When did you first become interested in mediation?
We mediate every day—formally and informally. I have been mediating informally between divorced parents since I was young and I think this laid a foundation for my formal interests throughout the course of my education. In grade school, I volunteered to be a peer mediator and participated in my first mediation training. I can still recall early lessons on how to remain neutral. Later, during law school, I decided to pursue a certificate in ADR. I committed to studying these processes because I believe they can be more effective and efficient than using an adversarial legal system and can foster healthier relationships after a dispute.
Is mediation something taught in your law school? Do you think law schools should take a more active role in educating students on the different dispute resolution options?
I am fortunate that Marquette Law School not only offers an ADR curriculum, but also offers intermural competitions, clinical experiences, and international programs to engage in the topic. As a law student, I had great access to learn the theory and practice of mediation, but I know that is not the case at all schools. Professors Andrea Schneider and Natalie Fleury, among others, have done a phenomenal job integrating the program into the law school curriculum and I think all law schools should integrate such programming.
As a young lawyer, I think it can be challenging to engage in ADR practice, but learning the required skills and understanding the process and its benefits as a young attorney improves my ability to serve clients in a more traditional legal setting.
Why do you think it is important for young lawyers to be exposed to and trained in mediation?
Gaining ADR skills and understanding the processes and benefits are vital for young lawyers. These skills include actively listening, which helps to serve clients in any context, creative problem solving, which leads to innovative approaches to one’s practice, and separating positions from interests, which keeps any process more effective. Whether serving as a mediator or client advocate, a lawyer who understands that mediation can better serve people’s interest in the right context and is willing to pursue alternative means to the adversarial legal system will ultimately best serve clients.
From my experience, the cohort of my peers engaged in learning ADR skills are champions of the process, but that is a limited cohort. The majority of students pursing law school enter focused on traditional practice and either ignorance, limited interest in or time for learning about mediation or adamant belief in the adversarial system inhibits them from learning about or believing in mediation as a relevant and effective dispute resolution process.
How have you evolved as a mediator/negotiator through attending the CDRC competition?
This was my first CDRC event and a fantastic way to conclude my law school education. It provided a unique opportunity to understand how different cultures impact negotiation and mediation settings and required proper listening skills because of the different accents and language barriers present. Beyond these practical skills, I think what participating in CDRC taught me is that there is not one correct way to mediate a situation; it is important to have your own style, be genuine, and be confident in your own approach. The CDRC’s commitment to teaching through individual feedback was an incredible opportunity to learn from leaders in mediation from around the world and to better realize my own approach to mediation. I was able to refine my skills and gain confidence as a result of the willingness of these experts (and my coach) to share their time and expertise.
I think the biggest challenge was shifting from classroom learning to real world settings and adapting between rounds. Each team brought unique needs and I wanted to learn from each round. That said, you had to know what lessons to carry with you and which to let go. This was a fun challenge and I realize that adaptability and flexibility are essential skills as a negotiator.
If you were to explain the value of the CDRC event, how would you coin it?
I would sum up my CDRC experience as transformative and engaging. The balance between formal learning through workshops and competition with the informal learning through networking events and engaging with my peers in and around Vienna led to an enriching experience. Any student interested in mediation and negotiation should take advantage of this unbelievable opportunity.
I have already been able to apply some of the skills learned at my new position as an attorney. During my first week, I was required to investigate a claim and remaining neutral and making sure I fully understood the situation required asking clarifying statements and summarizing what I had heard to fill in any gaps. The biggest lesson to carry forward is confidence—as a young attorney, it can be hard to trust your ability, but the CDRC gave me a boost of confidence as I find my professional way forward.
Interview by Natasha Mellersh.
Jessica Lotham hails from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA where she earned both a M.Ed.in 2010 and J.D. in 2018 from Marquette University. During law school, she earned a certificate in ADR, which included a course on International Conflict Resolution with a week-long experience in Israel, a small claims Mediation workshop in Milwaukee County, and placing second as a mediator at the 2018 IBA-CDRC Competition. She also engaged with the local Milwaukee community through the Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinic, completing over 200 hours of service and serving on the organization’s Student Advisory Board. She currently works as an attorney in Real Estate and Employment and Labor Law at von Briesen and Roper, s.c. and enjoys engaging in learning outcomes assessment, photography, and travel.