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With the continuing trend toward legal cases being resolved through alternative dispute resolution (ADR), the word “alternative” has become a misnomer. Since the 1980s, the percentage of cases decided at a trial has dropped to about 2%. That is why dispute resolution processes, such as negotiation, mediation, and restorative justice have become a primary area of necessity and innovation. 

Enter the Center for Dispute Resolution at the University of Maryland (C-DRUM) Francis King Carey School of Law. Founded in 2002 by ADR pioneer Roger Wolf, the center trains the next generation of lawyers to navigate conflicts and solve problems in constructive ways and is a leader in developing and improving the quality of dispute resolution processes in Maryland’s courts, schools, workplaces, and communities. 

“C-DRUM is dedicated to teaching and researching process strategies, such as negotiation, mediation, and restorative justice,” says C-DRUM’s faculty director Professor Deborah Thompson Eisenberg, associate dean for academic affairs, “that transform conflict into positive change in the legal system and in countless other spheres.” 

Preparing Law Students 

The Center for Dispute Resolution anchors Maryland Carey Law’s Dispute Resolution Program, which ranked 12th in U.S. News & World Report for 2021. The program offers the Dispute Resolution Track, in which students prepare for careers as civil litigators; transactional attorneys; in-house counsel; public policy leaders; and third-party neutrals, such as mediators, collaborative attorneys, and ombudsmen. Students choose from a rich array of core and elective courses in negotiation, arbitration, mediation, transitional justice, restorative justice, collaborative law, and more. 

Through the center’s Mediation Clinic, student attorneys mediate civil cases in Baltimore-area district courts, helping people avoid eviction, arrange debt repayment plans, and address contract disputes. In recognition of the clinic’s long collaboration with the judiciary, the District Court of Maryland’s ADR Office selected the clinic for its 2020 ADR Program Achievement Award. Students also participate on a flourishing ADR team, which competes with other top law school teams across the nation. 

The Dispute Resolution Program stands out because of its commitment to giving students chances to explore the application of conflict processes to address complex problems, prevent violence, and promote social justice. In the Erin Levitas Initiative for the Prevention of Sexual Assault, law students deliver a sexual assault prevention curriculum, grounded in principles of restorative dialogue, to Baltimore City middle schoolers. In the Ronna K. Jablow Community Mediation Fellowship, law students spend a summer embedded at the nonprofit Community Mediation Maryland, supporting initiatives such as re-entry mediation, police-youth dialogue, mediation research, and other community mediation projects. 

Eric Peterson ’23 is a student in the Dispute Resolution Track. He spent his 1L summer as a Jablow Fellow and participated in the Mediation Clinic. Peterson says skills gained during these experiences have supported his professional and personal growth. “Beyond just making me a stronger mediator, these skills have made me a better communicator,” says Peterson. “I feel like I’m prepared to face whatever challenges come my way as I continue my legal career.” 

Helping Maryland’s K-12 Schools Resolve Conflicts 

Since its founding, C-DRUM has emphasized the need for conflict resolution education beyond lawyers and courts. The School Conflict Resolution Education Program began as a partnership with the Maryland State Department of Education and Maryland Judiciary in 2004. Schools around the state received over 200 conflict resolution education grants, as well as extensive training and support from C-DRUM, to establish conflict resolution programs, including peer mediation, restorative practices, anti-bullying programs, and socio-emotional learning curricula. 

One such school is south Baltimore’s Benjamin Franklin High School, in which C-DRUM has been a longtime presence supporting its bilingual peer mediation program. The partnership, “has allowed ESOL learners to gain access to problem solving skills, restorative questioning, empathetic listening, and leadership skills,” says Milagros M. Schwartz, Benjamin Franklin’s program coordinator, “that will serve them to help others.” 

C-DRUM also piloted an attendance mediation program to reduce truancy and chronic absences in Baltimore schools, and then transitioned the initiative to Community Mediation Maryland to expand the program statewide. “C-DRUM’s restorative justice and mediation work in schools recognizes that inequities tend to begin at a very early stage,” says Eisenberg, noting that the Charles Crane Family Foundation, which funds violence prevention initiatives, has consistently supported C-DRUM’s work in this area. “Experience has shown that schools that implement restorative justice or peer mediation programs tend to have better learning climates, fewer suspensions, and improved academic outcomes,” she adds. “Conflict resolution education also provides students with a sense of voice and agency; they learn how to ‘talk it out to work it out’ for problems in their own lives, and in our democracy more broadly.” 

C-DRUM has advocated for disciplinary changes to prevent the “school-to-prison pipeline,” which refers to the likelihood that students who are suspended from school are more likely to become involved with the criminal legal system. In 2018, the Maryland General Assembly appointed C-DRUM to chair a 26-member interdisciplinary Commission on the School-to-Prison Pipeline and Restorative Practices to study and propose reforms to Maryland school disciplinary practices. The commission recommended the implementation of restorative approaches in Maryland schools to build strong learning climates and promote more effective and equitable discipline. Those recommendations led to reform of Maryland’s school discipline laws, which now require a rehabilitative and restorative approach to discipline. 

C-DRUM continues to help schools establish restorative communities and reform their disciplinary approaches, providing training for educators and students in school districts across Maryland. Additionally, C-DRUM and the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) formed the Restorative Approaches Collaborative, combining their expertise in an unprecedented effort to inform and support school districts statewide in the implementation of restorative approaches. 

Promoting a Culture of Conflict Resolution 

C-DRUM advances effective approaches to conflict in public policy and workplace settings as well. The Public Policy Conflict Resolution Fellows Program, co-sponsored by the Maryland Judiciary, the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), and Maryland Carey Law, brings together a diverse group of Maryland’s top leaders in government, business, education, and the non-profit and faith-based areas to enhance their conflict resolution and consensus-building skills. This program has taken on new importance at a time when democratic dialogue and decision-making at every level of government is strained. In the past 15 years, the program has offered eight classes to 178 fellows. 

C-DRUM also provides ADR professional skills training and helps employers establish workplace mediation programs. Through the years, C-DRUM has provided train-the-trainer mediation trainings for federal and state government agencies and local universities. Most recently, C-DRUM launched the Workplace Mediation Service for its own university—the University of Maryland, Baltimore. 

A New Mission 

In recognition of the 20th anniversary, C-DRUM has reimagined its mission statement to better capture the breadth of its work: C-DRUM advances conflict processes to transform relationships, systems, and the world. The new mission statement, says Toby Treem Guerin, C-DRUM’s longtime associate director, “reflects the work we do and aspire to. The power of dispute resolution can be transformative, and we want to share that with the world.” 

In honor of the anniversary milestone, C-DRUM is hosting a series of events this year to celebrate the center’s work and reconnect with alumni and partners. Notable programs include a visit from restorative justice theorist John Braithwaite and a panel discussion featuring authors from the forthcoming book, Star Wars and Conflict Resolution. 

Deborah Thompson Eisenberg and Toby Treem Guerin contributed to this article. 

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