This post summarizes a status report on the Stone Soup Dispute Resolution Knowledge Project, describes possible next steps, and invites your input and participation. I encourage you to consider how you might incorporate Stone Soup in your plans for next year. In particular, this post describes choices you might make in using Stone Soup in your courses.
The Project was initiated about a year ago. It’s a collaboration of faculty, students, scholars, practitioners, and professional associations to produce, disseminate, and use valuable knowledge about actual practice.
Dispute resolution is defined broadly and includes dispute system design, conflict management, organizational decision-making, dispute prevention, and transactional negotiation, among other things.
Moreover, the Project is not limited to traditional concepts of dispute resolution, recognizing that legal practice generally is oriented to dispute prevention and resolution.
Although the initial focus was primarily on dispute resolution in American law schools, we hope to include participants from other disciplines and countries.
The status report describes the Project’s activities to date, including use of Stone Soup course assignments, continuing education programs using Stone Soup techniques, and conference presentations about the Project. It begins by describing the genesis of the Project and ends by listing some possible future initiatives.
Use of Stone Soup Assignments in Law School Courses
Most of the activity has been by law school faculty using assignments in their courses. Most assignments involved interviews of advocates, neutrals, or parties, though some involved observations of ADR or court proceedings instead of or in addition to interviews.
The inaugural cohort of Stone Soup faculty started using Stone Soup assignments in the Spring 2017 semester. Since then, the Project engaged almost 1000 students in 40 classes covering 12 subjects, taught by 32 faculty from 25 schools in 3 countries.
Most assignments were in traditional ADR courses, but faculty also used Stone Soup assignments in other courses including Access to Justice, Evidence, Relational Lawyering, Resolving Community Civil Rights Disputes, and Trusts and Estates. Faculty could use them in almost any course, such as Labor Law, Employment Discrimination, Professional Responsibility, Civil Procedure, and Criminal Law.
The Project produced materials to help faculty develop interview assignments, including general advice, a model assignment, guidance for students in conducting and summarizing interviews, a model invitation for an interview, and a summary of professional ethics rules regarding confidentiality of interviews.
Because preparation is very important in law and dispute resolution, the Project developed a set of questions students could ask to learn about how people evaluate cases to prepare for negotiation and mediation cases. These questions can be adapted for arbitration and litigation.
Stone Soup faculty have shared exemplary student papers (with the students’ permission) in Negotiation, Trusts and Estates, and Evidence courses.
Stone Soup faculty assessed their courses, identifying what worked well, what students learned that they would not have learned without the assignment, and what faculty would do differently in the future. Here’s a collection of their assessments.
Faculty consistently reported outstanding results that have far exceeded expectations. Stone Soup has provided many benefits including:
- increasing students’ exposure to the real world of practice
- helping students develop critically-important interviewing and analysis skills
- identifying how theory does and doesn’t map well onto actual practice
- supplementing faculty’s knowledge, especially for faculty who haven’t practiced in the subjects they are teaching – or haven’t practiced at all
- increasing students’ and faculty’s enjoyment of the courses
Faculty who used Stone Soup assignments in their courses generally plan to use Stone Soup again with little or no change.
Their experiences yield some general suggestions for using Stone Soup. In particular, faculty should require students to complete interviews or observations as soon as appropriate in a course, and should schedule time in class to discuss what students learned. Discussing insights from these assignments early in a semester provides a base of experience that everyone can refer to during the rest of the course.
Use of Stone Soup Techniques in Continuing Education Programs
The Stone Soup Project piloted a process to systematically obtain information from audiences in continuing education programs as part of the educational process. This involves planning to ask certain questions of the audience, taking notes of the discussion, and distributing insights from the program. The process was used in a two-hour continuing education program and a two-day training. It will be used at the upcoming American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution annual conference.
Conference Presentations About the Stone Soup Project
There was a presentation about the Project at the Works-in-Progress Conference of the Association of American Law Schools ADR Section in October 2017. At the Legal Educators’ Colloquium of the American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution annual conference in April, there will be a program entitled Lessons From the Stone Soup Project and Ideas for the Future. There will be a similar presentation in June at the conference of the Association for Canadian Clinical Legal Education and the Canadian Association of Law Teachers.
On June 12, the Stone Soup Board of Advisors will hold a conference call to review the Project’s activities to date and discuss possible future initiatives. The Project welcomes feedback and suggestions from anyone interested.
Some possible next steps include, but are not limited, to the following:
- develop additional materials to help faculty use Stone Soup assignments, possibly including “action research” in which student assignments result in useful products
- develop interview and/or observation protocols for particular courses, possibly adapting elements of the tentative database structure initially contemplated
- recruit more faculty to use Stone Soup assignments both in traditional dispute resolution courses and other courses
- recruit more faculty from countries outside the US
- recruit faculty from disciplines other than law
- encourage some faculty to use the same assignments in different schools or disciplines
- develop a system for sharing good student papers (which might be a precursor to a database of Stone Soup products)
- encourage schools to take greater advantage of learning opportunities from student competitions
- encourage professional organizations to routinely use Stone Soup processes to generate and distribute knowledge from their continuing education programs
- encourage faculty to conduct qualitative research about actual practice to improve theory
- focus particularly on parties’ perspectives, including in lawyer-client relationships
Because the Project is a collaboration of numerous stakeholders, decisions about future plans will depend, in part, on the interest of stakeholders to work on particular initiatives.
If you would like to be part of the Stone Soup Project next year and/or have ideas or questions, please let me know.