Sunday, June 16, 2019

Advice for the New Business Law Prof – Part II: Incorporating Dispute Resolution Exercises

Today’s blog is the second post (first here) about advice for new business law profs.  It is also the promised follow-on to last week’s post, particularly my response to co-blogger Haskell Murray’s comment.

I am an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma’s Price College of Business, and I’ve also taught in law schools.  The advice I’ll share today is generally applicable in both business and law school environments.

“Negotiation and Dispute Resolution” is one of my absolute favorite courses to teach!  However, I came to the area by happenstance.  During my PhD studies at Wharton, I wanted to fulfill my TA responsibilities by assisting the securities law professor.  He didn’t need a TA.  Fortunately, Professor Ken Shropshire did for his negotiations courses.  And as they say, the rest is history.  I’ve now taught dispute resolution courses, mediated cases, am on FINRA’s arbitration roster, and recently wrote an arbitration-related article with my OU colleague Professor Dan Ostas.  So, likely the most important advice of this post that I often share with students and others is to be open to unexpected opportunities in life, especially when the door to the option you originally wanted is closed.

Ok, onto the teaching part…given my love of dispute resolution and the increasing emphasis on experiential and active learning, I now incorporate a few dispute resolution exercises into each of my business law courses at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.  In general, students really enjoy these exercises.  The Harvard Program on Negotiation (PON) and Northwestern’s Dispute Resolution Research Center offer an extensive amount of dispute resolution materials for a fee (the materials are copyrighted).  Professors can create an account at these institutions to preview the materials.  Many exercises have teaching notes, which is helpful (especially for newbies to the area!). 

I work with our copy center to have the materials printed, and then I hand the materials out in class to students (electronic options are available).  Each dispute resolution exercise will have different roles, so you’ll have to assign students to different roles.  If you don’t plan to do the exercise in the class in which you hand out the materials, you’ll need to plan ahead to make sure that students are present for the exercise as otherwise you might have missing roles.  Class participation is part of the final grade in my courses.  I assign participation points to each exercise, which students lose if absent (unless their absence is excused per policies outlined in the syllabus).  I’m happy for readers who want additional logistical details to reach out to me.

In Legal Environment of Business, the basic undergraduate business law course at OU, I use three dispute resolution exercises.  After we cover ADR, I have students negotiate Waltham Construction Supply Corp. v Foster Fuels, Inc. and, after debriefing the exercise, we watch PON’s related mediation video (negotiation materials come with video).  I also talk about ways in which arbitration of the dispute would be different.  After administrative law, we do Negotiated Rulemaking Electric Utilities, during which teams of students representing various interested constituencies negotiate the draft of a proposed administrative rule prior to its release for public comment.  Finally, after covering tort materials, we do Broken Benches, which can be negotiated, mediated, or arbitrated.  This exercise is a really nice transition from tort to contract materials.  You can emphasize that any mediated settlement agreements made are enforceable contracts. 

These exercises are also helpful for more advanced business law courses.  For example, both I (in Law of Business Organization) and my colleague Professor Traci Quick (in Commercial Transactions) have used PON’s Bankruptcy Multiparty Negotiation Simulation.  In this exercise, teams of students representing the typical stakeholders in a mass tort bankruptcy have 45 minutes to negotiate a reorganization plan.  The pressure is on because the value of the firm’s assets are rapidly deteriorating, and scheduled losses occur at different time intervals if agreement has yet to be reached.  Definitely a student (and professor) favorite!!

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