Earlier this week I attended a wonderful conference at Pepperdine Law School attended by 150 ADR legal educators and professionals, where we explored the legacy of the field of ADR and predicted its future. Co-sponsored by the Aggie (Texas A&M) DR Program as well as numerous other law school DR programs), the conference featured panels on the past, present and future of ADR scholarship, teaching and service. Some panels applauded the field’s accomplishments; others bemoaned its failures.
What struck me was the urgency of the reflective moment – why in 2019 are luminaries in the field worried about its future? Perhaps it has something to do with the polarizing politics of the day; perhaps it has to do with developments in legal education; perhaps it has to do with the maturity of the field. After all, constitutional law has been around since 1789, but alternative dispute resolution did not emerge as a field until the 1960s and 1970s, following another very polarizing time in our nation’s history. Fifty years plus of ADR thought has led to a collective vocabulary: interests-based bargaining; court-connected processes; facilitative mediation; mandatory arbitration; early neutral evaluation, and so on and so on. But, for all its achievements, dispute resolution principles still cannot solve the critical issues facing our society. That can be depressing to think about.
The conference organizers recognize that we have an enormous opportunity to shape and improve the field, and build on the legacy created thus far. The harder task is to actually do it at this very moment in time, and not fall back into complacency. Indeed, the momentum generated by the conference should carry us forward to the next chapter. I surely hope it does.