Clinic Spotlight: Mediation

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For nearly three decades, students in the Mediation Clinic at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law have helped individuals resolve legal disputes and other conflicts. After intensive training in mediation theory and skills, Mediation Clinic students mediate real cases, ranging from small claims disputes in the District Court of Maryland to complex civil rights employment and housing discrimination cases referred by the Baltimore City Office of Civil Rights.

One of the first law school mediation clinics in the country, the Mediation Clinic has trained more than 300 lawyers and equipped them with mediation skills that make them more effective problem solvers and conflict resolvers in their professional and personal lives.  

The Mediation Clinic provides students with an experience like no other in law school. As Professor Deborah Eisenberg explains: "Mediators sit down at the table with parties who are in conflict, sometimes emotionally intense conflict, with each other. Without a script and without telling the parties what to do, the neutral mediators help the parties navigate a difficult conversation and potentially negotiate a settlement."  

For many law students, mediation training can be transformational. "My experience in the Mediation Clinic completely changed the way I perceive conflict," says graduate Laura Merkey '16. "I no longer see conflict as a necessarily negative event, but an opportunity, if handled well, to grow, learn, and create positive change both on an individual and community level."

The Mediation Clinic trains students to provide quality mediation services through an extensive training and apprentice process. After learning conflict resolution theory and basic mediation skills such as active listening, emotional labeling, and non-defensive questioning techniques, students then observe faculty members mediate, before co-mediating with faculty, and then finally taking over the mediator’s chair in co-mediator teams. By the end of the year-long clinic, students receive more than 100 hours of mediation training and serve as a mediator at least six times.

Through a long-standing partnership with the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore City, the clinic students mediate a variety of cases involving contract, property, tort, rent, peace order, and other small claims matters. At least once a week, the Mediation Clinic provides mediation services at the courthouse, offering parties an alternative way to resolve their cases without a trial. Clinic students also mediate cases referred by the District Court ADR Program about six weeks prior the trial date.

"When law students serve in the role of mediator they demonstrate the critical role of lawyers to serve as problem solvers," says Toby Guerin, supervising professor with the Mediation Clinic. Current Mediation Clinic student Adam Siegel agrees: "Law school by its nature is adversarial. Mediation gives us a chance to truly think about a problem from both sides and help people find middle ground."

In addition to court-based referrals, the Mediation Clinic has mediated matters referred by state and federal administrative agencies including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Maryland Home Improvement Commission. Starting this year, the Clinic began mediating employment and housing discrimination complaints referred from the Baltimore City Office of Civil Rights.

Since 2002, the Mediation Clinic also has supported conflict resolution programs in K-12 public schools in Maryland. Mediation Clinic students consistently rate their work in the schools as a highlight of their clinical experience. In recent years, the Mediation Clinic has supported peer mediation programs in Baltimore City. The clinic students visit public schools once a week, teaching peer mediators some of the same mediation skills, modified in age-appropriate ways, that they are learning in law school. Many law students discover they enhance their own learning when they teach others.

The support of the Mediation Clinic has allowed peer mediation programs at some Baltimore City schools to survive and thrive. At Benjamin Franklin High School, for example, clinic students worked with the school’s social worker to develop a bilingual peer mediation program to address the high number of Spanish speaking students who otherwise could not participate.

This year’s Mediation Clinic students are again working with students from Benjamin Franklin High School. This time they are preparing to present written and oral testimony in support of restorative practices legislation before the Maryland General Assembly. In readying the testimony, current clinic student Max Cardin was struck by the profound impact the peer mediation program had on the high schoolers: "Hearing the kids speak about how peer mediation has affected their lives outside of mediation resonated with me. Students spoke about having to leave their parents in another country and how they learned to be strong and have ownership over their own lives. They learned patience and to think before they act or speak. They realized everyone is fighting their own battles so who are you to judge other’s behavior."

Although mediation places students in a neutral role rather than as an advocate, the conflict resolution and negotiation skills students learn transfer to their careers as lawyers. Alumnus Samuel Howie '18 reflects: "I would like to think that as a result of the clinic, I am a better negotiator and better able to manage other people’s emotions. I have developed a calm and approachable demeanor. The listening and reflecting skills that I was able to take away from the course were particularly valuable."

Similarly, Cardin adds: "I wholeheartedly expect the skills learned during clinic to infuse and enrich my future law practice, resulting in clearer communication, improved questioning, and enhanced empathy. Few can accurately predict which courses in law school will benefit them down the road but those who take Mediation Clinic have no such qualms."