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WVU College of Law students observe ADR processes in action through participation in the Magistrate Court Mediation Program


In recent years, the use of alternative dispute resolution processes to resolve conflicts without going to court has increased. This trend is a response to the call for efficiency and a reduction of costs to resolve disputes. As a result, the College of Law has taken steps to offer students the opportunity to learn about the alternative dispute resolution practices through practical courses like Professor Patrick’s Alternative Dispute Resolution class.

Professor Patrick and Judge Maxwell saw the need for mediation in Magistrate Court to help to streamline the dispute resolution process. As a result, the two started the Magistrate Mediation Program in West Virginia. Today, students at the WVU College of Law have the opportunity to receive training to become a mediator for local Magistrate Courts in Monongahela, Marion, Harrison, or Preston counties in West Virginia.

During the fall semester of my 1L year, I went to an ADR Society meeting on a whim, not really knowing what the organization was all about. But, I soon came to find that the members were able to undergo a formal training program to become a Magistrate Court mediator and mediate real cases. Personally, I was excited to work on real cases and have the ability to help disputants solve their problems. As a 1L, you do not have the opportunity to gain a lot of practical experience outside of the classroom because the focus is placed on learning the law. However, with mediation you have the opportunity to help others work through their conflicts to come to an amicable resolution for both parties.

Late in the fall semester of my 1L year, I observed my first mediation in Marion County. At the beginning of the mediation both parties seemed to be at opposite ends of the spectrum and they did not want to hear anything that the other side had to say. They were quick to rebut any comments made by the opposing side. I remember thinking to myself that there was no way that I could possibly handle a situation like this on my own. I had a million questions running through my head like, “How do you know what to say to the parties?” or “What is the best way to resolve the conflict?” I would not figure out the answers to these questions and many others until I actually mediated a case on my own, but like most legal problems the answer is often, “it depends.”

The first case that I observed gave me faith in the process. Initially the parties were so far apart that I thought that they would never be able to come to a resolution, but then magically with the help of a trained mediator/law student, the gap between the parties began to close. As each side saw some compromise from the other side, they became more willing to compromise themselves and were able to come to an amicable solution.

Now, I am not saying that mediation will resolve every conflict, but it helps to get the parties talking. On some occasions mediation may be the first time that the parties were in the room together. Most of the time, the parties would like to have the opportunity to be heard by the other side or anyone who will listen for that matter. Some types of disputes may be better suited for mediation than others. For example, cases in which the parties had a pre-existing relationship prior to the dispute may benefit from going to mediation. Specifically, these parties who would like to preserve their relationship will benefit from the confidentiality of the proceeding and increased emphasis on communication.

Mediating cases for Magistrate Court benefits law students in a variety of ways. Students are able to improve their communication skills because the process forces you to become more comfortable talking with parties from all walks of life. Like future clients, not all parties come from the same background or have the same personalities. As a result, it is essential for lawyers to be able to communicate effectively with each client in order to represent them effectively. Additionally, students are able to learn techniques to adapt to curve balls that the opposing counsel or their own clients may throw at them in the course of resolving a dispute.

Looking back, becoming a Magistrate Court mediator has taught me a lot that I would not have experienced inside of the classroom or during a summer clerkship. As a neutral facilitator of discussion and not a decision maker you learn to understand both sides of an argument so that you can help the parties to work together to come to an acceptable resolution for themselves. Similarly, this skill will be necessary to implore as an attorney. If you can understand the other side of the case you will be able to anticipate the arguments and counter-arguments that your opposing counsel will make and be prepared to defend and distinguish your side from theirs.

Like most law students, I know that time is extremely precious, but I would recommend sparing some time each month to participate in mediation. No matter how hectic my schedule gets, I still look forward to mediation each month. Often times, I leave feeling like I actually made a difference in the parties’ lives by helping them work through their problems toward a resolution. Additionally, it is rewarding take time away from focusing on yourself to focus on helping other people solve their own problems.

If anyone is interested in becoming a Magistrate Court mediator, I encourage you to attend an ADR meeting this fall and learn more about the process. Typically, anyone who is interested in becoming a mediator can sign up on Twen and go to any of the counties to observe two mediations to see if you would be interested in undergoing the training. The formal training is sponsored by the West Virginia State Bar and it usually takes place on a Saturday early in the spring semester. Additionally, the hours that you accumulate by mediating in Magistrate Court can go toward a pro bono recognition upon graduation.

The ADR Society also participates in a fall negotiation competition and a spring mediation competition. Any interested members are encouraged to sign up to participate in the competitions that give students the opportunities to gain more experience utilizingADR processes to resolve disputes and to network with students from other law schools across the country. The teams are typically selected early in each semester to provide students ample opportunity to prepare for the competitions.

The College of Law and West Virginia State Bar has recognized the growing role thatADR has taken in the dispute resolution process through the creation of the Magistrate Court mediation program. By becoming a certified mediator you will have the opportunity to hone your practical legal skills and to make a difference in the lives of other people by providing your services to the local Magistrate Courts.

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