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Jan. 21, 2010 Volume 31, No. 16

MU's dispute resolution center is still a national model after 25 years


Looking for options to contentious litigation

With lower transaction costs and quicker turnaround, alternative dispute resolution — settling disputes outside of court — has become an integral part of law both in practice and education. As one of the first law programs to integrate alternative dispute resolution into the curriculum in the 1980s, the Center for the Study of Dispute Resolution (CSDR) at the MU’s School of Law has shaped this growing field for the past 25 years and is a model for the future.

“We want our students to think differently about how they would serve as lawyers and advocates after they graduate. Prior to this, the prevailing philosophy was that law students came to law school to learn how to be tough litigators,” says James Levin, the center’s associate director.

“We wanted students to think more about what a lawyer does. What does it really mean to help and serve as an advocate for clients? In some cases, litigation might not be the best bet and we encourage students to look for other options. If we can understand what our clients need, we can find the best forums that meet those needs.”

When the program was established at MU in 1984, it became one of the first programs of its kind. The field of dispute resolution was in early development stages. Professors at MU revolutionized the curriculum by integrating dispute resolution into all first-year courses. Today, alternative dispute resolution is integral in law and similar programs have become mainstream.

Last week, the Center for the Study of Dispute Resolution was given the “Problem Solving in Law School” award for 2009 by the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution. The award program recognizes achievements in alternative dispute resolution. The judges for the awards include judges and lawyers from top firms, corporations and academic institutions across the country. An individual award, Best Professional Article, also was presented to S.I Strong, associate professor of law and senior fellow at the center, for her article “The Sounds of Silence.”

The center continues to forge new ground in the dispute resolution field.  In 1999, the law school established the nation’s first master of laws program in dispute resolution, through which ‘‘more than 123 students from 28 countries have graduated. MU remains one of the few schools that offer such a degree. The law school also houses the Journal of Dispute Resolution, a student edited, bi-annual academic