By Michael A. Zeytoonian, Member of the MDRS Panel of Neutrals/Guest Blogger
An annual national tradition in the legal community is the celebration of “Conflict Resolution Week” (CRW) and “Conflict Resolution Day” (CRD) on the third week and the third Thursday of October respectively. This tradition reportedly started here in New England by the New England Association for Conflict Resolution (NE-ACR). It is a week and a day to shine a spotlight on one of the most important bodies of work that lawyers and mediators do – help people effectively resolve disputes. This year, CRW will be from October 16 through October 20, with October 19 as CRD, and the Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA), through its Dispute Resolution Section, will be celebrating these events in a big way, from Springfield to Andover to Marshfield to Cambridge to Boston!
Dispute Resolution (DR), historically referred to as “alternative dispute resolution” or ADR, was once an alternative to going to a trial to get a case resolved. But recent trends show that people are increasingly choosing to resolve their disputes using these other ways of resolving their disputes more so than going to trial, and often in place of the entire litigation process. In the early 1980’s mediation was rarely used, arbitration was just beginning to be used more regularly by businesses and Collaborative Law (CL) had not even been created yet. (CL was created through the efforts of one attorney in Minnesota in 1990). Today, mediation is the most frequently used means of resolving disputes, even more so than trials or arbitration. As a result, many practitioners and organizations, including the Massachusetts Bar Association’s (MBA) Dispute Resolution Section Council, have “dropped the A” in ADR and now refer to these other options as either DR or DRA (dispute resolution alternatives), reflecting the fact that people are intentionally turning to mediation, CL or arbitration to resolve their disputes. Trials today are rare – 97% of cases filed in courts settle and do not go to trial – and have become the default, to be used only when another DR process doesn’t result in a full resolution of the matter.
To celebrate the emergence of DR, and to help spread the word throughout the Commonwealth about what DR is, how it works and when and how it is being used to successfully resolve disputes, the MBA, through its DR Section Council’s efforts, is offering five different events, one on each day of CRW and each one in a different region of our state. All five the programs are free and open to the public. The MBA encourages anyone interested in DR as well as lawyers, practitioners of DR, judges, law school students and the general public to attend one or more of these programs.
Conflict Resolution Day on October 19 will feature a gala Reception at the John Adams Courthouse’s Second Floor Conference Room in Boston, starting at 5:30 pm, with a program opened by our two Chief Justices Ralph D. Gants and Paula M. Carey and featuring as its keynote Kenneth Weinberg, a man who has done important work in several conflict situations including 9/11, the Boston Marathon Bombing and other hotspots and events around the world.
The Peacemaker, a documentary film on the outstanding work around the world’s trouble spots of one man, Padraig O’Malley, will be the featured focal point of the Friday, October 20 event. The screening of this film will begin at 7 pm at Harvard Law School’s Ames Auditorium. After the film, both Mr. O’Malley and the film’s producer/director James Demo will be part of panel about the film and Mr. O’Malley’s ongoing work. This event is co-sponsored by the Harvard Program on Negotiation.
Other events around the state will recognize the work of those hundreds of volunteers working all through the state in court-connected community mediation programs (October 16 in the afternoon at the Hall of Justice in Springfield), peer mediation and other programs designed to address and resolve youth and community disputes (October 17 in the late afternoon at Massachusetts School of Law in Andover) and the use of mediation and CL to resolve disputes arising out of families in transition – divorce, inheritance and family business succession matters (October 18 in the early afternoon at the Ventress Memorial Library in Marshfield).
We encourage you to attend one or more of these events, learn more about DR and encourage others who may be interested in knowing about the many options available to them for resolving their legal issues to join in the celebration. For more information or to RSVP, please visit the MBA’s website at www.massbar.org.