While this may beggar belief, my immersion in the world of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is a recent phenomenon—but one that has been truly incredible. My interest in ADR originally stemmed from my interest in international relations and conflict resolution. Specifically, conflict resolution theory introduced me to the idea of “ripeness”—that the effectiveness of peace initiatives is often a matter of timing and circumstances as much as substantive measures. To me, this naturally raised the question of how we can induce that ripeness rather than letting the death toll and other damage rise any further. Throughout my undergraduate career at Morehouse College, I wrote reams of papers on subjects such as peacekeeping reform, and the role of “justice vs. peace” in post-conflict transitions, searching for an answer to this question. While my ADR experiences at Harvard have exposed me to fields beyond this question, my focus remains on understanding how practitioners and advocates can help parties come to “peaceful” accords.
My first exposure to ADR at Harvard was through a one-day training session for Harvard Negotiators during fall of 2012, where we were given an introduction to interest-based negotiation. As an Englishman and long suffering fan of Arsenal football club, imagine my glee when we dove head first into a simulation involving Brazilian soccer! The experience sparked my interest in the different ADR offerings at Harvard: I honed my practical negotiation skills with Harvard Negotiators, joined the Harvard Negotiation Law Review (where I am now co-Editor-in-Chief) and took the “Negotiation Workshop” that spring.
In the fall of 2013, I was a member of HNMCP’s project with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC). While the government shutdown made this project more challenging than anticipated, it was also far more rewarding than I could have appreciated when I registered for the clinic. Thanks to its success in protecting federal employees from prohibited personal practices (such as reprisals for whistleblowing), OSC was inundated with a mounting caseload, without an increase in resources. My teammates and I were tasked with analyzing OSC’s complaint processing structure—from intake to resolution—and making recommendations for possible improvements. Working on the project gave me a greater appreciation for the role of institutions like OSC in creating an environment where merit and equality of opportunity are paramount. Additionally, my final paper for the accompanying Dispute Systems Design class focused on South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission—specifically focusing on the perceptions and treatments of combatants from both sides, who would be potential spoilers for lasting peace.
After nearly three years at the law school, I’ve been privileged to hone numerous useful skills and learn many important lessons thanks to Harvard’s ADR program. In my experience, the most important of these was thinking about another party’s interests in a strategic manner. Whether they are your “opponent,” your client, or even your colleagues, my experiences with the ADR program have imprinted on me how critical it is to seek to understand others – find out what truly motivates them and you have probably identified the most pressing issues that need to be resolved in any “solution” you propose. After graduation I’ll be returning to Clifford Chance’s office in Washington, DC, where I spent my 2L summer (as well as three weeks in their office in Dusseldorf, Germany). What I found was that while matters I worked on were incredibly varied and challenging—the “solution” to each one invariably required asking myself “what do the parties really want here?” My hope is that no matter where my career takes me, this question will remain at the forefront.