Law schools continue to tinker with the first-year curriculum, with some law schools adding Legislation and Regulation courses, others adding professionalism or professional identity-focused courses, still others adding international law courses, and a few affording students first-year electives.  Texas A&M University School of Law has added another possibility to the mix—a required, first-year, one-credit Dispute Resolution Survey course.   In January, all first-year A & M students must take the new course during the week prior to Spring semester.  Over five days, the course introduces the students to the continuum of legal dispute resolution processes, particularly negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and new developments such as collaborative law and online dispute resolution.

“We introduced the Dispute Resolution survey course as part of a set of changes to the 1L curriculum, designed to ensure that we were preparing our students for effective lawyering and leadership in the 21st century,” says Robert B. Ahdieh, Dean & Anthony G. Buzbee Endowed Dean’s Chair at Texas A&M.  “With an eye to the changing landscape of dispute resolution at home and abroad, its complex interactions with almost every area of practice, and the law school’s distinctive strengths in the area, the course was an ideal addition to our first-year curriculum.”

Members of the faculty who teach in the law school’s dispute resolution program team-teach the course.  Each faculty member focuses on his or her area of specialization.  Professors Cynthia Alkon and Peter Reilly introduce the 1Ls to negotiation concepts and skills.  Professors Nancy Welsh and Carol Pauli focus on mediation and new developments, and Professors Michael Green and Guillermo Garcia provide an overview of the practice and law of arbitration.  Although the course includes substantial reading and some lecture, the students also engage in hands-on learning through exercises and simulations.  By the end of the course, students should be able to counsel clients regarding the basic differences among these processes, identify the issues that are important in choosing among and participating in them, and understand the role of lawyers.

The course has an ambitious set of seven learning objectives.  According to the law school, by the end of the course, students should be able to

  1. Explain to a client the primary differences among the dispute resolution processes of negotiation, mediation and arbitration.
  2. Identify the issues involved in counseling a client regarding which process would be appropriate for resolving a given dispute.
  3. Explain the basic structure and theoretical foundation of each of these dispute resolution processes and how the goals and structures of each one can vary in response to different contexts.
  4. Describe their role as a lawyer within each of these dispute resolution procedures.
  5. Be aware of ethical rules that apply to lawyers when serving as an advocate or neutral in a negotiation, mediation or arbitration.
  6. Identify and apply statutes and case law relevant to the enforcement of dispute resolution clauses providing for the use of negotiation, mediation and/or arbitration to resolve disputes.
  7. Assess their own performance as a lawyer in a dispute resolution process, provide constructive feedback to others, and identify ways to improve skills in representing clients effectively.