You probably are familiar with the Stone Soup fable.

Some travelers come to a village with only an empty cooking pot and they find that the villagers won’t share any food.  The travelers fill the pot with water, drop a large stone in it, and place it over a fire. One by one, villagers ask what is happening and are told that the travelers are making “stone soup,” which tastes wonderful but needs a little of this or that to improve the flavor.  Different villagers contribute various ingredients until the soup truly becomes a delicious meal, which is shared with all the villagers.

On behalf of the University of Missouri’s Center for the Study of Dispute Resolution, Center Director Rafael Gely and I are exploring the feasibility of developing a searchable database of descriptions of actual DR cases.

To make it feasible, we will need a stone-soup process of instructors assigning students to write case reports as I described in this post, using documents similar to the ones in this post.  In particular, we will need a certain number of commitments by instructors to participate.  We will also assess whether there would be enough interest in using the database to make it worth the effort to build and maintain it.

How the Database Would Work

The primary source of cases would be course assignments in which students interview lawyers (or others)  and then write reports including narratives of the cases.  The reports would include some standard elements to permit efficient searches but otherwise, instructors would design the assignments as they wish.

The reports could focus on disputes, transactions, and other decision-making processes and the processes covered could include negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and others.

The database would be like a variation of Westlaw and SSRN. Like Westlaw, it would include accounts of actual cases but it would focus on empirical accounts of what happened, not analyses of legal issues.  Like SSRN, it would depend on contributions by our community, though the contributions would be accounts of cases rather than scholarly articles.

The database could be used by instructors teaching various dispute resolution courses;  students writing papers and articles;  scholars analyzing empirical research;  and practitioners getting ideas for solving practical problems.  The posts noted above discuss the potential benefits and the mechanics of doing this in more detail. We would use procedures to ensure compliance with ethical requirements and good research practices.

Instructors would get IRB approval from their schools to collect this data for our database.  This shouldn’t be hard as we would provide model documents you would need, which you could easily adapt.

Students generally would be required to submit the papers to satisfy course requirements (though some students could write up cases for extra-credit, independent studies, law review notes, etc.).  Students would not, however, be required to have their papers submitted to the database.  We would develop an agreement specifying intellectual property rights.  Presumably, the agreement would provide that the students would retain the copyright to their reports and it would specify the rights of the University and database users.

Next Steps

To start getting input, I will describe this idea at a session of the ABA Legal Educators’ Colloquium, on Saturday morning, April 22, at 11:15 am:  Teaching Mediation To Law Students, Part 2: Assessment. I will join Debra Berman, Jim Alfini, and Jackie Font-Guzmán in this session.

Another session at the ABA conference, Making Negotiation Theory More Helpful for Practitioners, will also help us plan the database. In this session, on Friday, April 21, at 1:45 pm, scholars and practitioners will discuss their analyses and recommendations growing out of the Tower of Babel symposium and engage the audience in a discussion of how theorists can help practitioners in their work.  I will join Rishi Batra, Daralyn Durie, Noam Ebner, Rebecca Hollander-Blumoff, and Sanda Kaufman in this session.

I would love to get your comments, questions, and suggestions, whether you attend these sessions or not.

We also plan to convene a board of advisors to help us design the database and plan the implementation.

After the conference, we will develop plans in more detail and then solicit commitments from instructors to participate (by requiring students to write papers that could be included in the database).  We will also want to determine how much interest there would be in using the database.

If we decide to proceed, we would ask instructors to start making these course assignments for the fall 2017 semester.  Presumably, the database would be unveiled in early 2018.

Will You Contribute to a Tasty Stone Soup for Our Community?

We believe that this database would be a great contribution to our field, with many potential benefits we haven’t even thought of yet.

But we can’t do it unless enough instructors participate.  Will you help us?

John Lande is the Isidor Loeb Professor Emeritus and former director of the LLM Program in Dispute Resolution, at the University of Missouri, School of Law. He received his J.D. from Hastings College of Law and Ph.D in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also an avid writer and contributor to Indisputably.org