TOP LEGAL NEWS OF THE WEEK

Dispute resolution experts take cue from pro sports

The contact sport of football would appear to have little in common with the legal field of dispute resolution, where parties try to negotiate results rather than run over each other. 

The theme of this year's Mediation Week reaffirmed the ABA goal of diversity and “full and equal participation in the legal profession.”

The theme of this year's Mediation Week reaffirmed the ABA goal of diversity and “full and equal participation in the legal profession.”

Photo by seksan Mongkhonkhamsao / Moment / Getty Images

But at an Oct. 22 American Bar Association program, “The Importance of Using Diverse Neutrals,” the legal practitioners were enthralled to learn about preliminary research that showed application of something akin to the National Football League’s “Rooney Rule” had significant positive impact in diversifying the selection of neutral intervenors or mediators in alternative dispute resolution (ADR).

“We in the (alternative dispute resolution) community need to get out of our silo-centered approach,” said Homer LaRue, professor at Howard University School of Law. “It is time for us to see the problem of a lack of diversity in ADR as a national problem.”

LaRue offered new research conducted with a colleague that showed the more diverse the pool of prospective neutrals, the greater the likelihood that a diverse member will be selected to serve. He likened the process to the National Football League’s 2003 Rooney Rule, which requires every team with a head coaching vacancy to interview at least one or more diverse candidates. In 2009, the NFL expanded the rule to include general managers and equivalent front-office positions.

The panel discussion at the ABA offices in Washington, D.C., was sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter of the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution, and was held in conjunction with ABA Mediation Week, which officially ran Oct. 13-19 but includes events running throughout October.

This year’s theme of diversity emphasized Resolution 105, approved by the ABA House of Delegates in August 2018, which reaffirmed that the ABA goal of diversity and “full and equal participation in the legal profession” applies to the ADR arena. At the D.C. program, representatives from several organizations involved in ADR acknowledged the challenges ahead.

Chris Kwok, founding co-chair of the Dispute Resolution Committee at the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, said the field has more than a “pipeline problem” of attracting younger, diverse lawyers to ADR. He noted that traditionally mediators are older attorneys who agree to mediate disputes to stay involved later in their legal careers. “I think we have a structural problem that takes a long time to work out,” he said.

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