Stone Soup Assessments: Farkas Arbitration, Tetunic Clinic, and Fowler, Keet & Baerg, and Newman & Roger Negotiation Courses

Here is a collection of more assessments of Stone Soup course assignments.  This again demonstrates how faculty have been creative in crafting a wide variety of learning experiences that fit their instructional goals and situations.

Many colleagues wish they had students do these assignments earlier in the semester and discuss them in class.  Brian Farkas really did this.  He had his students interview arbitrators right after the first class and then discuss it in class soon afterward.  This enabled students to apply insights from the interviews throughout the semester.

Both Fran Tetunic and Lara Fowler elicited from students the questions they wanted to ask, which Fran said gave them more “ownership.”  In Fran’s class, all the students generally asked the same questions, whereas in Lara’s class, students refined their own lists of questions.  Before students submitted their papers in Fran’s class, they discussed how the interviews were going, which was helpful.

In Michaela Keet and Mark Baerg’s negotiation course, students grappled with challenges in lawyers’ problem-solving role including difficulties in dealing with clients.

In Danny Newman and Beatrice Roger’s negotiation course, students not only learned some practical lessons, they also made nice networking connections, something other colleagues have noted as well.

Brian Farkas’s Arbitration Course

Brian Farkas is attorney with the Goetz Fitzpatrick firm who teaches as an adjunct at Cardozo.  Unlike courses where students completed a Stone Soup assignment at the end of the semester, Brian required his students meet with arbitrators by the second class.  Students discussed the interviews in class as each student “presented” his or her arbitrator to the rest of the class.  Like some colleagues, he did not have students write papers summarizing the interviews.

Brian wanted students to connect with real arbitrators and better understand the varieties of arbitration practice.  Students were encouraged to have a “wide-ranging conversation that would answer three questions: (i) How did this person become an arbitrator? (ii) What sorts of disputes do they typically arbitrate? And (iii) what trends have they observed within arbitration over the course of their careers?”

Brian thinks that this assignment helped “unravel some of the mystery about arbitrators and arbitration from the outset of the course.  The interviews provided great food for discussion.  For example, about half of the interview subjects suggested that arbitration had become more professionalized and efficient, while the other half suggested it had become judicialized and cumbersome.”

In his assessment, he said, “I had a great experience and would likely repeat this in the future, including in mediation courses as well as arbitration courses.  In the future, I might provide the students with more specific questions to ask their interview subjects – although the open-ended questions yielded interesting answers.”

Fran Tetunic’s Dispute Resolution Clinic Course

Fran Tetunic is the director of Nova Southeastern University’s Dispute Resolution Clinic.  Following a mediation training at the beginning of her clinic course, she asked students what they wanted to know about mediation from attorneys who represented parties in mediation and she used their questions to develop an interview protocol.  The students wanted to know how the attorneys made decisions about selecting mediators and what they were looking for from the mediators. The students wanted to know about the business side of the practice of mediation.  Here’s the set of questions they developed.

Fran said that, “Student participation in deciding what they wanted to learn and devising their questions worked well in that they ‘owned’ the assignment and enthusiastically set about accumulating the information they sought.  Further, it allowed me to learn what they wanted to learn.”

While many faculty discussed the interviews after students submitted their papers, Fran discussed how their interviews were going before students submitted the papers.  In her assessment, she said, “This gave them the opportunity to compare experiences, not only based on the attorneys’ responses, but also the skills they employed while developing a relationship and speaking with the attorneys. The in-class discussion helped me to see how the students were able to transfer skills learned in mediation to the interview session.  Further, they learned that they were comfortable with the interview process in large part due to the skills they had honed in the Dispute Resolution Clinic.  They were also able to reflect on what they might have done differently to better elicit information to answer their questions.”

Asked what she would do differently in the future, she said, “I would have the students conduct the interviews earlier in the term to leave time for more class discussion on the process, the transferable skills they employed, and to gather more information should they not have had their questions fully answered.  Additionally, it would be helpful for the students to share their results with each other and to produce a chart, table (or other summary) showing their findings.”

Lara Fowler’s Negotiation and Dispute Resolution Design Course

Lara Fowler is an attorney and mediator who teaches a course at Penn State combining negotiation and dispute resolution design.  She used a two-step process to develop interview questions.  First, students drafted 5-6 questions for a lawyer or judge and, following class discussion, they developed their own lists of 10-12 questions, which focused on negotiation style or a recent negotiation.  They summarized the interviews in 1-2 page papers.

In her assessment, Lara wrote, “The students loved this assignment (though were initially intimidated by it), and loved the discussion—well worth the class time.”

She included a lot of detailed excerpts from students papers, which addressed a wide range of issues including whether lawyers use the same approach in all their negotiations, the importance of setting goals, developing trust, understanding the other side’s perspectives and interests, and defining negotiation as a process beginning with the first client meeting.

Michaela Keet and Mark Baerg’s Negotiation Course

Michaela Keet is a teacher and scholar at the University of Saskatchewan, and Mark Baerg is an attorney and mediator in Saskatoon.  They taught four sections of negotiation and their assignment gave students the option of (1) conducting a Stone Soup interview about a negotiation or court-based process, or (2) conducting a conflict assessment.  Students were assigned to write papers of 750 words (or about three double-spaced pages) as part of a portfolio they developed during the semester.

In interviews about a “significant negotiation” or court-based process, students were to  “(1) learn from someone’s experience in negotiation or litigation; and (2) reflect on how concepts we are discussing in class (in particular: psychological, procedural and substantive interests of clients) may create challenges and opportunities in the practice of law.”

In interviews about a conflict which has not yet been negotiated fully or litigated, students were to “(1) learn how to approach a conflict assessment; (2) reflect on how concepts we are discussing in class (in particular: psychological, procedural and substantive interests of clients) may create challenges and opportunities in the practice of law.”  Students could assess one of their own conflicts, but Michaela and Mark encouraged them to interview others about their conflicts if possible.

In Michaela’s course assessment, she wrote that students were able to “develop and demonstrate the capacity to discover and then articulate ‘interests’ as separate from legally relevant facts in a real-life conflict (a more difficult task than in in-class roleplays); and the capacity to identify a real person’s procedural, substantive and psychological needs, and reflect on how that may translate into process planning as between a lawyer and client.”

Through this assignment, students “wrestled with (and reflected on) many tensions in the lawyer’s problem-solving role including:

  • managing client expectations;
  • addressing the relationship among interests, rights and obligations;
  • developing durable solutions to longer-term conflicts;
  • difficulties in getting consistent/congruent information from people, in terms of their hopes and interests (as well as legally relevant information);
  • confronting cognitive bias;
  • difficulties in building trust (and open information-gathering environments) where peoples’ encounters with the justice system have not always been positive;
  • discomforts in contemplating litigation or process risks.

“Students heard about how stressful clients often found their engagements with the justice system and its various processes, and also heard about how disconnection with their lawyers can be an exacerbating factor.  Also, they heard about how positive and communicative relationships with lawyers can buttress bad experiences.”

Michaela and Mark found this to be a valuable and easy assignment to use.  They did not set aside class time to discuss the assignment as some students didn’t complete it until late in the term.  Michaela wrote, “I may set aside committed class time for discussing students’ observations, next time.  Although we had designed this to be individual learning which could inform the students’ continued class work, they would likely have benefitted from seeing how interviews unearthed universal themes.”

Danny Newman and Beatrice Roger’s Negotiation Course

Danny Newman and Beatrice Roger are adjunct faculty who co-taught a negotiation course at South Texas College of Law Houston.  They provided complementary perspectives as he is an associate in the corporate restructuring practice of the Paul Hastings firm and she is a lawyer with Lone Star Legal Aid.

In their assignment, students were required to conduct interviews on any completed, “complex” negotiation and write 5-7 page papers.  “Students ended up picking exclusively practicing lawyers or mediators on a wide range of legal issues and topics.  They learned some practical lessons (like not all negotiations take place in person), heard how much preparation and expertise matters, and made nice networking connections.”

They gave this assignment late in the semester and didn’t get a chance to discuss it in class because they lost a class due to a hurricane.  In their assessment, they said that they think it’s a good assignment and would give it early in the semester and plan to discuss it in class.


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