishes for a year of health, justice, and peace,