Spring is about new beginnings, and the Section of Dispute Resolution’s annual Spring Conference is one great example. By the time this magazine is available, many Section members will be looking back on this year’s conference in Minneapolis. We expect they will agree that this gathering is conscientiously reinvented each year to enlighten, challenge, and satisfy all who attend.
Inspiration for this year’s conference began with input from the Planning Committee, blended with feedback from previous attendees, member needs and requests, ideas from Section leaders, and the enduring wisdom of our staff. This year, another inspiring, albeit understated, voice was our strategic plan. How could we incorporate into the conference the plan’s worthy goals of fellowship and outreach, professional development, thought leadership, and policy and practice?
We began with a theme, “Shining the Light on the Parties in Dispute Resolution,” that reflected the conference’s principal focus: what parties and their counsel need to know to use dispute resolution processes effectively in the domestic and international arenas and, more specifically, what parties want and need from dispute resolution stakeholders. Together, the theme and objectives provided the backdrop for the conference planning.
Each conference program proposal had its own approach to interpreting the theme and objectives. This made for practical yet inspired plenaries, showcases, and panels. For presenters, program coordinators reached out to various key stakeholders, most assuredly “parties” (individual and corporate), and advocates, neutrals, legal educators, court professionals, and dispute resolution organizations. The combination of experience and skills contributed by the various stakeholders enriched not only what attendees learned but whom they learned it from.
Outreach to the Section’s committees played an important role. Active committee members reviewed proposals, planned programs, and presented on panels. Ample networking events throughout the Conference ensured multiple fellowship opportunities. On Thursday, for example, attendees were to be treated to a cocktail reception after the awards ceremony, and on Friday they could enjoy a cocktail reception at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Recognizing that the Section thrives when it attracts new members in all stages of their careers, from varied practices, organizers scheduled a new-member meeting over breakfast to discuss the many activities and opportunities the Section has to offer.
The Symposium on ADR in the Courts on Wednesday kicked off the conference with programs exploring the experience of parties in using dispute resolution-connected programs, including looking at attendant challenges, solutions, and evolving innovations to improve their experience. The first reception of the conference, at the US District Court for the District of Minnesota, was designed to cap off an enriching day.
The following two days of programming were dedicated to improving the level of skill and knowledge of attendees in conflict prevention and dispute resolution and illuminating their awareness of dispute resolution procedurally, substantively, ethically, and culturally. The conference was designed to embrace domestic and international perspectives, focusing on evolving and emerging issues internationally and reporting on case law developments and their practical effect for parties. Panels were arranged to highlight challenges facing parties in preventing conflict and resolving disputes, and provided practical solutions.
Diversity was an important topic. Various programs were planned to highlight the lack of diversity in our field, reflect on ABA Resolution 105, and discuss practical efforts dispute resolution stakeholders can take to ensure that more diverse neutrals are selected.
Managing the modern dispute resolution practice, a perennial favorite, was another focus, one that the Section hopes to a step further with the development of an institute dedicated to practice development and management. As in years past, the Legal Educators’ Colloquium was designed to conclude the conference, with programs exploring the challenges facing legal educators as well as new ideas and perspectives in teaching law students.
Section goals will also be realized through the Section’s new series called “Resolutions: A Podcast about Dispute Resolution and Prevention.” Ahead of the Spring Conference, the podcast committee organized a series of these digital audio files, with conference presenters previewing aspects of their presentations. Upcoming podcasts will feature interesting and notable people in the dispute resolution field or related fields, talking about cutting-edge, current, and practical issues.
I end on a thankful note. Website issues have plagued the ABA for many months and threatened attendance at our Spring Conference, but perseverance is paying off. My sincere thanks to Section members, outside registrants, and our beloved staff for their patience, resolve, and commitment to the Section.