A Third Wave of Practicing Dispute Resolution

This blog has included numerous entries about the value of conflict resolution and problem solving, early in the game. Others have written about and urged the idea for years. But the message still feels new. It is not yet "the norm."

On September 25, 2017,  Virginia's legal community (Virginia Bar Association and Virginia State Bar Joint ADR Committee) held a day-long program, "A Place at the Table," to examine how to serve the interests of 21st century clients and best help them solve their problems.

Well-known attorneys, experienced, smart problem solvers, facilitators, and mediators spoke to the question from multiple perspectives. Importantly, they shared concrete experiences. 

Looking into his crystal ball, law professor Sam Jackson of North Carolina (a former Virginia mediator and legal practitioner), summed up what the third wave of dispute resolution practice - hopefully the coming norm - should be: early communication and early intervention to handle conflict the most effectively (including cost considerations) and productively.

As a first wave, we had the coming of arbitration/mediation (ADR) laws in the later 20th century; next, we saw newer lawyer counselling rules about the use of ADR in Virginia at the dawn of the 21st century. Now, fully in the midst of the conflict-laden 21st century, we hear a clarion call for early intervention and dispute management practiced together by clients and lawyer alike. May we hear it and not harden ourselves to it. Lawyers' ability to shape client attention and practices to serve the clients' real interests and longer term needs is a challenge we must help each other meet. Dissecting barriers to doing that and successful strategies are an important part of an ongoing conversation.

Retired Virginia Supreme Court Justice, Hon. Leroy Millette, emphasized the need for lawyers to talk with their clients early to discern their real needs and interests and then craft advice based on such information. Well-known Virginia attorney, Jack ("JB") Burtch, reminded lawyers of the ethical rules that direct how Virginia lawyers should communicate with and counsel clients. He gave example after example from his own practice of how chasing down the needs behind the positions ended up helping his client choose the correct strategy that at first blush might not have seemed the obviously correct one.

Lawyers talked about making the connection with clients, especially organizations and other groups, and how they can encourage clients to embrace early conflict management skills.

Protocols, competence, coaching, counselling, carrying it forward - these are tools that effectively used can serve clients well. But to make early interventions the norm we must continue to share the learning  and engage in dialogue to reinforce the message and hone it.

(As a postscript, if you google AllthingsADR, you can pull up good information about the program's sponsoring committee, the agenda and speaker lineup. There is other interesting information and exchanges there about the practice of dispute resolution.)


Jeanne Franklin