On May 7, 1990, the minister of justice of Baden-Württemberg announced a speech by Frank Sander about resolving conflicts in and out of courts. Invited were lawyers and experts in the areas of law and sciences.
Frank was announced as an expert on the role of courts in American society, the initiator of multi-door courthouse experiments in Tulsa, Houston and Washington, and director of the Dispute Resolution Program at Harvard Law School.
I was invited by the former director of the Academy of Lawyers, Dr. Belser, who knew that my wife and I were dedicated to mediation, which at that time had just gained a footing.
I remember Frank’s speech very well. For me, it was a remarkable, historic step. So I saved the documents from that event.
Personally, I was touched by the beginning of his speech. He said he understood German but would not be able to give a lecture in the German language because his vocabulary would be that of an 11-year-old boy. At that age, he said, his family was compelled to leave Nazi Germany because of danger to their lives.
Professionally, I was impressed by his clear overview about alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. I never forgot his thesis: Mediation is a sleeping giant. This sentence gave a push to Dr. Belser, who was in a dilemma. At that time, there was a strong opinion by lawyers that mediation violated the conflict of interest rules and clashed with the image of a lawyer who has to be one-sided. But he was moved by the image that mediation is a giant, that Frank was invited by the minister of justice, that American lawyers practiced mediation, and that lawyers should not be excluded from that new perspective and market.
Supported by his courage, Dr. Belser organized a seminar at the academy, of which my wife and I would be in charge of, in the next year. This was, as far as I know, the first mediation seminar that was held in the German language.
The speech was not the only impulse Frank gave to the German scene. A year before, he had been invited to a conference in Heidelberg organized by professors Wolfgang Hoffmann-Riem and Eberhard Schmidt-Aßmann for mediation and negotation in administration and environmental disputes. Also attending were Lawrence Susskind, Gerard MacMahon, Denise Magilan, Alan Weinstein, Michael O´Hare and others. Frank summarized alternative methods of dispute resolution from the American perspective and gave an important opening of the experiences on this field in the United States.
We were first trained in family mediation mainly by our brilliant teachers Gary Friedman and Jack Himmelstein. The view from this microcosmos to cooperative negotiations in the macrocosmos of governmental acts opened my mind as to why mediation indeed was a sleeping giant: because old hierarchic structures were supposed to lead to more self-responsible acting, therefore new forms of dispute resolution must be based on the same principles.
The influence of Frank Sander was not only evident through those initiatives. His books and articles gave us orientation and inspiration. A student of his at Harvard, Christian Duve, now a well-known lawyer and author, published a lot of articles together with him in the German language. Another scholar, Marietta Birner, wrote an award-winning dissertation about the multi-door courthouse. The importance of Frank’s leadership and scholarship is evident now as we in Germany have just passed our first mediation bill.
So many people have awoken the giant of mediation to a new consciousness and awareness. Thank you, Frank Sander.
Dr. Hans-Georg Mähler is a former attorney and judge, co-founder and first speaker of the German federal organization for family-mediation (BAFM), member of the mediation board of the national lawyer association (BRAK), member of the team who formulated the code of conduct for mediators of the EU, trainer in mediation since 1991 and in Collaborative Practice since 2010, co-leader of Eidos Projekt Mediation. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.