Let’s Make a Deal: Students Learn the Art of Settling Differences in Dispute Resolution Concentration

November 01, 2018

One might think a criminal prosecutor, an employment attorney, and a securities lawyer would have very little in common, given some of the stark differences in their areas of practice. In reality, though, lawyers who practice in these (and other) substantive areas of law do share at least one similar trait: They’ve all participated in some form of dispute resolution, because in today’s legal world, only a tiny percentage of cases end up going to trial.

So for law students, becoming familiar with the intricacies of negotiation, arbitration, and mediation is as critical as learning how to present a case before a judge. That’s why the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law launched the Dispute Resolution Concentration during the 2017-18 academic year. Law students who choose to pursue the concentration study both litigation and non-litigation approaches—after all, both are closely intertwined in actual practice. 

When it comes to the latter, students do a deep ADR dive, learning the differences between the various dispute-resolution options as well as how to interview and counsel clients. Along the way, they also learn this valuable lesson: Practicing law in the real world is quite different than how it’s portrayed in movies and television dramas.

“Being a lawyer is all about resolving disputes or preventing them from happening in the first place,” says Saltman Center Associate Director Lydia Nussbaum, an Associate Professor of Law at Boyd and a faculty supervisor in the Dispute Resolution Concentration. “No matter what area of practice a student goes into, they will find clients with problems that need resolution.”

Students who sign up for the concentration are required to take two litigation and two non-litigation courses. Options for the latter include negotiation, psychology and lawyering, and international commercial arbitration and mediation. Another option is taking part in the Saltman Center’s Mediation Clinic, where students get tangible ADR experience by facilitating settlement negotiations as neutral third-party mediators. 

“Students in the Mediation Clinic mediate a variety of cases in state and federal court,” says Nussbaum, the Mediation Clinic’s director. “For example, students might mediate divorce cases involving child custody and a range of financial matters, or child-welfare cases involving issues of parent-child reunification or termination of parental rights. They might even work on civil-rights claims brought by inmates against the Nevada Department of Corrections”

Regardless of the courses students take to complete the Dispute Resolution Concentration, the primary objective is to send them out into the legal world with a firm grasp of a vital skill that’s used in all facets of legal practice.

“In addition to traditional litigation, there is a magical kingdom of other dispute-resolution processes that students must understand—collective bargaining for labor disputes, arbitration for business-contract disputes, mediation in tort claims, collaborative law in divorce, early neutral evaluation in employment cases, etc.,” Nussbaum says. “A competent 21st-century lawyer must know the difference between these processes, must be able to advise clients on which processes will or will not help clients reach their goals, and must be able to advocate effectively for clients in these different settings.”