Imagine an American Bar Association section publication being led by the founder of that section’s field. Imagine as well that this person is a distinguished scholar, a ruthlessly rigorous judge of quality, a warm and compassionate friend to whom people are drawn, a person who doggedly prepares for each telephone meeting and a positive individual dedicated to making a difference. That is the dream that came true for the Section of Dispute Resolution for the first 18 years of its well regarded Dispute Resolution Magazine. That leader, of course, was Harvard’s Bussey Professor of Law (now emeritus), Frank E.A. Sander.
Frank’s approach to leading the magazine resembles his leadership in general, with one central effective ingredient being great dedication to efforts that can make a difference. Frank agrees to join an activity when he can envision that his participation will accomplish something significant; otherwise, he is disciplined in declining the vast majority of invitations he receives. Frank chaired the new magazine’s editorial board because he saw that a high-quality publication could help establish the fledgling field of dispute resolution.
Using the same criterion, Frank earlier committed his time to chair the ABA entity that gave birth to the Section of Dispute Resolution. He joined ad hoc committees that had the potential to set the course of legal policy for the field – initiatives dealing with issues such as mediator qualifications, mandatory mediation and mediation privilege – and informal groups to guide the development and evaluation of the first three multi-door courthouses in Tulsa, Houston and the District of Columbia. He also helped initiate activities that would build scholarship in the field such as a dispute resolution bibliography, the first dispute resolution law textbook, and the Negotiation Journal.
Frank’s commitment to making a difference is contagious. He joins meetings on time and always arrives prepared. Faced with such devotion by someone so distinguished, those working with him feel embarrassed to do anything less.
His focus on excellence is equally contagious. A brilliant scholar, Frank knows quality – whether it is in an idea, a prospective article, or a possible speaker – and demands nothing less in his quest to build the field. Anyone supporting something mediocre can expect Frank’s incisive questions, such as “What is new in this?” This leads people to consider their ideas before expressing them and makes discussions much more productive.
While devotion to achieving positive change is a key aspect of Frank’s leadership, his personality is another vital one. His personal warmth, love of new ideas, inclination toward mentoring others, and sense of humor all make people look forward to sharing time with Frank.
For all these reasons, once Frank is aboard, recruiting other strong contributors is easy. Those invited know that the activity will be significant and of high quality; if that weren’t the case, they know, Frank would not have signed on. People know they will enjoy working with Frank, and they know they will learn from him.
Dispute Resolution Magazine provides a lens for viewing these leadership components in action. When the inaugural issue of the magazine appeared in 1994, it already reflected the Sander approach. Though modest in appearance – 12 pages copied on card stock with occasional red highlights and stock art – that first issue was ambitious in terms of quality. The authors were distinguished in practice or academia. Packed in those few pages, the magazine offered two viewpoints on an issue on which the field was split (evaluation and advice by lawyer-mediators), interviews with people who worked in the field, a summary of recent social science research, section news and updates on statutes, cases, conferences, books and articles.
From the start, section member surveys identified the magazine as a hit. In addition, 20 law review articles cited one of the articles in that short inaugural issue.
Over time, the magazine continued as a high-quality publication and its impact increased. Section membership grew from about 5,000 to 19,000, expanding the readership. Soon online legal research companies began including the magazine’s contents in their searchable databases. Textbooks and law review articles cited Dispute Resolution Magazine articles with some frequency.
While I know of no way to document the magazine’s contribution to the growth of the dispute resolution field, it seems to me a likely reality. People commonly remark that they read the articles in Dispute Resolution Magazine as soon as the magazine arrives, setting aside other more technical publications to review at some future date (which may never come), after they have caught up on pressing matters. They talk about the articles. Those of us who have worked on the magazine are proud that it does not shy away from the key issues in the field and invites varying viewpoints. The magazine draws people to section membership, where they become further engaged in the field of dispute resolution. It seems to build a well-informed and growing cadre of enthusiasts.
The magazine has changed somewhat over the years, as editorial board members, editors, contributors, and section staff have made their own contributions. Card stock gave way to glossy paper. A succession of superb editors improved the content and worked with layout experts to enhance the publication’s appearance.
One of Frank’s strengths as editorial board chair was his ability to attract the best people to work on the magazine; as a result, the outstanding contributors are too numerous to be mentioned by name. When Frank asked someone to join the editorial board, serve as editor or write an article, he or she never had to check whether the magazine was a high-quality or important publication. As with other projects mentioned above, if Frank was devoted to something, it was work that would make a difference. For all these reasons and for the touch of kindness that he brought to every interaction, working with Frank was a privilege, for me and for all the other editorial board members I spoke with for this article. Frank’s involvement was a guarantee that a project was important and interesting, they said, and they stayed on the board because of him.
During most of the 18 years Frank led the editorial board, he had one of the busiest assignments in the academy – associate dean for Harvard’s J.D. program. He also was busy teaching, keeping up a dispute resolution textbook, writing articles, responding to law schools and bar associations that sought him as a speaker, and serving on various initiatives that helped build the field. Yet Frank always joined the monthly editorial board conference calls on time, focused but ready to laugh, and prepared. He posed questions, such as: What are the major issues facing the field? What new challenges are on the horizon? Do we have something in the next issue for people who want to make a living working in the field? What would the section like to see covered? Who is the best person to write that article? Are there some promising young people whom we might help by asking them to be authors? Where are we on the next issue? Let’s review the bidding…
Always the professor, Frank understood that other board members would become more engaged if they were learning and enjoying their involvement as they contributed. That meant he welcomed diversions to discuss an interesting new development or just to laugh.
As he stepped down last summer, Frank spent time thinking about his replacement. He was delighted that two distinguished scholars and field leaders, Josh Stulberg and Nancy Welsh, will co-chair the editorial board.
Frank dismisses any notion that he deserves praise for the hundreds of hours he devoted to leading the magazine during the busiest moments of his career and credits the other editorial board members, section representatives and editors. His recollection of his decision to accept section chair Bob Raven’s invitation to lead the board that would create the magazine reflects his dedication to making a difference and his deep engagement in the issues in the dispute resolution field: “At the time, the opportunity seemed important and interesting. Once the magazine got going, it largely handled itself. It was fun to discuss the issues of the day with these really good people.”
Even if Frank deflects our thanks, he will have our admiration. He has not only written about what will lead to positive change in the dispute resolution field; Frank has worked hard, consistently, and effectively to achieve that change. In his approach to leadership, as to his other work, Frank reminds me of Mahatma Gandhi’s simple statement about effecting change: “We need not wait to see what others do.”
Nancy Rogers is professor emeritus of the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and was co-chair of the Dispute Resolution Magazine with Frank Sander during its early years as well as serving with him on several other initiatives. The author thanks the section staff members and board members who provided information for this article and Richard Reuben, Craig McEwen, and Harry Mazadoorian for their editorial suggestions.