The first West Coast Dispute Resolution Conversation was held in Las Vegas on December 7 & 8, 2018 at UNLV’s William S. Boyd School of Law and the Saltman Center for Conflict Resolution. The inspiration for the Conversation grew out of the 2018 American Bar Association (ABA) Dispute Resolution Section Annual Conference and a sense that many in our community were hungry for an opportunity to engage one another, in an informal setting, about the changing nature of dispute resolution generally and in law schools specifically. Twenty-one dispute resolution faculty from ten schools answered our invitation and came to converse about changes in the field and how those changes will and should inform our work as legal or related academics. (A number of others who were interested but precluded from attending by health or logistics—we hope they can make it to a future conversation).
The conversation commenced at a reception and planning meeting on Friday evening, during which the group enthusiastically discussed a broad set of changes in law schools, the country, and the world. The group focused a great deal on the current political landscape, and how dispute resolution academics should address the tensions between neutrality and advocacy. The conversation also touched on other topics including teaching to today’s students, U.S. News rankings, law school hiring and administration, and the perception that Alternate Dispute Resilution (ADR) is no longer a hot new topic in legal academia. Many of us continued Friday’s conversation at a convivial spot in Las Vegas’ historic downtown, some also explored the Las Vegas Arts District, and a few braved the Hofbrauhaus and its own special entertainment. No one, to our knowledge, attempted to lasso one of the hundreds of horses corralled on the UNLV campus for the National Finals Rodeo.
On Saturday, the group was up fairly early, despite Friday’s revelry, to resume the conversation over breakfast, lunch and multiple snack breaks. Lisa Blomgren Amsler (Indiana SPEA) volunteered to take notes, for which we are all immensely grateful. Based on the group’s discussion the previous evening, we decided to hone in on three particular changes in the field: (1) our increasingly divided politics; (2) changes in our students’ perspectives, which included changes in technology and also in students’ mental health and wellness; and (3) the ever-increasing institutionalization of ADR in public and private spheres as well as our own schools. We then explored what we are doing to address how these three particular changes affect our teaching and areas to pursue in our scholarship. Turning to the mundane, we also discussed how those interested in dispute resolution can try to deal with U.S. News pressures and also enhance or maintain the interest of our colleagues and deans in our work. As the day went on Clark Freshman (UC Hastings) led us in exercises to keep us all focused. And, to keep ourselves entertained, we occasionally threw spongy dice around the room and at each other.
Our last formal session focused on “next steps.” Shall we meet again, and if so when and how and to discuss what? Nothing was resolved but we considered the possibility of various in-person and virtual meetings, of different sizes, and on alternative topics.
Finally, we closed out with a fun dinner – plenty more time for discussion, enhancing old friendships, and meeting new people. In sum, a fun and useful couple of days. Notes will be available in a few weeks so feel free to request them from Jean Sternlight. If you want to know more you can ask attendees Hal Abramson (UNLV & Touro), Lisa Blomgren Amsler (UNLV & Indiana SPEA), Terry Amsler (UNLV), Michael Colatrella (McGeorge), Clark Freshman (UC Hastings), Erik Girvan (Oregon), Eve Hanan (UNLV), Deborah Hensler (Stanford), Thom Main (UNLV), Michael Moffitt (Oregon & Harvard), Lydia Nussbaum (UNLV), Terri Pollman (UNLV), Sheila Purcell (UC Hastings), Jennifer Reynolds (Oregon), Andrea Schneider (UNLV & Marquette), Donna Shestowsky (UC Davis), Gail Silverstein (UC Hastings), Jeff Stempel (UNLV), Jean Sternlight (UNLV), Liz Tippett (Oregon), & Ellen Waldman (Thomas Jefferson).