Faculty Spotlight: Jean Sternlight

03/23/2018
Jean Sternlight, Director of the Saltman Center for Conflict Resolution and the Michael and Sonja Saltman Professor of Law

What is the most significant issue facing your field and how should it be addressed?

The most important issue facing my field of dispute resolution is how technology will change the way in which our society approaches disputes. At the most basic level we are already seeing that technology changes how disputants keep records, how events are recorded, and how disputants present claims on-line or in court. But, we will also see technology to some degree replace lawyers, judges, and mediators. And, we will see technology used to explore the contents of the human brain. Perhaps counter-intuitively, I believe that the growth of technology will ultimately help us focus more on the less technical and more personal aspects of dispute resolution. At least on my more optimistic days I believe we will increasingly realize the importance of empathy, reconciliation, growth, and understanding.

How do you approach teaching your favorite topics? Your least favorite? 

I honestly can’t think of a topic that I teach that I don’t enjoy teaching. Whether I am teaching civil procedure or psychology and lawyering I choose topics that I think matter or at least should matter to attorneys in practice. Then, my basic approach is to help the students understand why the topic matters, because once they see why it matters it will become more interesting. In all of my classes I try to connect the lessons to the real world as much as possible, for example using actual pleadings, role plays or videos. In civil procedure I sometimes get to play Judge Sternlight, and in psychology and lawyering I may role play a difficult client in a deposition. Through methods like these I get students involved with teaching the material to themselves. 
 
What have you read, listened to, or watched recently that has influenced you or your work?

For the article I am currently writing, on technology and dispute resolution, I have been reading about an amazing array of topics including the trial of Orestia in Ancient Greece, the use of DNA to trace dog poop, so-called brain fingerprinting, trials of animals and insects in the Middle Ages, confirmation bias, and crowd-sourcing on the internet. I can also tell myself that watching shows like Black Mirror is relevant to my work. Being a law professor is fun.   

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