Where Do We Go Next?

by John DeGroote, Immediate Past Chair

Why are we all here, anyway? That’s a question that’s good to ask ourselves every so often, and I believe it’s time for ADR professionals to assess where we are, and where we’re going.

At this point we know that settlement isn’t the product of a last-minute chat on the courthouse steps or the smoke-filled conference room I learned about as a young lawyer.  Modern-day dispute resolution, and the mediation or arbitration it usually takes to get there, happens in a much more structured and intentional way.  Even the conference rooms have changed.  Not only are they not filled with smoke, but they often feature natural light, good (or at least better) coffee, and a solid wi-fi connection. Hardly the image from thirty years ago!

Since the 90s, ADR has grown from a relatively new idea into an expected part of most legal disputes. As this Section’s very existence demonstrates, ADR is part of the established way of getting things done in law. For many of us, it isn’t just a job, but a calling.

While it’s great that we have such a devoted group of people making ADR possible, it needs to be more than just an avocation. We need to be sure we maintain ADR as a profession, as well.

One of the most important attributes of a profession—not always present in a vocation—is that we teach the next generation the skills they need so that we can pass the baton, confident our work is in great hands.

What if all ADR practitioners decided to treat mentoring the way successful pro bono programs are run? We could “take just one” person with us to a mediation or an arbitration, so that we can:

  • show them the ropes,
  • give them insights into what goes on in the other room, or
  • maybe even advance their skill set, if they are a new ADR practitioner.

Mentoring up-and-coming ADR practitioners doesn’t just help them. It helps all of us. The pool of talent around us gets deeper, which means more well-trained, effective options when we have a conflict or a late-breaking emergency. Plus, it sure is nice to have more colleagues to call on when a strange (or perhaps hypothetical) issue crops up in our own practices.

More importantly, mediation clients, and the lawyers who serve them, benefit from a cadre of ADR practitioners who are competent, informed, and current in their practice skills. That reflects well on all of us. Clients who have positive ADR experiences generate good buzz for ADR itself, and for those who practice it. What’s not to love?